Last week, we discussed the Marine who got in trouble for criticizing President Obama on his Facebook posts. URR said, “If this Marine Sgt is punished, then General McChrystal should be immediately recalled to ACDU and face a General Court Martial, as his statements ARE in clear violation of DoD guidance contained in 1344.10.” This made me think of other generals, namely General Douglas MacArthur.
On this day in 1951, President Harry Truman relieved General MacArthur of command. While this disciplinary action was not for disparaging the President, MacArthur had disobeyed orders from Truman and made several moves which infuriated the President. The two men had met in something of a photo op on Wake Island in October 1950, right before the midterm elections. General Omar Bradley’s notes on the Wake Island conference are here and here (pdf). On the second page of that second document is the statement:
We must do everything we can to localize the conflict in Korea. Politically, we must assure the Chinese and the Soviets that they are not being threatened militarily in Korea but we must also keep before them their recklessness of active intervention on their part. Militarily, we must use extreme measures to prevent incidents involving United Nations forces and Chinese or Soviet forces or territory.
Throughout the winter, MacArthur had made statements during press conferences that were not in agreement with the White House. In March, MacArthur had issued an ultimatum for the surrender of the Chinese Communists, then sent General Matthew Ridgway about 20 miles north of the 38th Parallel. This was the last straw for Truman. Truman met with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and then ordered the relief of MacArthur.
I deeply regret that it becomes my duty as President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States military forces to replace you as Supreme Commander, Allied Powers; Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command; Commander-in-Chief, Far East; and Commanding General, U.S. Army, Far East. You will turn over your commands, effective at once, to Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway.
Back home, the news of MacArthur’s relief was quite a shock. He was a war hero and possible Presidential candidate. Senator Robert Taft of Ohio called for Truman’s impeachment, but it was settled that it was well within Truman’s power as Commander-in-Chief to control the military. MacArthur came home to warm welcomes and parades, then gave his farewell speech to Congress, with the classic line “old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”