Truman Or MacArthur:  Who's In Command?
CSC 1992
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.
     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
     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.
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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