In May 1934, reporters Drew Pearson and Robert Allen published a column in the Washington Herald accusing Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas MacArthur of "dictatorial, insubordinate, disloyal, mutinous and disrespectful" actions during the Bonus March, a peaceful veterans demonstration. MacArthur had broken up the protest by force -- using tanks commanded by Gen. George Patton -- back in July of 1932, an action that forever stained his reputation. Enraged by Pearson and Allen's claims, MacArthur sued them for $1.75 million. That scared the hell out of the columnists, who knew they'd have trouble proving their allegations. Here comes the good part.
Among MacArthur's enemies was Rep. Ross Collins, a powerful Mississippi Democrat -- drawl, jowls, slicked hair, the whole bit -- who controlled military appropriations and lived in the Chastleton Apartments on 16th Street and had seen MacArthur often in his building. Collins disliked MacArthur, and when he found out that Pearson and Allen were looking for something to hold against the general, he told them about the visits. Pearson and Allen followed up on Collins's tip and discovered that the 55-year old MacArthur was visiting Isabel Rosario Cooper, a 19-year old Filipino film star whom he'd brought with him from his last command in Manila and with whom he was having an affair.
Isabel was young and beautiful, and MacArthur showered her with gifts -- visiting her every day during his long lunches while he was chief of staff. But Isabel grew tired of the general and found his attention stifling, so she went to live with her brother in Baltimore, which is where Pearson and Allen found her. She then shared with the reporters what MacArthur had told her about Herbert Hoover (a "weakling," he said), and Franklin Roosevelt ("that cripple in the White House").
Predictably, when MacArthur was told that the first witness to be called in the case would be Isabel, he scrambled. He ended the lawsuit and paid Isabel $15,000 in what we would now consider "hush money" -- delivered to her by his military aide, none other than future President Dwight Eisenhower.
Shocking? What's shocking about the MacArthur story is that he wasn't worried about what Roosevelt would say about Isabel -- he was worried about what his aging and puritanical mother "Pinky," who lived with him at his official quarters at Fort Myer, would say about her. For Roosevelt not only knew about Isabel, he told his cabinet that he'd "authorized" MacArthur to sue Pearson, whom he described as "a chronic liar."
Nor, it seems, was MacArthur concerned at all that FDR would find out that he'd described him as "that cripple in the White House." It wasn't because the general lacked enemies within the president's inner circle: FDR's brain trust regularly derided him as "General Goober of Anacostia Flats," and tittered away at him when he showed up at White House receptions. But Roosevelt seemed more than willing to overlook all that, for he had plans for MacArthur, which included selling his military budget to a recalcitrant Congress -- and to the irascible Ross Collins, who wanted deeper cuts than the president. And who better to sell the president's budget than that great hero of World War One -- Douglas MacArthur?
Inevitably, the details of this salacious scandal made the rounds of Washington, leaving the admirers of MacArthur -- and he had a great many -- puzzling over how a man of such obvious achievements could so recklessly place them in jeopardy. Now, eight decades later, Washington is asking precisely the same question of David Petraeus.