In June 2023, a five-person submersible attempting to explore the Titanic shipwreck imploded, killing everyone on board. As news of their deaths spread, old interview clips of Stockton Rush, the CEO of OceanGate, the company behind the submersible, went viral.
In the videos, while describing his process for creating a submersible with the goal of reaching the Titanic ruins, Rush repeated a quote that he attributed to U.S. Gen. Douglas MacArthur: "You're remembered for the rules you break."
For instance, in one clip shared on TikTok, Rush was recorded saying: "I'd like to be remembered as an innovator. I think it was General [Douglas] MacArthur who said, 'You're remembered for the rules you break.' And I've broken some rules to make this. I think I've broken them with logic and good engineering behind me."
Rush's above quote came from a 2021 interview with YouTuber Alan Estrada (around the 24-minute mark):
But was the source of the quote about rule breaking really MacArthur — the U.S. general who commanded the Southwest Pacific Theater during World War II and served as the Allied commander of the postwar occupation of Japan? Various quotes with the same sentiment have been attributed to him across the internet, in newspapers, and in books.
While it was possible that he said or wrote the remark — some secondhand sources claimed that its premise about rule-breaking, at least, originated with him — there appeared to be no evidence to independently verify that that was the case. We could not find a document authored by MacArthur with the quote, or an audio recording of him saying it, to prove without a doubt that he said or wrote it.
MacArthur, who also commanded United Nations forces during the Korean war, had a widely debated legacy, achieving many awards and being highly lauded for his time leading World War II troops. But, in recent times, a number of historians have described him as "overrated" and "among America's worst generals." His career unceremoniously ended in 1951 when President Harry Truman fired him for ignoring direct orders and thwarting Truman's attempt to negotiate a ceasefire during the Korean War.
As for the quote allegedly attributed to him, we found a decades-old version of the statement, verbatim, in a 1996 issue of the Press of Atlantic City newspaper. In that edition's "Thought of the Day" section, MacArthur was quoted as saying, "You are remembered for the rules you break."
Also citing MacArthur, a 2007 blog post by a law firm claimed the quote was this: "Rules are mostly made to be broken and are too often for the lazy to hide behind."
We were only able to find secondhand sources that quoted MacArthur making such a statement. They were stories by his fellow soldiers about their interactions with MacArthur.
We reached out to the MacArthur Memorial in Norfolk, Virginia, an organization that hosts archival material about the general, and asked if researchers there had encountered the quote repeated by the OceanGate CEO or variations it. James Zobel, the memorial's archivist, said the quote came from the diaries of Major Gen. George Leach, which he wrote during World War I when MacArthur was commander of the 84th Brigade.
According to Zobel's interpretation of the diaries and historical circumstances surrounding them (emphasis, ours):
Just before the battle of San Mihiel, Leach came to MacArthur and told him that the Corps orders for artillery was madness. MacArthur as commander of the 84th Brigade sat down with Leach and they created an artillery plan that would work for the next day's offensive by the Rainbow. Leach and MacArthur did not tell higher headquarters and Leach remembered MacArthur saying, 'Sometimes it is the order one disobeys that makes them famous.'
Leach served with MacArthur during World War I. First, MacArthur was in charge of the Rainbow Division, and, by the end of the war, he was a brigadier general. According to the Minnesota Military Museum, MacArthur regarded Leach as "the finest artillery officer in the Army."
We found a different version of the alleged quote in the 1962 book "MacArthur Close‑Up" by William Addleman Ganoe. Ganoe, according to his own account and a 1962 review of the book, was MacArthur's adjutant, or administrative assistant, while MacArthur was a superintendent at West Point Military Academy. The book covered a two-year period, and Ganoe claimed to have had its contents corroborated by Major Gen. Robert M. Danford who wrote a foreword to the book.
The in-question quote appeared in Ganoe's retelling of a time when, as a commanding officer, MacArthur was grappling with how to discipline a sergeant who "got himself in deep trouble through a faithless wife and an errant daughter." Ganoe described the situation like this: "Even though the provocation was great, the offense was serious, and could be decided only by the Commanding General."
Ganoe described MacArthur's great sympathy for the offender (emphasis, ours):
I explained that the man had twenty-eight years of service, been wounded twice, had a splendid record till then, and that his infractions were produced by heartbreaking conditions.
I think I must have made the story quite pathetic, for when I finished, the Supe reached quickly for his handkerchief to dab at the sprouting tears. He swallowed and asked, "Are conditions such now that he won't repeat?"
I assured him I had talked with the Sergeant, that his wife and daughter were in no position to cause more trouble, and I was certain he would go on as he had before.
"Chief, wipe the slate clean."
"But the regulations . . ."
He thrust his chin forward, in the way he had for emphasis. "Fudge the regulations!" he charged. "They're sometimes made to be broken for the good of the whole. Rules are mostly made for the lazy to hide behind. What earthly good will it do society to punish him at the end of a highly useful career? It's his family who should be punished, and they're out of my purview."
He paced a bit, repeating, "Rules! Rules! What damage have they caused! Some little thing goes wrong. Instead of mending the situation on the spot, we make a rule. Someone commits a nuisance on a beautiful lane. The K.O. [Contracting Officer] yells to his adjutant to get out an order at once putting the lane off limits and placing a guard at its ends. Aha, he's cured that evil. Now, as a matter of fact, the transgression had never occurred before, and a hundred people who didn't commit nuisances are inconvenienced by the shutting off of a short cut. But it was easier for the K. O. to sit in his office and sign an order than to get wheels and his ingenuity moving to catch the culprit. I suspect he didn't have much ingenuity to use. He was content to make a lot of innocent people suffer for one guilty. [...]"
The excerpts involving men who worked with MacArthur in varying capacities detailed different versions of the quote. One highlighted MacArthur supposedly saying that breaking rules leads to recognition and a legacy, while the other claimed that he believed rules were meant to be broken, particularly because they protect the lazy.
While both were secondhand accounts and not direct quotes from MacArthur, the statements have found their way onto the internet and proliferated without any context.