Politics and the Truman/MacArthur Controversy
The precarious peace following World War II was at times only seconds from degenerating into a world wide nuclear war. The intensity of the cold war allowed for minimal error in foreign policy. It was during this tense and volatile time that General Douglas MacArthur fought what some deem his war in Korea. While he had proven himself time and again a brilliant military leader, his behavior was not impeccable. He tended to rely too much on his own authority, a trait not dear to Congress or the President. It was this tendency towards insubordination and his flagrant vocal outbursts that resulted in his dismissal on April 11, 1951, by President Harry S. Truman.1
The outcome of World War II left the world in an unprecedented situation. The two primary Allied powers, the United States, a capitalist nation, and the Soviet Union, a communist nation, were political polar opposites. The differences between the two political ideologies lent the two nations to a natural rivalry.
The post World War II world was a prime playing field for this rivalry to unfold. Most of the world powers had been completely devastated, leaving formerly self-sufficient nations and their colonies in complete governmental and economic disarray. Subsequently they were susceptible to the influence of anyone offering assistance either governmentally of economically. Hence, the rivalry that had begun prior to the war was foregone out of the necessity to defeat a common foe once again began again in earnest.
It was against this backdrop of fear and the burgeoning Cold War that General MacArthur would wage his war in Korea. The Soviet Union felt that the spread of communism was imminent and set about to assist that trend. At the same time the Soviet Union wanted to ensure that they would not be invaded again. If control of Eastern Europe could be retained they would be n essence killing two birds with one stone, furthering their political ideology and creating a buffer zone between themselves and anyone wishing to invade the Soviet Union.
The United States was convinced that the soviets were intent upon the world domination of communism and that they would aggressively pursue that goal.2 This coupled with the blossoming of nuclear technology elevated the stakes. The United States had effectively ended World War II with the dropping of the atom bomb in Japan.Soviet nuclear technology was not far behind thanks to the infiltration of American government by soviet spies.
Until the onset of the Cold War Korea would have been a non issue. .A remote place in respect to the United States, a war on behalf of Korea would never have occurred prior to the cold war and its foreign policies. However, the intense competition between communism and capitalism worldwide was enough to make the political status of Korea an important issue in American politics.3 When China became a communist nation the United States became willing to go to great lengths to ensure that no other East Asian nations succumbed to Communism. Thus a civil war in Korea led by a communist regime resulted in American intervention. This situation evolved into the Korean War. True to its oath to go to all lengths to contain communism, the United States dispatched its most decorated general, Douglas MacArthur, to head the forces in Korea.
General Douglas MacArthur had been in the Far East for many years. Prior to the war general Macarthur had been commander in the Philippines and during the war he had led the Allied forces in the Far East. At the close of the war he had been appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers in the Pacific. It was only natural that he would take control of the Koran situation. General MacArthur had proven himself a brilliant commander during the war and was very aware of his own successes. The fact that he had lived in the region for so long also led him to the conclusion that he understood the situation in the Far East more fully that any other American. These two beliefs played a large part in the culmination of events that led to the dismissal of General MacArthur by President Truman in April of 1951. General MacArthur had a tendency to do as he pleased whether authorized to do so or not. This self-reliance was dangerous in the delicate balance of power in the cold war world. Need less to say neither the president nor Congress was receptive to this kind of insubordination. General Douglas Macarthur was a fighter and not content with anything other than a full victory,
In the context of the Korean war this meant that in late November ob 1950,when faced with the droves of Communist China volunteers pouring over the China/Korea border to sustain the bedraggled North Korean forces, General Macarthur felt that the use of Nuclear weaponry was not only justified in Korea to win the war but that an attack on China itself was necessary, despite the status of china as Stalins new child.4 This was not an acceptable course of action for the United States and General Macarthurs refusal to accept this led to his fall from grace.
At the beginning of the Korean War Congress and the presidency were behind General Macarthur almost unanimously. They followed his recommendations and escalated the operation to a ground war. Early on in the war the use of nuclear bombs was discussed and even deemed acceptable. Moreover president Truman stated that the decision would rest with General Macarthur as to the use of atomic weapons.5 Despite the early support of Congress for these early actions, General MacArthurs propensity for independent thinking was fast becoming an issue. On June 30, 1950, General MacArthur ordered ground troops moved into the combat area in South Korea without first obtaining full authority. The orders to move ground troops in were not dispatched from Washington for another full fourteen hours.5 This discrepancy caught the attention of Congress, however it was excused for the most part. Subsequent communications form Washington to General Macarthur are indicative of the support for him in America and are evidence of the esteem in which he was held. General MacArthur enjoyed both presidential support and the support of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
As time passed other discrepancies in General Macarthurs judgment became an issue. After the series of victories following the incredibly successful amphibious landing at Inchon, General Macarthur was boasting about being home in time for Christmas.6 However, he ignored intelligence reports that alerted him to the infiltration of Korea by Chinese troops. This refusal to accept intelligence reports as plausible resulted in the American advance quickly becoming a retreat that finally ended at the original point of conflict, the 38th parallel. In other words, all of General MacArthurs progress had been nullified due to his inability to entertain the thought that he may be mistaken. In Trumans memoirs he states,
appear as if he were being relieved
So, despite his significant lapse in judgement, General MacArthur remained at the helm of the American forces in Korea.
MacArthur and the Joint Chiefs of Staff shared a few common beliefs.7 One of these beliefs being that Korea was a Stalinist diversion. General MacArthur believed that the Soviets intended to overrun Europe and that by draining the United States militarily in Korea would allow them to do as they please elsewhere.8 However, despite the fact that Congress and president Truman contemplated using nuclear weapons to oust Chinese forces from Korea and regain control of the situation it was determined that there was no effective target to pursue. Also, it can not be forgotten that the cold war was in full swing at this time and that the Soviet Union had in its possession nuclear weapons. The creation of NATO in 1949 had effectively drawn the line in the sand between the United States and the Soviet Union. If the United States were to allow General MacArthur to pursue his chosen course of action it is hard to it would not have led to another world war.
MacArthurs proposal was this, that China had already entered the war and therefore the United States should in turn attack China. In other words, take the fight onto Chinese soil. China had just converted to communism and neither Congress nor the president believed that if a United States invasion of China were to begin that the Soviet Union would not respond. This kind of confrontation would be too dangerous in the theatre of the Cold War. Unfortunately, General MacArthur held beliefs to the contrary. It was his position that the Soviet Union would stand idly by as all-out war was waged with China.
In March of 1951 Congress, president Truman and the United nations collectively began pursuing a peace settlement based upon the prewar border of the 38th parallel. General MacArthur was instructed not to do anything to jeopardize these peace talks. In an act of complete defiance General MacArthur continued to plan for war. Communications were intercepted in which General MacArthur discussed eliminating the Chinese Communist Question with Portugese and Spanish leaders.9 General Macarthur went so far as to Ceremonially reinstate Rhee in Soeul. Constantly thwarting orders from Washington, General MacArthur consistently sabotaged the peace making process.
Meanwhile in Washington, members of Congress and President Truman were appalled at the complete disregard General MacArthur continued to display for orders. General MacArthur was guilty of insubordination and treachery in the eyes of Washington. On April 11,1951 General MacArthur was dismissed. After fifty two years of military service, the most highlty decorated general of the United States military was fired. On April 19, 1951 General Douglas MacArthur gave his final address to the United States Congress. In his moving speech he justified his acts as doing what he thought was best for his country and his men,
preserve them and end this savage
deepest anguish and anxiety. Those
The dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur from the United States military was an event directly resultant of his constant refusal to abide by and uphold the decrees of the United States Congress and the President. No matter how distinguished his accomplishments such insubordination of the highest offices of the nation was bound to end in termination. Had the situation in the world theatre of foreign policy been different perhaps MacArthurs proprensity for independent thinking would have been tolerated. General Omar Bradley stated that it was The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time and with the wrong enemy.11 It is easy to believe that General MacArthur did indeed mean what he said to Congress, that he was fighting the good fight for both his country and all of the free world. Yet it is equally plausible that General MacArthur was unable to control his hubris and bow to the authority of the country he loved.