Home » Articles » Footnote to a slogan, October 15, 1955

Footnote to a slogan, October 15, 1955

October 15, 1955

Footnote to a slogan
by  Frederic S. Marquardt

ON AUGUST 10, 1943, in MacArthur’s headquarters in Brisbane, Australia, Courtney Whitney, then a colonel in charge of the Philippine section, sought permission to use the slogan, “I Shall Return—MacArthur,” on articles to be infiltrated into the Japanese-occupied Philippines. MacArthur responded, in a penciled note at the bottom of a memo, “No objection.”

But if there was no objection in Brisbane, there was plenty in Washington. In November 1943, I was asked to head up the Office of World Information in the southwest Pacific. I agreed on the condition that General MacArthur, whom I had known in prewar days, actually wanted me in Australia. When he sent a favorable reply to the Pentagon, I began preparing for the trip. It was January 1944, before I could get my shots, select the men who were to go with me, and receive a thorough briefing on what the OWI had to offer in the way of psychological warfare. Late in December (1943) I stumbled across the “I Shall Return—MacArthur” file in the OWI headquarters in New York.

From the file I learned that shortly after Whitney got his clearance for the slogan, he asked the OWI in Sydney to produce substantial quantities of cigarettes, chewing gum, chocolate bars, and sewing kits. All were to be carefully packaged and would bear the “I Shall Return—MacArthur” slogan along with the crossed Philippine and American flags. Mike Stivers, who was head of the Sydney OWI office, asked New York OWI to deliver the goods. Then started a series of orders and counter-orders that must have set a record.

Every time the production people in New York were ready to award an order for, say, ten thousand packs of cigarettes with the slogan on them, the policy people in Washington would stop the order. Washington OWI claimed it was against national policy to build up a single theater commander. New York OWI simply wanted to get the job done. The resulting orders and cancellations must have made the purchasing officer dizzy.

The real objection in Washington, of course, was that MacArthur was a potential candidate for the presidency. No one with any standing in the Roosevelt administration wanted to be responsible for anything that might result in MacArthur’s aggrandizement. The fact that the propaganda was to be used among Filipinos, who would not vote in the American elections, did not seem to make any impression on Washington.

I decided I would go to Australia until this issue was settled, and, if it was settled adversely, I decided I would not go at all. I had no political interest in the matter, but I knew that Whitney had struck on the best possible slogan for use in the Philippines. Each time the slogan “I Shall Return—MacArthur” turned up in the Philippines it would be worth more than a million words poured into radio transmitters beamed at a country in which there were very few short wave receiving sets.

After several requests for a top-level conference, I met with Robert Sherwood, who was director of the overseas branch of OWI, and Joe Barnes, who was in charge of the Australian operation. As persuasively as possible I told them of the magic of MacArthur’s name in the Philippines, and of the need for a slogan that could be understood by 18 million Filipinos speaking scores of different dialects. Both Sherwood and Barnes knew enough about the ways of publicity to concede the truth of my argument. But they expressed doubts about the advisability of boosting a commander in any single theater. I pointed out there was no comparable situation in any other theater. They said MacArthur might not survive to return to the Philippines. I said I had a hunch he would be around for a long time to come. They said we might not go back to Japan by way of the Philippines. I quoted Roosevelt’s “There are many roads to Tokyo. We shall neglect none of them. “Finally Joe Barnes turned to Sherwood and said, “Bob, I think Fritz is right. Let’s O.K. the Sydney request.”

“O.K.,” said Sherwood. Then to me he said, “At least you ought to get credit for this when you get to Brisbane.”

When I got to Brisbane I found Mike Stivers had done what any sensible man on the scene would have done. He went ahead and used the slogan on locally produced chewing gum and non-meltable chocolate bars specially produced for the tropics. He produced Volume Number I of Free Philippines, with MacArthur’s picture and the “I Shall Return” slogan on the cover. There was one mistake on it. The Philippine flag showed the blue stripe at the top, in spite of a convention that in time of war the flag is turned upside down and the red stripe is on top.

I never told Sherwood and Barnes that their decision was late if proper. Nor did I tell MacArthur or Whitney of the foot-dragging in Washington. We went ahead and got the other supplies from the United States, and Whitney sent them into the Philippines through Commander Chick Parson’s submarine fleet. The Free Philippines magazine ran through 10 numbers. The final issue had one major change. The slogan was changed to “I Have Returned—MacArthur.”

As history has shown, the political impact of using the slogan was nil so far as the American vote was concerned. I did convince a lot of Filipinos that the United States would keep its word. It sparked the only effective guerrilla movement in the Far East, and one of the most effective in the entire world.

On one occasion, General Whitney had a little trouble with his radio network. Lt. George Rowe, an ex-Manilan who served in the Navy during World War II, volunteered to man a radio station and weather bureau on Mindoro. He was outfitted in Australia, given a group to work with, and told to select the call letters for his proposed Mindoro station.

The central radio transmitter for all of the guerrilla stations was located at MacArthur’s headquarters and used the call letters ISRM. The significance was clear. The letters meant “I Shall Return—MacArthur.”

Rowe, with a sly exhibition of navy humor, asked that his stations be assigned the letters IHRR. But Whitney figured out the meaning of those letters—”I Have Returned—Rowe.”

Lieutenant Rowe was given another set of letters. But he had the last laugh. When he established his station on Mindoro he called it Camp Nimitz, after the commander in chief of the American navy forces in the Pacific. Whitney was too far away to do anything about this exhibition of lese majesty.

There is one amusing epilogue to the “I Shall Return” story. After Luzon had been liberated and the Philippine campaign was coming to an end, the OWI closed up its office in Brisbane. Like the army, it no longer needed Australia for a base of operations. The Australians, so happy to see us come, were equally happy to see us go. They were naturally anxious to get their country back.

The OWI rear echelon—we were quite military for a bunch of civilians—packed up the furniture and files. One unused bundle of “I Shall Return—MacArthur” leaflets was tossed on to the truck heading for the pier. It fell to the ground, and a passing pedestrian beat the OWI man to the broken bundle. He picked up a leaflet and read, “I Shall Return—MacArthur.”

“I bloody well hope not,” said the unhappy Aussie.

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