The Question of MacArthur and Truman
Here’s some interesting personal testimony and historical information detailing the rift between Truman and MacArthur and just what really was going on during the Korean War. Of course, if you read nothing else of the lengthy passages below, you should read MacArthur’s words himself here.
One perhaps interesting historical sidelight on the decency (or not) of Harry Truman, which I have debated posting, but what the hell, everybody’s long dead.
Harry Truman made a huge amount of political capital out of an event – well, his version of the event – that happened during the Korean War when he relieved MacArthur of command of US forces in the far east.
The (at one time) famous meeting with MacArthur on Wake Island. Protocol is that the senior member – which in this country is always the president – lands last, and is greeted formally once on the ground by everybody else. A minor thing, but a protocol thing: The president always lands last.
Truman made hay for years out of the fact that his pilot and and MacArthur’s pilot were arguing in the air about who would land first, and would therefore have to be the greeter as opposed to the greeted. Truman always said he finally had to order MacArthur’s plane to land first. He used this as an example of how out of control MacArthur was, how MacArthur thought he was God, etc., etc. This was all part of the of the “I fired him because he wouldn’t repect the office of the presidency, not because he didn’t respect me” stuff that Truman spent the rest of his life handing out in re: relations with MacArthur. Truman made so much hay out of this story that as late as 1974 he was still retailing it in the biography Merle Miller did: “Plain Speaking.”
The only problem with the story is, it isn’t true.
The two senior military officers present at Wake were MacArthur himself, and Major General William Ryan, who was in charge of supplies in the Far Eastern theater – and had in fact been in charge of all suppplies routed through and in the Pacific Theater during WWII.
In my life this particular two-star was known as Uncle Bill, and though he was not particularly fond of MacArthur himself, he always said the famous Wake Island story was absolutely untrue. He and MacArthur landed first, and were waiting on the runway when Truman’s plane landed, drawn up in full order to greet the Commander-in-Chief, as they should have been.
But there were so few people present that Truman was able to get away with a story that is 100% invention to add to his dossier of reasons for firing MacArthur.
I liked Truman, but not unreservedly. I’ve always had this little spot about him I’ve had to wonder about.
Private family story. No corroboration at all, except for mentions of Uncle Bill in various history books (so you can at least discover that he existed), and if you ever visit West Point you will find the grave he shares with Aunt Mary.
Comment by JJ | December 27, 2006
I was looking up for more data on Google and found this… interesting bit of propaganda. Anti-American, pro-Chinese, and pro-North Korean propaganda that is.
I must warn you, don’t take the below quoted timeline as accurate. You should know better by now, given recent American MSM incidents. However, there are ways to extract useful information, that I have used. It helps to know different views from other sources. I’ll write a shot interpretation on some of the passages. Click on the link for the rest.
Sept. 27, 1950 – The British intelligence learns of a Chinese military council decision to intervene in Korea. US ignores this information. Simultaneously Chou announces publicly that “China will send troops across the frontier to participate in defense o f North Korea.” The hawks at the State Dept. led by Acheson and Rusk label Chou’s statement a “bravado – part of a joint Soviet-Chinese diplomatic effort to save the North Korean regime.” This arrogance (or ignorance) is shared by the CIA.
Stalin got scared and has changed his mind about sending his air force to fight US. Stalin has realized that China and USSR have a mutual defense treaty which obligates him to fight on the side of Mao, if US goes to war with China. Stalin states that “Com rade Kim Il Sung must form a government in exile in northeast China” and that the best he can do for Mao is to send back the Chinese pilots in training in Russia. Stalin is playing a game with Mao and Kim. He wants to bleed US to death in Korea at the exp ense of Kim and Mao.
Mao Zedung continues – “With regard to the adoption of the positive policies described above, for China and Korea and Asia and even going out to world as a whole, this is very advantageous. If we do not send troops, the enemy will control all the way up t o the environs of the Yalu River, and, as far as the boasts of the reactionary forces within China are concerned. they would gradually grow higher and it would be disadvantageous for us in various respects. The whole of the Northeast Defense forces would be pinned down on the front line and the military forces in southern Manchuria would be completely dominated. For this reason. we came to the following conclusion. We must participate in the war. The benefits from participating in the war would be very gr eat. The damage from not participating in war would be very great.”
Some interesting political fighting going on there. I believe it is more or less accurate, the way people played the game back then.
Oct. 26 – N Korea (west): The Chinese regulars virtually wipe out [Image] the ROK 6th and 8th divisions at Onjin. Simultaneously, the ROK 1st Div. is hit hard and collapses at Unsan. The ROK Army in the west evaporates. The 8th Army’s advance comes to a halt and the entire front lines are in chaos. MacArthur’s intelligence chief (Gen. Willoughby – perhaps, the most incompetent man on MacArthur’s staff) is still repeating -“the auspicious time for intervention has long since passed.”
Nov. 1 – US X Corps (Gen. Almond) moves to Hamhung. MacArthur orders [Image] indiscriminate carpet bombing of every village, town and city still in the communists control. For the first time, Russian MiG’s manned by the Soviets appear to fight the America ns. The X Corps consists of the 1st Marine and the 7th Infantry. The Hamhung City Hall is the X Corps Headquarters.
…the enemy forces and withdraw to their mountain sanctuaries. Peng hopes that MacArthur has gotten the message and get out of N Korea without further losses. Peng needs to rest and resupply his troops. Peng needs time to assess battle performance of the enemy and refine his tactics.
MacArthur, Total War proponent. There is no misunderstanding with him, or at least there should not be.
Nov. 8, 1950 – Peng Dehuai was wrong – MacArthur did not get it. MacArthur orders his air force to starts a massive bombing of Manchurian border installations, and anything standing south of the border – “every factory, every city, and village.” The Joint Chiefs of Staff approve the order without consulting the State Dept. The air force commander, Gen. Stratemeyer, reports Mac’s order to his superiors in Washington which is leaked to the State Dept. All hell breaks out. The State Dept. countermands MacArt hur’s order. But Truman sides with MacArthur.
Gen. Ned Almond, the X Corps commander, flies to the Changjin Reservoir and tells Task Force Smith (the 7th Infantry Division) – “The enemy who is attacking you is nothing more than some remnants of Chinese divisions fleeing north. We are still attacking and we’re going all the way to the Yalu. Don’t let a bunch of Chinese laundrymen stop you.” Almonds hands out medals and returns to his hotel suite in Hamhung. Task Force Faith, including its commander, Col. Don Faith, is squashed that night by the Chines e. Captured GI’s are released to the US Marines stationed south of the Reservoir. Peng wants the 5th and 7th US Marine Regiments destroyed. Song Shilu’s 9th Army Group has more than 100,000 men assigned to encircle and exterminate some 20,000 US marines – the best fighting men of the world.
Peng Dehuai doesn’t care about the US 7th Infantry or the three ROKA divisions, numbering more than 100,000 men; he lets them escape from Wonsan, Hungnam and Chanjin via US, Japanese and S Korean ships.
Massive bombing, another proof of concept.
Nov. 28 – Washington: Truman hears the bad news and goes into a [Image] shock. He has been assured as recent as three days ago that MacArthur was about to wind up the war and send the boys home by X-mas. Now, MacArthur wants more US troops. An emerge ncy session of the National Security Council is convened. Gen. Bradley tells Truman that there is no more troops to send and that he is worried about the 300 Chinese bombers in Manchuria. The supply areas and air force bases of the UN Command are wide ope n to aerial attacks. The military wants preemptive strikes on the Chinese air fields, but Gen. Marshall advises against a general war with China. Marshall warns that a war with China will benefit the Soviets and open the continental US for Soviet nuclear and ground attacks. Truman is more worried about the negative impact the defeat would have on his political fortune. Truman loses confidence in the Joint Chiefs of Staff – “a bunch of gutless morons in fancy uniforms”. Truman wants all JCS messages to Mac Arthur cleared by him personally prior to their transmission.
Nov. 30, 1950 – Truman states in public: “The military commander in the field will have charge of the use of the weapons (A-bombs) as he always has.” Unbelievably, Truman is not aware of the Atomic Energy Act provision which dictates that only the Preside nt can authorize use of the atomic bomb. Truman’s statement shocks the international community. UN allies are ready to jump the ship.
Ultimately, Truman was bluffing you know. When Truman’s UN allies balked and started getting nervous over Truman’s nuke threats, Truman backed off. Now why isn’t that surprising, that when the UN calls, the US President obeys? Bad precedent in my view, to be obeying the UN.
Dec. 9, 1950 – MacArthur wants 26 atomic bombs. His plan is to “drop 30-50 bombs strung across the neck of Manchuria; then introduce half a million Chinese Nationalist troops at the Yalu and spread behind the front lines from the East Sea to the Yellow Se a – a belt of radioactive cobalt which has an active life of between 60 and 120 years.” He says that his plan is “a cinch.” Many in US support MacArthur’s plan. MacArthur and company also consider chemical weapons. MacArthur is not privy to the awful secr et that the Soviets have more nuclear bombs in stock than US does; and that US does not have 26 A-bombs in all of its arsenals.
I don’t think war is a game to MacArthur, for some reason.
Dec. 12, 1950 – The 3rd Army Division retreats to the outskirts of [Image] Hamhung and sets up a series of phased defensive lines for the Hamhung-Hungnam beachhead. The outermost line Charlie is centered one mile south of my country home in Orori. The t hird line Mike is drawn just north of Hamhung and it is the last defensive position for Hamhung. The 4th line Peter is south of Hamhung (the city is to be abandoned without fight), and the last line Fox is to defend Hungnam. (map: US 3rd Infantry defensiv e retreat battle plan – phased withdrawal of Gen. Soule. Defense perimeters are code-named Charlie, Mike, Peter, etc.)
It is a mystery why the Chinese are not attacking us in force. They have more than enough troops to finish us off. Some people say that it is because Truman has told Mao to go easy and let the Americans go in peace from Hamhung, or else he will drop the A -bomb. Others say that the Chinese don’t have the muscle to encircle and annihilate the Americans. Still others say that all China wants is to kick out the Americans.
Song’s initial attacks on the 1st Marine and the 7th Infantry were successful; but his continued attacks on the entrenched American positions cost him dearly in human lives and lost opportunities. Song should have bypassed the 1st Marine and moved south t owards the sea; and cut the US supply lines from Hungnam, Yongpo and Wonsan. Gen. Song succeeds in expelling the Americans from N Korea, but fails to annihilate the Americans. Kim Il Sung judges Song to be a timid and ineffectual commander. Song and the I X Army Group are rotated back to China upon completion of the Hamhung Battle.
You don’t get to fight the US Marines and get off without a boat load of casualties on your side. The Marines inflicted disproportionate damage on the Chinese divisions, even considering that the Chinese surprised and outnumbered the Marines, and that the Chinese were a lot closer to their supply lines than the Marines were to theirs.
April 6, 1951 – MacArthur vents his anger and frustration of fighting a limited war in a confidential interview with the Spanish and Portuguese diplomats in Tokyo. In a nut shell, he wants a global war (under his command) with Russia – he would first drop A-bombs all over China and then move on to deal with the Russians. What about N Korea? MacArthur wants to nuke N Korea – kill every damn gook. MacArthur is unaware that the National Security Agency (NSA) is monitoring all diplomatic transmissions in Toky o. The main NSA station in Japan is at Atsugi Air Force Base (also the CIA OPC base). The primary mission of the NSA is monitoring Chinese command cables, but diplomatic cables are also intercepted routinely. The NSA sends the intercepted cables directly to the White House. The cables contain MacArthur’s boast that he can turn the war into war with China. Truman decides to fire MacArthur but he cannot reveal the existence of the intercepted cables for national security reasons (at this time few people kn ow about the NSA or about its monitoring of diplomatic cables of US allies). Truman has to find other “official” reasons for firing MacArthur.
. Soon after the firing, MacArthur’s godlike myth starts to crumble. All sorts of facts, suppressed while Mac was in power, surface. His WW2 nickname “Dougout Dug” is brought up to remind his escape from battlefields in the early days of the Pacific War. He was given a large sum of money by the Philippine politicos. He wanted to become the Field Marshall of the Philippine Army upon his retirement. His wife had numerous affairs while he was away. Mac took her to the divorce courts several times. In 1932, he attacked with tanks the poor WW1 veterans groups seeking bonuses in Washington
While serving as the Chief of Staff, Mac rented an apartment on Kalorama Road NW, Washington, DC and had weird parties with several prostitutes at a time. He would not have sex with the ladies, but loved to have the girls pamper him. More seriously, Mac h ad spells of deep depression with suicidal tendency. He would carry a loaded pistol and go through the motion of shooting himself on the head. On one occasion, Mac was about to jump out of a moving train at a spot (Tennessee River) where his father had wo n a Medal of Honor.
When WW2 broke out, the Philippine Army was mobilized and numbered 120,000 men. by December 1941. The Philippine Army included the 1st and 2nd regular divisions and mobilized reserve divisions of the 11th, 21st, 31st, 41st, 51st, 71st and 91st. Four of th e Filipino divisions had Filipino commanders while the rest had American commanders. The Filipino led divisions with Filipino generals included the 1st Division-Brig. Gen. Fidel Segundo, the 2nd Division-Maj. Gen. Guillermo Flores, the 21st Division-Brig. Gen. Mateo Capinpin and the 41st Division-Brig. Gen. Alfredo Lim.
Total forces under MacArthur’s command were: Philippine Army-120,000 men in 9 divisions, US Army in the Philippines-18,000 men mostly air, artillery and marine units and the Philippine Scouts-a unique US Army unit consisting of 5 regiments composed of 12, 000 Filipinos and 900 American officers. The Philippine Scouts was an elite unit and had the best training. Some military historians say that MacArthur fled to Australia in panic and that he had sufficient forces to hold back the Japanese – Mac lacked nei ther the skill nor the will to face the Japanese, man to man.
April 19, 1951 – The US Congress gathers to hear their war hero. MacArthur brings with him his wife and son and his old cronies. MacArthur tells the US Congress – “I address you with neither rancor nor bitterness in the fading twilight of my life, with bu t one purpose in mind: to serve my country… I now close my military career and just fade away – an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good-bye.” Many congressmen weep openly. A lynching party is formed to go after Truman. Truman’s response: “Nothing but a bunch of bull shit… Damn fool Congressmen crying like a bunch of women.” MacArthur moves into Suite 37-A of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, compliment of the hotel management (actually, at a nominal rent of $4 50 per month. He stayed here until his death in 1964). A Gallup Poll shows 54% of the Americans supporting MacArthur’s plans for punishing China, but only 30% supporting war with China.
The JCS and others have repeatedly defined his job as an area commander of the Korean War, but MacArthur kept on exceeding his boundary and tried to dupe US into a wider war. His airplanes have “accidentally” bombed Chinese and Russian air bases. He had C hiang’s and Japanese navy participate covertly in the war. He has sent Korean and Chinese sabotage teams to China and Russia. He has openly threatened war with China and Russia. MacArthur’s statements often contradict documents prepared and signed by him. As for his “China is incapable of intervention” assurance to Truman at Wake, MacArthur tries to pass the buck to the CIA (justified) and oddly to the Chinese statements and glosses over the mountain of evidence gathered by his own G-2. Mac’s statement th at “the intelligence that a nation is going to launch a war is not…intelligence that is available to a commander, limited to a small area of combat. That intelligence should have been given to me.” He was given ample data, but he chose to ignore them an d rely on his own instinct.
How about the “home-by-Xmas” promise? MacArthur says that at the time when he made the statement at Wake, the N Korean Army was virtually gone (actually there were 120,000 NKPA left) and no Chinese (over 200,000 in Korea) in Korea. The only ‘problem’ was that his request to bomb Manchurian targets was denied by Truman and therefore, Truman was responsible for the UN ‘bugout’ in December 1950. The truth comes out that this old man had his head buried in sands and refused to face the reality. He states that Russians had no nuclear retaliatory capability in Korea or China, when in fact they are capable of nuking US installations in Japan, Europe and US proper. In a nutshell, MacArthur is confident that he can win a global war while ignorance of the enemy and US war making capacities.
Why not bomb the Manchurian sanctuaries? Gen. Marshall points out a fundamental fact that MacArthur and the fellow hawks fail to recognize – the communists are allowing UN sanctuaries in Japan and the rear areas in Korea. The Chinese and Russian air force volunteers have the means of hitting exposed docks in Pusan, supply transports and naval vessels, but they have not. Hitting their sanctuaries would invite retaliation. Beside China has a mutual defense treaty with Russia. More importantly, the US Air Fo rce do not have the capability to hit targets in Manchuria – “The air force of the Unites States…is really a shoestring air force and these groups that we have over there now doing this tactical job are really about a fourth of our total effort that we could muster today, and four times that amount of groups in that area over that vast expanse of China would be a drop in the bucket.”
This is probably the most important passage, because it highlights the interesting facet about how Truman knew about MacArthur’s intentions. Why would it be a surprise? I know how MacArthur would act, and I didn’t even know the man, surely Truman saw what he was as a man and a leader of men in WWII. Why is Truman surprised when we are not?
MacArthur hates limited wars. It is quite obvious. Even to amateur historians like me. This passage also raises the question of whether the CIA and Truman really did witheld information about Chinese plans and intentions from MacArthur. Wouldn’t be the first time that a commander on the ground, Admiral Kimmel, didn’t get the information that he needed to do his job. Whether this was due to actual malice, inter-political fighting, or just simple incompetence is another issue entire.
Jan. 21, 1952 – My career at the POW camp comes to an abrupt end. All translators have to wear US GI fatigues and the army cap. As we enter our office tent, we leave our cap on a table. The American GI’s do the same. All caps look alike. I make the mistak e of picking up a wrong cap. The GI’s set up a trap for me and I am caught in their trap. They accuse me of stealing the cap and I am fired on the spot.
Why do I get the sense that they fired him because he was a damn spy and had sympathies for the enemy? Read the link for some of his more overt propaganda messages, I didn’t really include the rather more explicit details because they were irrelevant to MacArthur.
Jan. 21, 1953 – Gen. Eisenhower is inaugurated president. Ike vows to end the war in one way or the other, and directs Gen. Bradley to recommend the best way to end the war. The general recommends “the timely use of atomic weapons should be considered aga inst military targets affecting operations in Korea”.
March 27, 1953 – The JCS recommends the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Korea and China – “The efficacy of atomic weapons in achieving greater results at less cost of effort in furtherance of US objectives in connection with Korea points to the desirab ility of re-evaluating the policy which now restricts the use of atomic weapons in the Far East. In view of the extensive implications of developing an effective conventional capability in the Far East, the timely use of atomic weapons should be considere d against military targets affecting operations in Korea, and operationally planned as an adjunct to any possible military course of action involving direct action against Communist China and Manchuria”.
Bull Bradley? Hrm. Should have used the nukes in the beginning, it is a little bit late now I think.
Now here is the stuff you’ve been waiting for. The Primary Documents. The word from the horse’s mouth himself.
General Douglas MacArthur’s speech before the joint session of Congress on April 19, 1951, after his abrupt dismissal as Commander in Chief of the United Nations forces in Korea, provoked a nation-wide controversy that recalled the fury over the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854.
The son of the distinguished army officer Arthur MacArthur, Douglas MacArthur (1880-1964) was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, was brought up in various army posts, and was graduated from West Point at the head of his class in 1903. He served in the Philippines and Japan, and in the first World War achieved a notable record as Chief of Staff of the famous Rainbow Division and later as Commander of the 84th Infantry Brigade. After the war he was Superintendent of West Point (1919-22), Commander in the Philippines (1922-25), and Chief of Staff (1930-35), during which time he had the unpleasant task of directing troops against the depression “bonus army” that marched against Washington. He went again to the Philippines in 1935 to organize the islands against possible Japanese aggression. He retired from the army in 1939, but returned to duty in July, 1941, barely in time to head the defense of the Philippines after the attack on Pearl Harbor. On order from President Roosevelt, General MacArthur escaped to Australia, there to take command of the Allied forces in the South Pacific and to begin the long road back to Manila – and to Tokyo. At the time of the Japanese surrender on the U.S.S. Missouri General MacArthur broadcast to the world a plea for peace in a high, sonorous vein.
After the Japanese surrender he became Supreme Commander of the Allied forces in Japan and, on South Korea’s being invaded, Commander of the United Nations forces there. He was relieved of both commands on April 11, 1951, when it was feared his strategy would lead to general war with China and the Soviet Union. He immediately flew back to the United States, made a triumphant trip across the country, reminiscent of the triumph of a returning Roman general, and accepted the invitation to speak before both Houses of Congress – an unheard-of procedure in American history.
General MacArthur surveys the beachhead on Leyte Island in 1944, soon after American forces swept ashore from a gigantic liberation armada into the central Philippines, at the historic moment when the General made good his promise `I shall return.’
In the end, I believe MacArthur to be someone that closely aligned with my personal beliefs on how war should be won. Everyone has their flaws. But what matters is what they do with them. MacArthur was in fact more charismatic and more in tune with Jacksonian America than Truman was. Which is why Truman had the 22% approval ratings, and not MacArthur.
Truman had his side of the story, justifications and so forth, and so did MacArthur. The Cold War and dealing with Stalin as well as whether to use nuclear weapons or not, probably weighed heavily on Truman’s mind. In addition to the guilt he felt for being the first man in history to use the atomic bomb. This gave him a level of force when he threatened to use nukes, but it also grabbed at him in his soul, it weakened his resolve. Remember, Truman had been two wars now. WWII and Korea. And Korea wasn’t even on American soil, it was very very hard to summon up resolve. Resolve requires defeats and sacrifices, the fear of an actual threat. Truman didn’t fear Chinese invasion of the US, so it was easy for him to give up North Korea. This meant the Kims would rule as tyrants, but it was no skin off the US’s back, as they say. Up until now anyways. You see, nothing is free in war. The consequences of your actions will always follow you, good or bad, and the nation you serve and act for. Few men can look into the infernal of war and tell the devil to “Bring it On’. MacArthur and Sherman could.