General Douglas MacArthur

When President Obama fired General Stanley McCrystal yesterday, the Americans were reminded of another painful episode in American history — the firing of General Douglas MacArthur by Harry Truman. “When you have nothing to say, take refuge in history” notes one aphorism and that’s precisely what I am going to do: the stories were pretty similar; the extremely bureaucratic ways of the Truman administration, which was then struggling with the nascent Cold War, annoyed more gung-ho MacArthur.  The general believed Truman was unfit to be his commander-in-chief while the latter thought the general was “Mr. Prima Donna, Brass Hat”.

The first bone of contention was with Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-Shek, whom the general was specifically asked by the White House to stay clear of. Communist forces under Mao Tse-tung had taken over China, chasing Chiang’s Nationalists off to the island of Formosa (now Taiwan). As the conflict in Korea grew, Truman felt that courting Chiang might prompt the entry of Red China and the Soviet Union into the Korean peninsular. MacArthur, however, believed Chiang could be a valuable ally, if not an ideal one: “If he has horns and a tail, so long as Chiang is anti-Communist, we should help him,” he declared. “We can try to reform him later,” he added.

In late July, MacArthur visited Formosa under his own initiative, and was photographed (above) kissing the hand of Madame Chiang. Madame Chiang looked both shocked and delighted, but Truman was incensed and more incensed were the etiquettists. The fact was that MacArthur was shown not only kissing a gloved hand, but also wearing his hat and grasping a pipe in his left hand. The question of whether this was proper for a gentleman was passed around and furiously debated until the-then Due de Levis Mirepoix, the world’s foremost authority on manners and the writer of La Politesse, Son Role, Ses Usages delivered the verdict that it is okay.

Truman probably couldn’t care less. In September, he met the general for the first and the only time. When he decided to dismiss the hero of the Pacific Treater in April, 1951, the Army, including MacArthur was the last to know. The public outrage was unprecedented; newspapers reacted furiously, with the New York Times lamenting “Asia apparently will be surrendered to Communism.” City councils adjourned. The American Legion was outraged, and in California Truman was hung in effigy. Truman’s approval ratings pummeled to low 20s, and he decided not to seek a second term.

MacArthur, on the other hand, returned triumphant. Half a million greeted him on his arrival in San Francisco; New York threw him the biggest ticker-tape parade ever, with five million people turning out to see MacArthur. The general gave an address to a defiant Congress; the speech which was interrupted by fifty ovations ended with the iconic line, “Old Soldiers never die, they just fade away.” In fact, that’s what happened to the general. His subsequent presidential candidacies came to nothing, and the only American ever to become a de facto emperor slowly fade into oblivion.

The above photo is in a poor condition. If anyone has a better version, please send it my way. 🙂

15 thoughts on “General Douglas MacArthur

    • I am no fan of Gen MacArthur but in no way can he be called one of Americas worst Generals, you may call him an arrogant sob but not a bad general.

      • Mike,

        I follow defense matters with the assistance of Tom Ricks who writes, IMHO, a superb blog, “The Best Defense;” He has a group of commenters that respect him and have served widely through the Armed Services. If you want to destroy any vestigial anti-intellectual 0gainst the military, read the letters from these warriors.

        Ricks’s recent column, “Worst General in the US Army?“, Rick wqrst are, in order, 1. Douglas MacArthur
        2. Benedict Arnold
        3. Ned Almond
        4. Tommy R. Franks
        5. William Westmoreland
        6. George McClellan
        7. Ambrose Burnside
        8. Horatio Gates

        Ricks gives his reasons and more than 150 comments follow. The general consensus agrees with his hypothesis.

        I was born during WWII and was brought up believing in the near sainthood of George Washingon, Robert Lee and Douglas MacArthur. The last two have suffered as the result of modern research and a more sceptical audience.

        Mike, do become a reader of Ricks. I think you will enjoy him.


      • He could be brilliant (Inchon), but also incredibly obtuse. Not only the the Chinese counter attack in Korea, but his choice to leave his air planes bunched on the ground in the Philipines for many hours after he knew of the attack on Pearl Harbor. I’m not sure what saved him from the fate of Kimmel.

  1. The stories are more even more similar. McCrystal had the Rolling Stone article, MacArthur had Martin letter.

    On April 5, 1951 Representative Joseph William Martin, Jr. revealed a letter from MacArthur critical of President Truman’s limited-war strategy.

  2. I am very glad the Gen. got relieved! I was in Pusan 3 months after that war began and the general wanted to bomb mainland China! that would have extended the war far beyond where it was.

  3. The only similarity between McChrystal and MacArthur is that they were both reckless, renegade generals who demonstrated outrageous contempt for the civilian chain of command.

  4. MacArthur is a polarizing figure; he made a career of straddling the line between genius and crazy.

    I hope I’m corrected if I’m mistaken here, but another point of contention between Truman and MacArthur was the nukes. One of the plans that he set in motion was to push the DPRK forces across the Yalu river then set off a series of small nuclear devices incorporating cobalt along the border to create a more or less permanent no-mans land from the fallout to stifle all the manpower China was sending.

    On the flip side, he landed his invasion force at Incheon and recaptured Seoul. Kind of unfortunate who he left the keys with when he was done.

    In Korea, an effigy stands overlooking Incheon harbour and is under constant watch by guards armed with big riot shields who explained to me they’re there to protect him from vandals. Both of the guards had an apparent reverence for the man and standing there overlooking the harbour, I couldn’t help but appreciate the sentiment as the view would most likely have been completely different if it wasn’t for him.

  5. There is NO comparison.

    MacArthur was the genuine article. They don’t get any more hero than that man. Just read the side notes at Wiki.

    McChrystal, meh.

  6. I agree to cannonization of George Washington and Robert E Lee, not Douglas MacArthur, I was born a couple of years after WWII and the first words about MacArthur I heard was the name “Dugout Dug”. I thought his island hopping in WWII and Inchon in Korea were fine pieces of work, his governing of Japan was on the money. His arrogance and willful disregard for facts was criminal.

  7. My father was one of General MacArthur’s photographers and World War II and I have original photo in perfect condition information on this page is lacking on who I would be sending photo to please respond

  8. This article states President Truman was hung in effigy in California in 1951 after he fired General Macarthur. I was an eyewitness who watched this event happen. Life Magazine published a picture of this event, and I was one of the students in the picture watching the effigy being hung on the flagpole of the California College of Medical Technicians in San Gabriel, CA. One of my room mates made the effigy and hung it on the flag pole. American public opinion at that time was running very high in opposition to President Truman’s action firing General Macarthur. Later I was a US Army Korean War veteran who received basic training as a combat medic, and advanced training in chemical, radiological, and biological warfare at Ft. Sam Huston, TX during the last months of the Korean War Era in 1954-1955, I was an experienced Registered.Radiological Technologist (R.T.) at the time I was drafted in December, 1954, I served in that capacity as a Radiological Specialist at the Army Hospital in Ft. Carson, CO during the remainder of my active Army service, and I remained in the Ready Reserve for a number of years, as a Specialist 4th Class, though I was never recalled to active duty.

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