During the Pacific War, U.S. Army General Douglas MacArthur and U.S. Navy Admiral Chester Nimitz divided the operational command authority. The reason behind this unusual division stems from the traditional power struggle between the Army and the Navy. But the opposite characteristics of the two commanders played a role as well.
MacArthur came from a family with strong military background. His grandfather was a governor and his father, the military governor-general of the Philippines, was the most popular general in the U.S. So popular that he had to leave the army before becoming the Army Chief of Staff after clashes with the political circle.
On the other hand, Nimitz’s family owned a small hotel in Texas. The town he used to live in resembles the streets in a Western film. He worked at the hotel when he was a high school student. While MacArthur came up through the ranks thanks to his family background, Nimitz got ahead with much efforts and modesty. He had a great power to unite people. There is a saying that you either become a follower or enemy of MacArthur once you meet him. But people either liked or respected Nimitz once they got to know him. There are many stories about MacArthur that make you edgy while stories about Nimitz are heart-warming.
Nimitz was deeply touched by a general who stayed at his hotel that he decided to go to the military academy. Back then, one had to be awarded an appointment from a local congressman to enter the military academy. Nimitz went to see his congressman James Slayden. At that time, personal connections were far more important in the U.S. than they are in Korea now. No appointments were available for Nimitz of course, as all of them were awarded to his relatives and his friends’ sons. Slayden told Nimitz that even the sons from military families are on a waiting list so he cannot give him an appointment.
When Nimitz was about to leave the room in disappointment, Slayden told him that he had one appointment available for the U.S. Naval Academy. Nimitz was lucky that he was from Texas. Most of the would-be officers from Texas applied to West Point maybe because of the long tradition of Texas Ranger Division.
Slayden must have been solicited for appointments to the Naval Academy as well. He was not a righteous man, who resolutely said no to favoritism. But he at least had a sense of duty and conscience to recognize the potential of a young man and recommend him to the Naval Academy. Our society is so tough for young people these days. We should reflect on ourselves and learn from the story.
Mu-Kyung Shin firstname.lastname@example.org