Truman Or MacArthur: Who's In Command? CSC 1992 SUBJECT AREA - History EXECUTIVE SUMMARY TITLE: Truman or MacArthur: Who's in Command? AUTHOR: Julie A. Miller, Student, USMC Command and Staff College THESIS: Truman was clearly within his constitutional authority as the sole voice of foreign policy in the U.S. Government to relieve General MacArthur as Commander-in-Chief of the Far East. When you have a popular military commander who has seemingly accomplished the impossible and a President who is not very popular and who is struggling for support at home and abroad, it could be very difficult not to bow to the intimidation of the military. President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur were just two such people. The "controversy" between Truman and MacArthur centered not on military issues but on the right of a President to demand compliance to his policies as Command-in-Chief of the armed forces. These were not personal issues or petty disagreements between a commander and his subordinate. Truman was backed by the Constitution of the United States. Article II, Section 2 gives a President the right and power to utilize the armed forces as an instrument to carry out that foreign policy. This section of the Constitution also sanctions the President as Chief Diplomat. There is not doubt that MacArthur was a knowledgeable and experienced commander. However, the facts do not bear out that he was not without blame for the debacle of Korea in underestimating the Chinese strength and will to fight. He can be brought to task also for not recognizing Truman's policy of containment that did not give per-eminence to Asia but tho Western Europe where the threat of Soviet domination was already prevalent, that his role was to carry out U.S. policy in Korea and not to enmesh himself in questioning what that policy was. Traditionally, a military man is above politics or at least not involved publicly, and certainly not in public conflict with superiors. Truman rose above the conflict to preserve the right of the President to formulate foreign policy as he sees fit in consultation with his advisors. TRUMAN OR MACARTHUR: WHO'S IN COMMAND The President is responsible for conducting foreign policy for the United States. Explicit with the President's conduct of foreign policy are his roles as Chief Diplomat and Commander-in- Chief, concomitant is his authority to recall a recalcitrant general. During the Korean War two voices espoused policy for the U.S.: President Truman and General MacArthur. This dichotomy of policy had to be resolved and eventually was with the dismissal of MacArthur. The conflict between Truman and MacArthur involved MacArthur's challenge to Truman's aforementioned roles: essentially a challenge to civilian control of the government in foreign affairs. Truman was clearly within his constitutional authority as the sole voice of foreign policy in the U.S. Government to relieve General MacArthur as Commander-in-Chief of the Far East. With the barrage of criticism leveled at Truman, most Americans at the time did not understand that his position was a constitutional one dealing with the insubordination of a theater commander. The decision was based on a thorough examination of MacArthur's proposals and his non-acceptance of their rejection by the Truman Administration. Larger issues of foreign policy and civilian control were at stake and had to be preserved at the relative minor expense of a subordinate. Generally, Truman followed a policy of containment. This policy had worked in Turkey, Iran, and Greece, and Truman meant for it to work in Korea. The war had to be viewed in the context of possible repercussions with the U.S.'s allies and other foreign governments. Therefore, Truman pursued a policy of limited war in Korea. The concept of a limited war as opposed to total war was a political judgement of the conflict by civilian authorities and for political, not for military, objectives. The concept of limited war was new to Americans and to the military who were used to waging total war until a complete victory had been obtained. Wars were fought until the enemy was completely defeated and subjugated. In all previous wars this had been the case, especially in the so recently fought World War II. MacArthur's view was that war should be waged utilizing every means possible--totally--or war should not be waged at all. He had lots of support from the American public, as well as from some members of Congress, notably Senator Taft and Representative Martin. MacArthur's views were given added credence because of his position as the local theater commander of the Inchon victory, his prominence as the successful proconsul of Japan, his status as a war hero in the Pacific during World War II, and his exposure as a possible presidential nominee in 1948. He was thought to be almost an infallible authority on Far Eastern affairs--he had not set foot in the United States for fourteen years. General Matthew Ridgway summed up the personality and experience of MacArthur that played such a large part in formulating the way he viewed the world and his place in it: The hunger for praise that led him on some occasions to claim or accept credit for deeds he had not performed, or to disclaim responsibility for mistakes that were clearly his own; the love of the limelight that continually prompted him to pose before the public as the actual commander on the spot at every landing and at the launching of every major attack in which his ground troops took place; his tendency to cultivate the isolation that genius seems to require, until it became a sort of insulation (there was no telephone in his personal office in Tokyo) that deprived him of the critical comment and the objective appraisals a commander needs from his principle subordinates; the headstrong quality (derived from his success in forcing through many brilliant plans against solid opposition) that sometimes led him to persist in a course in defiance of all seeming logic; a faith in his own judgment that created an aura of infallibility and that finally led him close to insubordination. (6/142) But the Korean War was not a total war, and a complete victory was not its goal. Korea was fought as a political war for political goals: initially to insure that the boundary at the 38th parallel would be maintained. (That policy was later changed to complete unification, but without success.) It was a limited goal and clearly within the framework of Truman's overall foreign-policy strategy. Korea was not the only factor Truman had to consider. It must be kept in mind that Truman's first priorities lay in Europe where the principle enemy was the Soviet Union--not Korea or China. He was much more concerned with building up the defenses in Western Europe and maintaining a cohesive NATO alliance. Being an ardent "Asia-firster", MacArthur was convinced that Communist China was the real enemy of the Western world, and the force behind the North Korean aggression. Of the relationship between Europe and Asia, MacArthur stated unequivocally that "here in Asia . . . the communist conspirators have elected to make their play for global conquest . . . that here we fight Europe's wars 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." (7/221) MacArthur did not seem to appreciate the fact that military factors had to subordinated to political considerations with which he did not agree. He publicly propagated policies that were directly opposed to Truman's. MacArthur advocated a four-point program that would have escalated the war and actively involved Communist China. His policy advocated a naval blockade of Communist China, unrestricted air and naval bombardment of Chinese military and industrial capacity, deployment of troops from Formosa, and removal of all restrictions on the Nationalist Chinese troops to engage in diversionary attacks on the Chinese Mainland. (4/332) His policies stressed the military factors which completely overshadowed the political implications so vital to Truman. The idea of a limited war was anathema to MacArthur's military mind. On this matter, he did not mince his words: "War never before in the history of the world has been applied piecemeal . . . that you wage half-war and not whole war is appeasement." (7/226) MacArthur clearly did not or refused to understand that the limited war concept was specifically implemented to insure that the war did not escalate militarily to involve China and the Soviet Union in massive ground actions in Korea. The fact that MacArthur disagreed with the Truman Administration's foreign policy caused him to disobey his orders and try to seek a change over to his own policies. In disobeying his orders, MacArthur violated the first duty of a military man: to obey the orders of his superiors. A soldier can disagree with policy within the command structure on a private basis but not publicly. In the event that a soldier cannot carry out his orders, he is duty-bound to resign. There were no half-way measures to deal with insubordination without dire results politically and militarily. In this case, Truman would lose a brilliant military mind, as well as a popular figure, who, to date had basically supported his policies. When conducting a war, the Commander-in-Chief should not have to deal with an unsympathetic field commander at every juncture who cannot uphold policies in which he does not believe. Truman could not afford to continue placating MacArthur politically or militarily. With MacArthur espousing contradictory policies at every turn, Truman had to deal diplomatically with the allies who were confused as to what the real policies were and who was actually making them. It was Truman's task to rally support for the United Nations' action and to explain the damage done to his credibility by MacArthur's statements. He was having a difficult time trying to maintain a consensus within his administration and with the Allies without having to constantly deal with MacArthur at every new turn. It is the job of the President as Chief Diplomat to deal with foreign governments. It is a political realm in which the military has no jurisdiction. Negotiations, settlements, peace initiatives, etc. are the prerogative of the President and his designated subordinates. Afterall, the whole purpose of diplomacy is to achieve goals without the use of military force. It was not MacArthur's right to present a virtual ultimatum to the North Koreans with unpleasant consequences if it were not heeded. That right clearly belonged exclusively to President Truman. And to make it more unpalatable to Truman was the fact that MacArthur's announcement, labeled a "military appraisal", undermined and negated his own pending request for peace negotiations. In doing so, MacArthur ignored an executive order issued 6 December 1950 stating that all public statements be submitted for review first by the Defense or State Departments. It would have been less effective if Truman had gone ahead and issued his own statement and, at the same time try to discount MacArthur's. The damage to Truman's credibility had already been done. Another point that must be considered is how much control the civil authorities can have over a local field commander without hampering the accomplishment of the military objectives. Traditionally, during a total war, the civilian authorities gave military commanders in the field greater authority to formulate military policies to enhance operational freedom. Clausewitz stated what every military man should be well aware: . . . Wars are in reality . . . only the expression or manifestations of policy itself. The subordination of the political point of view to the military would be contrary to common sense, for policy has declared the War; it is the intelligent faculty, War only the instrument, and not the reverse. The subordination of the military point of view to the political is, therefore, the only thing which is possible. (4/405) MacArthur tried to influence the policies of his government by "force" in misinterpreting and violating specific directives from his superiors. Truman's order issued 26 June 1950 to refrain from attacking North Korean positions beyond the 38th parallel was broadly interpreted by MacArthur and perceived as not a direct prohibition to move beyond the 38th. To him, the field commander should have the authority to ascertain the immediate combat situation and respond accordingly, despite the political repercussions. In MacArthur's mind, Truman and his Washington entourage clearly did not understand the situation on the battlefield. But in a limited war situation when politics are dominant, civilian control must be maintained to insure that only those goals are attained. Had MacArthur been allowed to pursue his own policies, the war would have been enlarged to involve Communist China, Nationalist China, and most likely, the Soviet Union, and undoubtedly would have caused some allies to withdraw their support. The allies, especially Great Britain and France, were already worried that Truman might not be able to control MacArthur. MacArthur's continued publicly voicing opposition to Administration policy, disobeying orders, thwarting diplomatic efforts, and generally frustrating the effective execution of Presidential policy all equaled insubordination to Truman as the Commander-in-Chief. He thought that his authority as President was being undermined by MacArthur and therefore, damaging his effectiveness and credibility in conducting foreign policy. As the Joint Hearings of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committees investigated MacArthur's dismissal, most members' conclusions had finally concurred with Truman; many thought that MacArthur should have been dismissed even sooner. The President clearly had the constitutional prerogative to dismiss a military commander when deemed necessary. However, Truman was not unaware of the great risks involved in firing MacArthur. This awareness of risks delayed his final decision to the detriment of his credibility at home and abroad. But these are decisions, risks and consequences that must be borne by that person holding the office. In this case the consequences were loss of prestige for the office of the President and possibly World War III. However, when the military situation outruns the political objectives, the military situation must be realigned with the political considerations. In firing MacArthur on 10 April 1951, Truman began the long haul in trying to get the military situation back on track with his foreign policy and reinstate his credibility with U.S. Allies. BIBLIOGRAPHY 1. Cochran, Bert, Harry Truman and the Crisis Presidency, Funk and Wagnalls, New York, 1973. 2. Phillips, Cabell, The Truman Presidency, New York, Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc., 1966. 3. Rapoport, Anatol, ed, Clausewitz On War, Penguin Books, Baltimore, 1968. 4. Rees, David, Korea: The Limited War, London, Macmillan and Company, Ltd., 1964. 5. Ridgway, Matthew, The Korean War, Doubleday and Company, Inc., New York, 1967. 6. Rovere, Richard H. and Schlesinger, Arthur, The MacArthur Controversy and American Foreign Policy, New York, Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1965.
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