General Douglas MacArthur
A nervous President Johnson addressing General William Westmoreland in Honolulu in 1966 is said to have stated, “General, I have a lot riding on you. I hope you don’t pull a MacArthur on me.” President Johnson, of course, was referring to General Douglas MacArthur, who played a significant role in American domestic and foreign affairs for much of the 21st century. “Pulling a MacArthur” referred to the general’s conduct during the Korean War, when he famously questioned the strategies of his civilian superior in the White House, commander-in-chief Harry Truman. General MacArthur wanted to defeat communism in Asia by any means necessary, including the use of nuclear weapons, while Truman was cautious about how the war was conducted and wanted to focus the military’s energy on protecting Europe. General MacArthur, a decorated war hero several times over, was removed from his position as leader of the United Nations Command in Korea for publicly challenging Truman in an open letter to the American House of Representatives. Since that time, he has remained a controversial figure, but in the eyes of this writer he is an American hero whose singularity of military vision was compromised by the cowardice of President Truman, Secretary of Defense George Marshall, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, and the other civilian leaders who were in charge of the war.
General MacArthur had had a long and illustrious military career before he became the leader of the United Nations Command. He had been the Chief of Staff of the United States Army in the decade before World War 2 and served as a general and the field marshal of the Philippine Army during the war. He also showed bravery in World War 1 as a brigadier general, during which time he was twice nominated for the Medal of Honor, received the Distinguished Service Cross two times, and was awarded the Silver Star on seven occasions. Additionally, he served as Superintendent of the US Military Academy at West Point, helped put down the Philippine Scout Mutiny in 1924, participated in the defeat of the Bonus Army in Washington DC in 1932, and assisted with the foundation of Franklin Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corp. He was the Army’s youngest major general and the only person to serve as a field marshal in the Philippine Army. He was even in charge of the occupation of a defeated Japan until 1951! In total, he received over a hundred military awards and decorations from not only America but numerous other countries, including France, the Netherlands, Australia, and Japan.
Yet for all this, he is remembered less for his tactical abilities and victories than the loss of his command in Korea, a decision that rendered the unpopular Truman even more despised due to the high regard in which MacArthur himself was held by the American people. Many Americans thought that General MacArthur was being unfairly punished by Truman and his cabinet for daring to challenge their military authority. In MacArthur’s letter to Congress, he wrote:
“It seems strangely difficult for some to realize that here in Asia is where the Communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest, and that we have joined the issue thus raised on the battlefield; that here we fight Europe’s war with arms while the diplomats there still fight it with words; that if we lose the war to communism in Asia the fall of Europe is inevitable, win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom. As you pointed out, we must win. There is no substitute for victory.”
Many historians were reminded of MacArthur when President Obama relieved the popular General Stanley McChrystal from his command of the American war in Afghanistan following an article by the late reporter Michael Hastings in Rolling Stone magazine. Here was another case of a relatively inexperienced Commander-In-Chief dismissing a gifted and proven military leader from their post for criticizing his stewardship of the war. There is a tension in America between the civilian leadership of the army and the military experts, the generals, who are required to take their orders from them. Many Americans, myself included, believe that when wars become necessary, whether in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere, the soldiers and the mission are better served when the civilian leadership heeds the wisdom of these military experts even if doing so is politically unpopular. It’s entirely possible that America and her allies could have won the Korean War had General MacArthur been allowed to continue in his command, and that Korea would today exist as a united country instead of as two separate countries, one of which is a nightmarish police state guilty of some of the most horrible recorded crimes against humanity. American military heroes aren’t just those who died in battle or defeated the enemy they faced. They also include those, like General MacArthur, who were willing to risk their career and reputation by standing up for what they believed in. The next time someone mentions General MacArthur, remind them that he is an American hero held in far higher esteem today than are those who relieved him of his duty. Not even his worst detractors doubt that he loved his country and would have gladly given his life for it.
Thomas Davis – NEWSslinger Contributor