In the early 1900s, American attention was focused primarily on Europe and the infighting that would lead to the first World War.
At the same time, Douglas MacArthur, an ambitious young soldier, was touring Asia and believed the U.S. needed to turn its eyes to the East. He predicted years of possibility and threat, and he wasn't wrong -- consider the tense relationship that continues between the U.S. and North Korea.
The latest exhibition at the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk looks at Douglas MacArthur and his father, Arthur, and how their diplomatic and military efforts left a lasting imprint on Asia and the Pacific Islands.
"Legacies: The MacArthurs in the Far East" uses rare artifacts, photos and maps and covers the Philippine-American conflict that began in 1899 through Douglas MacArthur's Korean War campaigns in the 1950s.
One of the exhibition's detailed maps shows how conflicts in Asia then led to political conflicts now, particularly in the Middle East and Korea.
"We are working to educate people about the importance of the Pacific, but also remind people that even though we're talking about events that happened 75, 80 years ago, it's all still very relevant today," said Chris Kolakowski, director of MacArthur Memorial.
"If you want to understand modern Asia, WWII and its aftermath, you have to understand Douglas MacArthur and his father."
Arthur MacArthur was a decorated veteran after the Civil War and was serving as military governor of the Philippines in 1899 at the end of the Spanish-American War. The Philippines had won independence from Spain but were balking at the American forces that remained on the islands. Kolakowski said Arthur MacArthur won over rebel forces by convincing them that America wanted to help them with their independence.
The Philippines convened its first elected assembly in 1907 and the MacArthurs are still revered there, Kolakowski said.
"Matter of fact, for a certain generation of Filipinos, Douglas MacArthur is "MacArthur, the Younger' because when they think of MacArthur, they think of Dad," Kolakowski said.
The exhibition includes family portraits of the MacArthur family, including Mary Pinkney Hardy, Douglas' mother, who was born in Norfolk -- the reason why Douglas decided to house his papers here and was buried in Norfolk.
Of the two, Arthur MacArthur first saw the importance of creating ties with Asia and mentored his son with that belief. Douglas, who graduated at the top of his West Point class in 1903, worked in the Philippines in 1903 and 1904.
Arthur MacArthur then had Douglas tour Asia with him when the elder served as a military attaché during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.
Kolakowski calls it "the creation of Douglas MacArthur." Even Douglas would later write in his memoirs that that the nearly year-long tour would "color and influence all the days of my life."
He wrote in his 1964 book "Reminiscences" that "the true historic significance and the sense of destiny that these lands of the western Pacific and Indian Ocean now assumed became part of me ... Here lived almost half the population of the world, with probably more than half of the raw products to sustain future generations. Here was western civilization's last earth frontier. It was crystal clear to me that the future and, indeed, the very existence of America were irrevocably entwined with Asia and its island outposts."
Kolakowski said that one of the most significant lessons the elder MacArthur taught young Douglas was that "people are people."
When Douglas MacArthur and his second wife, Jean, had their son, the couple named the Philippine president and his wife as the child's godparents.
"So, in 1938, he has non-white godparents for his son," Kolakowski said. "That's a statement."
The exhibition details the more well-known aspects of Douglas MacArthur's career including his recurring Philippine commands in the 1920s and 1930s, his retreat from the islands in WWII and his famous return in 1945.
The story is told through multiple displays of artifacts: war camp memorabilia, uniforms, and matchbooks and chocolates stamped with MacArthur's promise, "I Shall Return" that were smuggled in to the Philippines during Japan's occupation.
MacArthur's legend was further cemented in his leadership in rebuilding of Japan after the war and his clashes with President Harry Truman during the Korean War. Besides the 1953 armistice, Kolakowski noted that the Korean peninsula hasn't changed much geopolitically since Truman fired MacArthur in 1951.
The exhibition will be on display until early 2021 and programming is being planned to illustrate the connection between the man who is buried in downtown Norfolk.
Kolakowski said, "We want people to understand why this is important, why the region of Asia is important and that there's a living legacy of the MacArthurs still there."
This article is written by Denise Watson from The Virginian-Pilot and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.