Truman vs. MacArthur

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.”

20 thoughts on “Truman vs. MacArthur”

  1. Roamy,

    Great post!

    While no fan of the current Administration, I do think President Obama had little choice but to relieve McChrystal. For much the same reason as McArthur was sent packing. Truman had no choice, either. ‘Cept MacArthur didn’t think Truman would dare. He did. MacArthur even alcknowledged privately that it took guts for Truman to do what he did.

    My point regarding McChrystal, irrespective of the abysmal and unprofessional command climate (and the extraordinary lapse in judgment to allow Rolling Stone Magazine into his CP), was his violation of DoD Instruction 1344.10, Paragraph “Allow or cause to be published partisan political articles, letters, or endorsements signed or written by the member that solicits votes for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.”

    Stanley McChrystal did just that when he discussed openly (and in uniform) that he had voted for Obama. If that doesn’t seem convincing, ask yourself what the outcry would be if McChrystal had mentioned to Rolling Stone that he had voted AGAINST Obama. While in uniform, during the execution of the duties of his office.

    Compare that to Sgt Stein, whose comments were clearly personal, done out of uniform on personal time, with the required disclaimer as to not representing the Marine Corps.

    1. I think it’s a bit of a stretch to claim that saying who you voted (note the tense) for is soliciting votes. I agree, had McCrystal said he had voted for McCain, there would have been much gnashing of teeth and rending of garments from the usual suspects, but such hystrionics would have been dismissed by the general public.

      It’s my understanding that Sgt. Stein didn’t get in trouble so much for his statements themselves, but rather from ignoring his chain of command when they told him to stop. You’re right that this class of rules is very vauge, which is why for the most part people are given a mulligan. But when an officer tells you that you’ve gone over the line and you don’t go Back Full Emergency you deserve to get hammered.

  2. Apparently it doesn’t matter what name I sign in with, WP uses the above.

    1. You can change it, but it has to be changed *every time* you log in. before you post, note the line just under the comment box. You’ll see your screen name and a link that will allow you to change it to what you want at post time. It seems you’ve noticed, you just have to remember to do it every time you log in anew. It’s annoying, but, alas…

  3. Jeff,
    Why is it a stretch? If it is, then the issues with Sgt Stein are strained well past the snapping point.
    Otherwise, what, other than “offensive” in the USMC guidance, which is of very dubious legal validity, was Sgt Stein in violation of?
    If the action against Sgt Stein is valid because of the interpretation, then the other against General McChrystal, certainly is.

    Which is, of course, not asserting that either are particularly valid.

  4. “But when an officer tells you that you’ve gone over the line and you don’t go Back Full Emergency you deserve to get hammered.”

    Er, no. If Sgt Stein is exercising his Constitutional rights, in his off-duty hours, and the Officer demands he desist, the Officer needs to be hammered. I once worked in a place where the CG demanded to review all gun purchases. He was against the private ownership of firearms. I was yelled at by the Chief of Staff when I refused to submit a permission slip to the General. I informed him that neither the CG nor he, the CSTAFF, had any input as to whether or not I purchased a firearm, or ammunition. Ever. And if the matter were raised again, the Secretary of the Navy would be notified. Not something that was appreciated from a Captain. But, had I been the MARFOR CG and known a General Officer stated that policy, I would have ordered him to rescind immediately or be relieved for cause. There was no difference between that, or an Officer ordering me to attend religious services, or ordering me not to. Or ordering Sgt Stein to cease exercising his Constitutional rights.

    1. I would have relieved for cause with no such warning. No officer of the military has any business doing such things and proves he is not worthy of a commission when he does such things.

  5. There’s a huge gulf between “I voted for Obama” and “You should vote for Obama.” For one thing, the fact that the former is in the past tense is a pretty strong clue that it is physically impossible to vote for Obama, the election being over and done with. There’s no way anyone could reasonably conclude that McCrystal was endorsing Obama in the totally-unknown conditions of 2012.

    Now, as for Sgt. Stein. You and I both know that off-duty is a pretty ephemeral state, and that active duty military members have some unique restrictions on their rights, especially their rights of expression. I’m not free to talk about A4W BFPL curves (and only partly because I never learned them) and I wasn’t free to compare the President to Hitler. You could argue that since neither Sgt. Stein nor Obama are commissioned officers neither Art. 88 nor Art. 89 are applicable, but that’s the kind of sea-lawyering that makes me reach for a percussive maintenance tool. However, both of those articles indicate that it is acceptable to restrict the speech of military members in the name of good order and discipline. I doubt Congress intended to give Sergeants freedoms Lieutenants lacked. Seems to me that Sgt. Stein is an attention-whore and the Marines are right to disassociate themselves from his ilk.

    1. Jeff,

      The public statement by a General Officer in uniform, disclosing for whom
      he voted in a general election, for a candidate who is eligible to run again for the office, can certainly be reasonably considered an endorsement. The General was imprudent in the extreme to have made such a public statement. Again, what if he had publicly stated he had voted AGAINST the President?

      As for Sgt Stein, the arbitrary and capricious limitation of Free Speech by unclear and subjective regulations, with simply “offensive” being the measure, likely will not pass legal muster. See my original comments above. Offensive to whom? As for being prejudicial to good order and discipline, that has never been documented in any of Sgt Stein’s counselings or fitness reports. When a command attempts to regulate off-duty activity not specifically forbidden by the UCMJ or local laws, they have to make that case. Period.

      To your assertion of Article 88, it applies only to Commissioned Officers. It is an element of the offense.

  6. I’m sorry, but assuming someone voting for Obama against McCain in 2008 means they’re going to choose Obama over Romney in 2012 is completely illogical. If that were the case no incumbent would ever be defeated. Not to mention there’s a massive difference between voting for someone and endorsing them. We’ve all had to hold our noses when pulling the lever from time to time.

    You’re right that these rules are vague, which is why you won’t see the green table simply for violating them. You’re going to get at least two warnings, first a senior NCO pulling you aside to tell you you’re over the line (I actually wouldn’t be surprised if McCrystal received a similar message in a phone call or email), then the formal counseling session where you sign the page 13. They’re not going to risk going to the CO with an uncertain regulation when they can simply give you a direct order to knock it off. If you do the problem is solved. If you don’t they can bring you up on Art. 92, which everyone understands.

    I know Art. 88 only applies to commissioned officers, which is why I coupled it with Art. 89, which applies to everyone*, and asked if you thought Congress intended to give Sergeants rights Lieutenants lacked.
    You really can’t get away with claiming a constitutional right when there are a couple of bright-line examples of Congress saying military members give up certain rights of expression when they sign up. And out of uniform has nothing to do with it. As Gunny says “Your soul may belong to Jesus, but your ass belongs to the Corps.”

    *Yes, I know Art. 89 only refers to statements against commissioned officers, but that includes all of the chain of command outside the handful of NCO’s who can take care of themselves and the top three layers. Again, does it make sense to you that Congress intended for the CNO to enjoy protections the President lacks?

  7. Jeff,
    You and I will not agree. General McChrystal’s statement was a more egregious violation of DoD 1344.10 than anything Sgt Stein’s actions connote. The “direct order to knock it off” has to be lawful. Arbitrary and capricious interpretation of regulations having the effect to restrict First Amendment rights does not constitute such a lawful order. Simply declaring language “offensive” would never stand up in a court of law.

    As my comments allude to above, I do not condone Sgt Stein’s behavior, nor consider it particularly advisable. But that does NOT make it illegal. The USMC policy, as written, will not hold up to legal scrutiny. The DoD regulation, 1344.10, is quite clear, but Sgt Stein did not violate that regulation. Nor was he charged under Art.89.

    So what, exactly, was the offense he was found to have committed? Even non-judicial punishment has rules that must be followed. This looks and smells like a railroad job, whether you agree with Sgt Stein or not, or whether you think him the model Marine or not. THOSE considerations, thankfully, are immaterial.

  8. Of course we don’t agree. I’m right and you’re wrong. 😉

    A lawful order has nothing to do with a court of law. You keep pounding the First Amendment drum and I keep telling you that Art. 88 and 89 show that the First Amendment is significantly restricted when it comes to active duty members speaking about the political system. This is not new information, they cover it in boot camp. Stein’s error comes not from the egregiousness of his infraction, but from his persistence. If he had simply dialed back when told he was out of line he would still be a Marine and we would never have heard about him. Instead he thought he could sea-lawyer his way out of this. Like most sea-lawyers he thinks he’s smarter than he really is.

  9. I can see this either way. I think both of you make good points, but if McChrystal was held guiltless, then the good sarge should get off as well. Most of it smells political.

    Sadly, the politics made serious inroads in the services during WW2 and immediately subsequent years. At one time an officer or senior NCO would not even vote because of the solid belief in civilian control. That went in the 50s for those who were able to gain a long term post. These days it’s unthinkable for the troops not to vote, regardless. The development has not been healthy for the military.

  10. Jeff,

    A lawful order does indeed have to do with a Court Martial, which is a judicial proceeding. The restriction of free speech for a member of the armed forces is not the issue. It is the arbitrary and capricious interpretation of policies and regulations which are, in and of themselves, too vague to stand as a lawful order. The charge, in the case of Sgt Stein, should have been Article 92, Disobedience of a Lawful Order. But the first element of that offense is that the order MUST be a lawful one. Because, as Sgt Stein pointed out, he is not bound to follow an unlawful order.


    I posted something in response to your comment that apparently vanished. To the effect that, if a General was found to have done no wrong with the actions he took, with the same guidance in place, then it is wildly hypocritical to prosecute a Marine Sergeant for something that was far less egregious, and possibly not even in violation, of that same guidance.

    Yes, it stinks of politics through and through. Ask yourselves this: Would there have been an uproar if Sgt Stein would have posted pro-Obama material? What would have been the effect if McChrystal had publicly stated that he DIDN’T vote for Obama?

  11. DOD level regulations aren’t intended to be orders. They’re intended to provide guidance to local commanders in how to craft orders. They’re vauge on purpose. Do we know what charges Stein was brought up on? From the AP story it looks like he was charged under Art. 92, and Art. 88 and 89 contradicts any claim that an order to cease criticizing the chain of command is unlawful.

    I don’t understand how you think an NCO repeatedly insulting the President and disobeying orders is less egregious a violation than a General answering truthfully how he voted in a past election.

    As for your hypotheticals, if Stein has posted complimentary things about Obama we never would have heard about it, since it isn’t a crime to praise the chain of command. Now, if Stein had actively campaigned for Obama in similar circumstances we’d probably have heard about it. And as I said before, if McCrystal had said he’d voted for McCain I’m sure there would have been liberals screaming. But liberals are, by definition, idiots, so why would we care?

  12. Jeff,

    We will not agree. But on the item of Art 88 and 89 being carte blanche to restrict free speech by military members, you are wrong. Not even a matter of opinion. But wrong.

  13. AFAIK, SGT Stein hasn’t been charged with anything. I’ve not seen any mention of UCMJ proceedings, only an administrative seperation. That’s why I was so surprised by the OTH recommendation. I’ve never heard of one NOT connected to ART15 or Court Martial proceedings. But, like I said, I’ve not heard of any such proceedings for SGT Stein.

    Having said that, if the USMC wants to AdSep someone…

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