On the Wake Island, coral mid-Pacific atoll where the Marines made a valiant stand in 1941, President Truman and Gen. MacArthur met on October 15th 1950, to discuss the Korean War. In the above picture by Joe O’Donnell, Truman shook MacArthur’s hand after decorating him with fourth oak leaf cluster of the Distinguished Service Medal. It was a candidi snapshot–on Truman’s face, through his almost-mocking smile, showed his reservations about the reckless general whom he later fired.
“I fired him [MacArthur] because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President… I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was.”
A dumb son of a bitch he may be, according to Truman, MacArthur as the commander of the US-UN troops in South Korea led a stunning surprise victory at Inchon. However, early in 1951, MacArthur would make a controversial recommendation–he planned to attack Chinese supply bases north of the Yalu River and explored the possibility of using an atom bomb in China. President Truman was concerned that further escalation of the war might draw the Soviet Union further into the conflict.
Throughout the spring, a ferocious debate dominated American headlines and dinner table discussions–“Korean Problem,” the “MacArthur Controversy,” or simply the “Great Debate.” Finally, on April 11, 1951, Truman fired MacArthur from all his commands in Korea and Japan. Would MacArthur’s policies have ended the war in Korea sooner, or would they have risked World War III? That question lingers.