Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Interesting Random Piece of History 3

I am awaiting with anticipation the news from America as General Stanley McChrystal makes his way back from Afghanistan to Washington where President Obama will confront the four star General over remarks he made in a magazine that apparently mock several members of the administration. This is going to be an extremely tough call for the President as McChrystal is Obama's man who was appointed by the President to implement a counter insurgency as opposed to a counter terrorism strategy. If he fires the General it will no doubt destabilise the chain of command at a critical time in the war as the Khandahar offensive is getting under way. If he does not then he will look weak and indecisive. Anyway I will post on this when we know more. However this incident prompted me to discuss the most famous of all clashes between Generals and presidents which is the subject of today's Interesting random piece of history.

In 1951 the Korean war was going badly for the allies. There was a stalemate north of the 38th parallel where the war had begun. Communist China had entered the war in 1950 and drove UN forces back into southern Korea. The question facing the allies was what to do next. General Douglas MacArthur favoured expanding the war into China and made this clear in several interviews with the media. General MacArthur was an American hero. He was allied commander of pacific forces during World War Two. His forces defeated Japan. He oversaw the successful post war occupation of Japan. When North Korea invaded the south in June 1950 he masterminded the spectacular Inchon landings where 25000 troops landed behind enemy lines. He was adored by the American people. But when he criticised the President in public and even suggested that nuclear weapons should be used against China President Truman shocked the nation by firing him.

Most historians tend to agree that Truman did the right thing at the time even though many would argue that he should have listened more to MacArthur and allowed him to win the war. However, Politically it was very damaging such was MacArthur's popularity. Truman decided not to run for a second term in 1952 largely because of this incident. When MacArthur returned to America he received the largest ticker tape parade in New York that had ever been seen before anywhere in the country. Truman may have done the right thing, but it arguably cost him the presidency. Well Obama ???

General MacArthur gets welcomed in New York on his return.

One of the principal characteristics of any democratic state is that the civilian authorities maintain control over the military. This is universally agreed. Although I'm sure many conservatives in the states will have a go at Obama over his handling of McChrystal, so far they have all condemned the generals actions in strong terms. Like MacArthur it appears that McChrystal has made a serious blunder. I think Obama will fire him. Lets face it there was far more at stake in the spring of 1951, and MacArthur was a far greater public figure than McChrystal yet Truman still gave him the heave ho. I suspect Obama will do the same even though it may prove fatal to the President, just as it did to Harry Truman.


Gary said...

There was a bit more to MacArthur getting sacked then is generally known. Truman was trying to keep Taiwan out of the Korean conflict because China wanted an excuse to invade the island. MacArthur knew that but flew to Taiwan against Truman's orders and started negotiating to have them send troops to fight in Korea. That could easily have had terrible consequences. That was a much bigger reason why Truman got rid of MacArthur then his suggestion to use nuclear weapons (which even MacArthur knew could not be effectively used on the narrow confines of the peninsula).

Ted Leddy said...


It was quite reckless of McAthur no doubt. I have to say though that I find it truly astonishing that in situations like Korea and now in Afghanistan that ego and personality clashes can get in the way when so much is at stake.

Linda T. said...

Actually, I believe the single largest ticker tape parade to be held in New York City was- and remains- the homecoming celebration for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Allied Forces, one month after the end of WWII, on June 10, 1945. Over 4.4 million people came out to see the winning general. Present was not only Gen. Eisenhower, but also Pres. Harry Truman, Admiral Bull Halsey, and NYC Mayor, Fiorello LaGuardia.