Douglas MacArthur, commander of the United States Army Forces in the Far East, with a real field commander, Maj. Gen. Jonathan M. "Skinny" Wainwright, 10 October 1941. MacArthur's failures had ensured that the die for American defeat in the Philippines was already cast and the war was less than two months away. Skinny had his own problems, but tried to take care of his people. MacArthur couldn't have cared less.
This article over-analyzes what is a great novel by missing the entire point of Once An Eagle. Anton Myrer wrote the Massengale character as he did because as a World War II veteran he reflected the reciprocated disgust and disdain for "Dugout Doug" MacArthur of many a man who saw him up close, especially his disgraceful failure as commander in the Philippines early on.
Dugout Doug MacArthur lies ashaking on the Rock
Safe from all the bombers and from any sudden shock
Dugout Doug is eating of the best food on Bataan
And his troops go starving on.
Dugout Doug's not timid, he's just cautious, not afraid
He's protecting carefully the stars that Franklin made
Four-star generals are rare as good food on Bataan
And his troops go starving on.
Dugout Doug is ready in his Kris Craft for the flee
Over bounding billows and the wildly raging sea
For the Japs are pounding on the gates of Old Bataan
And his troops go starving on...
-- "Dugout Doug," 1942, a forbidden song of the survivors of the Filipino campaign, sung by Bataan soldiers to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic.
The character of Courtney Massengale was written by Myrer largely on that received knowledge from other bitter veterans of the conduct of MacArthur in 1941-1942. MacArthur, like Massengale, was remote, vainglorious, imperious, egotistical and self-serving. He failed to anticipate predictable Japanese moves and counter-moves, froze at key points, wasn't what you might call a detail man and so failed in his duty as a commander. He surrounded himself with self-seeking and incompetent staff officers selected for their personal loyalty to him and worse, from the perspective of the common soldiers and Marines under his command, he didn't give a rat's ass about their welfare. (All sins that would be repeated again in Korea.)
He visited the troops on Bataan, what, once during the campaign? He was, unlike Massengale, personally brave (World War One proved that), but he failed as commander in 1941-1942 because he was more interested in being Filipino "Field Marshal" and spent more time fussing about his self-designed uniform reflecting his status than preparing the Americans and Filipinos for the war that everyone knew was coming. His chief of staff until just before the war was Dwight Eisenhower, and Ike's diaries for the period are a study in pointed frustration as MacArthur misses opportunity after opportunity to procure arms and war materiel for the Filipino Army he was charged with preparing from 1936 onward. By the time he got off his ass in 1941 at his palatial digs in the Manila Hotel, the weapons in sufficient quantity that Ike had been begging him to procure (M1917 Enfields, French 75s, Lewis guns) had disappeared from U.S. warehouses into the Lend Lease program, never to be seen again. It is the height of irony that the main victims of Dugout Doug's failures were the Filipinos who worshiped him like a demi-god. The American Bataan and Korea survivors I grew up listening to at my old man's weekend beer parties hated him to a man.
Myrer wrote the Massengale character's defection from the duty to take of subordinates and the diligent care that every commander is expected to demonstrate because he couldn't write the MacArthur record of "Dugout Doug" with brutal honesty, even though by the time Once An Eagle came out in 1968 that "war hero" was four years dead.