In November 2020, I wrote about two major blunders caused by the dysfunctional leadership of General Douglas MacArthur and President Lyndon B. Johnson. The man who was most adept at getting ahead under MacArthur’s leadership, Charles Willoughby, I find deserves an entry of his own given his compelling story.
Willoughby was born in 1892 in Heidelberg, Germany, as Adolf Karl Tscheppe-Weidenbach, son of German Baron Tscheppe-Weidenbach and American Emma Willoughby. Little is known of his life between this point and his immigration to the United States in 1910. He enlisted in the army as Adolph Charles Weidenbach and later named himself Charles Andrew Willoughby. Willoughby proceeded to move up in rank, rising to Captain by the end of World War I. He came to specialize in intelligence from his time working as a military attache in Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. Willoughby proceeded to become fluent in four languages and later became fluent in Japanese.
During the 1920s, he became a major fan of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. He said of Mussolini, “Historical judgment, freed from the emotional haze of the moment, will credit Mussolini with wiping out a memory of defeat by re-establishing the traditional military supremacy of the white race” (Simkin). Willoughby also met Franco in the early 1920s during a visit to Morocco where the Spanish were fighting guerillas and he came to admire him. the 1930s he delivered a speech at a luncheon in Madrid for him. After Franco’s victory in the Spanish Civil War, Willoughby visited him in 1938 and regarded him as the second greatest general in the world (MacArthur was first). Once placed under command of General Douglas MacArthur, he developed a similar affinity for him. In some ways, they were the same. Both were egotistical and eccentric men, although Willoughby was sycophantic and pro-fascist. He was not well-liked among his peers, who referred to him as “Sir Charles” behind his back for his fancy custom-made uniform, his distanced and aloof nature, and his wearing a monocle. General MacArthur himself called Willoughby “my little fascist” (Simkin).
Willoughby was also an author who wrote some books on history, including a study of Latin American Founding Father Simon Bolivar called House of Bolivar. He was good on writing about maneuvering and tactics but would sometimes expand into areas that he knew very little about, such as economics. In Willoughby’s 1939 book, Maneuver in Warfare, he correctly predicted that Japan would invade countries in the South Pacific if an embargo were imposed on them.
From 1941 to 1951, Willoughby was MacArthur’s Chief of Intelligence for General Headquarters in the Southwest Pacific, which was the peak of his career. He was responsible for the deal that exchanged information gathered from Unit 731 biological human experiments in exchange for immunity from prosecution for the doctors and its leader Shiro Ishii. Most of this information turned out to be worthless. Willoughby was also highly active in anti-communist efforts in Japan as second only to MacArthur in power and in 1947 conducted an investigation in which he charged numerous people of pushing communism.
As part of the aforementioned investigation, Willoughby accused American journalist Agnes Smedley, who was sympathetic to the Chinese communists and had even tried to join them, of being part of the Soviet Sorge spy ring. She vehemently denied the charges before her death in 1950. Although Willoughby had a bad tendency to call journalists who defied his efforts to suppress coverage of the American occupation of Japan as “communists”, subsequent opening of Soviet archives has revealed this particular charge to be true and that she was Soviet agent Richard Sorge’s lover. He then testified to the House Committee on Un-American Activities his accusation in 1951. That year, Willoughby advised General MacArthur, based on intelligence he fabricated to fit with General MacArthur’s beliefs, that the Chinese would not cross the Yalu River. This would result in the catastrophic Battle of Yalu River and this, along with other intelligence failures, has resulted in military historians regarding him as one of the worst intelligence officers in the history of the United States. As Lieutenant Colonel John Chiles, chief of operations of the 10th Corps G-3 stated, “MacArthur did not want the Chinese to enter the war in Korea. Anything MacArthur wanted, Willoughby produced intelligence for…In this case Willoughby falsified the intelligence reports…He should have gone to jail…” (Halberstam).
After his retirement from the military he went to work for Generalissimo Francisco Franco of Spain. In August 1952, he lobbied Congress for providing $100 million in aid to Francoist Spain. Although President Truman opposed establishing an allegiance with Franco, President Eisenhower would proceed to ally with him. In 1955, Willoughby published a fawning biography of his boss, Douglas MacArthur, MacArthur: 1941-1951, that portrayed President Harry S. Truman as the villain. He associated with staunch right-wingers in his later life, including being on the board of Young Americans for Freedom, being part of the International Committee for the Defense of Christian Culture, working with Reverend Billy James Hargis (who probably deserves a post of his own), and publishing a periodical called Foreign Intelligence Digest. Willoughby retired with his wife to Naples, Florida in 1968 and died there four years later.
Charles Andrew Willoughby. (2004). Arlington National Cemetery Website.
Halberstam, D. (2007, September 24). MacArthur’s Grand Delusion. Vanity Fair.
Higgins, T. (1955). MacArthur: 1941-1951, by Charles A. Willoughby and John Chamberlain. Commentary Magazine.
Holme, M.C. (2020, November 8). LBJ, Douglas MacArthur, and the Perils of Enforced Lying. Fascinating Politics.
Simkin, J. (1997). Charles Willoughby. Spartacus Educational.