Move Over God - It's MacArthur
Harry Truman became convinced that his disagreements with MacArthur meant that he must make a change in the military leadership. Truman had always disliked and distrusted Douglas MacArthur. He disapproved of the general's occasional failure to carry out his direct orders. In addition, Truman knew MacArthur often refused to explain his military plans to political superiors. The president particularly resented the general's public pronouncements to various press services that cast him in the most advantageous light. Truman believed that military officials should restrict their contacts with the press. Truman's view of MacArthur's arrogant behavior is reflected in the following verse written by an anonymous soldier:
And while possibly a rumor now, Someday it will he fact
Truman's closest associates shared the president's opinion of the outspoken general. Dean Acheson called MacArthur a man of "incredible arrogance and vanity." Secretary of Defense George Marshall agreed with this assessment. President Truman, however, did not lose confidence in MacArthur because of his administration's dislike of the general. After an agonizing nine months, Tnuman finally came to the decision that he and MacArthur could not work as a team in conducting the Korean War. The president decided to replace MacArthur with Matthew Ridgway. Ridgway was not a political general. Truman was certain that General Ridgway would carry out the limited military objectives that he had established.
The Truman-MacArthur controversy centered around the question of the proper relationship between the president of the United States and his military commander in the field. According to the Constitution, MacArthur was definitely stepping beyond his authority. The president is the commander in chief of the nation's armed forces. The president also directs American foreign policy. By violating Truman's orders, MacArthur was violating these principles.
For nine months, Truman observed MacArthur's behavior and listened to his public statements. Truman concluded that MacArthur could not accept a subordinate role. The two men felt too differently about how the Korean conflict should be managed for them to continue in a working relationship.
Truman wanted to fight a limited war in Korea. MacArthur wanted to take the war beyond Korea into China in order to overthrow tile communist government there. To fight that war, MacArthur urged the use of Chiang Kai-shek's Chinese Nationalist soldiers against mainland China. He also urged the blockading of Chinese harbors and suggested the use of atomic weapons in order to achieve victory.
MacArthur frequently offered these opinions to members of the press. He told them when he disagreed with Truman. When his own plans failed, he explained those failures as the consequence of lack of support on the part of the government. This behavior is exemplified by the way in which MacArthur justified the outcome of his "home by Christmas" campaign. MacArthur had made many mistakes. He advanced to the Yalu River in November 1950 without preparing his troops for a winter campaign. He ignored reports of a huge enemy buildup. He recklessly sent Americans to the Manchurian border in defiance of presidential orders, and he divided his poorly fed and ill-clothed troops. "These actions led a senior officer to observe that "MacArthur cared little for the common soldiers under his command nor the officers either."
But MacArthur did not accept responsibility for the failure of the campaign. Instead, he blamed the Truman administration for inadequate support. Specifically, MacArthur told various reporters that orders forbidding him to strike at communist targets in Manchuria put him under "an enormous handicap without precedent in military history." The major news services and the Tokyo papers gave the story wide coverage. The general had a huge following in the United States and was enormously popular.
No More Public Statements!
On December 5, 1950, Truman told MacArthur that he was to make no more public statements regarding administration policy. In the future, all public statements had to be cleared first by State Department or Defense Department officials. No private opinions were to he communicated to the press.
The general soon disregarded the order. In March 1951, Truman was secretly attempting to negotiate a settlement to end the Korean War. The Yalu campaign had convinced Truman that the United Nations should not try to unite Korea by military means. It should instead find a way to return to the division of the country along the 38th parallel. As a courtesy to his commander in the field, Truman told MacArthUr about the confidential talks underway to achieve these objectives. MacArthur was warned not to discuss the negotiations publicly.
General MacArthur opposed Truman's peace plans. The general believed that "there was no substitute for victory." He publicly announced his opposition to the press. MacArthur announced that if given control, he would recommend massive air strikes into China, the destruction of Chinese ports and shipping facilities, and even the "laying of radioactive waste cross the lines of enemy supply."
MacArthur claimed that he was unwilling to make a "sacrifice of the Korean nation." He demanded the unconditional surrender of the Chinese. Truman issued an angry message to MacArthur directly ordering him not to make any more public statements. A Washington Post cartoon that appeared on March 31, 1951, graphically depicted the conflict between the general and the president. The cartoon showed Truman wagging a message under MacArthur's nose and saying, "Honest, no fooling this time!" In the cartoon, an undaunted general directs an aide to "file this one with the others."
But there was one more time. On April 5, 1951, the Republican minority leader of the House of Representatives, Joseph W. Martin, read before the full chamber a letter he had received from MacArthur. The general said that defeat of American forces in Asia would make the fall of Europe inevitable. "Victory would prevent war elsewhere," according to MacArthur. "As you point out," he wrote to Martin, "we must win. There is no substitute for victory." This statement was the final straw. Truman at last decided to fire MacArthur. The president consulted with the joint Chiefs of Staff as well as with his civilian advisers. They all agreed that MacArthur must go.
I Want Him Fired
Truman planned to send a delegation to Tokyo to inform MacArthur in person of his decision. Somehow, the news was leaked, and a rumor spread that MacArthur was about to retire. Truman was furious. He did not want to give MacArthur the opportunity, to retire. Truman would not be denied the final word in the controversy with the general. So he quickly wired the orders to Tokyo on April 11, 1951, and the press was immediately informed of their contents. The president said, "The son of a bitch isn't going to resign on me. I want him fired."
The president expressed himself at greater length in his Memoirs as he explained why he fired Douglas MacArthur: "He prevented a cease-fire proposition.... I was ready to kick him into the North China Sea at that time. I was never so put out in all my life. It's the lowest trick a Commander-in-Chief can have done to him by an underling. MacArthur thought he was proconsul [the voice] for the government of the United States and could do as he damned pleased."
Gen. George Marshall, by 1950 the secretary of defense and a close associate of the president, agreed with this assessment of the situation. Marshall wrote: "What is new, and what brought about the necessity for General MacArthur's removal is the entirely unprecedented situation of a local theatre commander publicly expressing his displeasure at and disagreement with the foreign policy of the United States."
A large segment of the American public did not support Truman's decision to fire MacArthur. The White House received piles of critical telegrams and letters. In the first week after MacArthur's dismissal, seventy-eight thousand pieces of mail were sent to the president, twenty to one against his action. A Gallup poll showed that 69 percent of the American people backed MacArthur, while a mere 28 percent supported Harry Truman. After being fired, MacArthur returned to the United States for the first time in many years. He received a tumultuous reception in San Francisco and a large ticker-tape parade in New York City.
The Old Soldier Does Not Fade Away
MacArthur's many friends and political allies in government invited the general to address a joint session of Congress. In the course of his speech, MacArthur made his famous, stirring statement: "Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away - an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good-bye."
But MacArthur had no intention of fading away. He wanted to challenge Truman for the presidency. Republican supporters were so upset ahout MacArthur's dismissal that they held two months of congressional hearings regarding MacArthur's handling of the Korean conflict. By questioning MacArthur, Republicans intended to justify the actions of their hero and to cast doubt upon the leadership of Truman and of his Democratic administration.
Under close scrutiny in closed Senate hearings, however, MacArthur's luster began to dim. During his testimony, he revealed that he had often disobeyed the orders of the president. He continued to deny any responsibility for the terrible loss of American lives in November and December 1951. Most important, it became clear that MacArthur's policies could lead the United States to the brink of World War III.
MacArthur's testimony diminished the anger many people felt toward President Truman. The public gained respect for Truman's upholding of the principle of presidential control of the military. Truman's appointment of Matthew Ridgway as commander of the UN forces became more acceptable to MacArthur's friends, especially since Ridgway provided the successes the president and the American public craved.
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