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Truman and MacArthur

Policy, Politics, and the Hunger for Honor and Renown

Michael D. Pearlman

Publication Year: 2008

Truman and MacArthur offers an objective and comprehensive account of the very public confrontation between a sitting president and a well-known general over the military's role in the conduct of foreign policy. In November 1950, with the army of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea mostly destroyed, Chinese military forces crossed the Yalu River. They routed the combined United Nations forces and pushed them on a long retreat down the Korean peninsula. Hoping to strike a decisive blow that would collapse the Chinese communist regime in Beijing, General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the Far East Theater, pressed the administration of President Harry S. Truman for authorization to launch an invasion of China across the Taiwan straits. Truman refused; MacArthur began to argue his case in the press, a challenge to the tradition of civilian control of the military. He moved his protest into the partisan political arena by supporting the Republican opposition to Truman in Congress. This violated the President's fundamental tenet that war and warriors should be kept separate from politicians and electioneering. On April 11, 1951 he finally removed MacArthur from command.

Viewing these events through the eyes of the participants, this book explores partisan politics in Washington and addresses the issues of the political power of military officers in an administration too weak to carry national policy on its own accord. It also discusses America's relations with European allies and its position toward Formosa (Taiwan), the long-standing root of the dispute between Truman and MacArthur.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. xi

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pp. xii-xv

Several people deserve lots of the credit and none of the blame this book may or may not garner. Colonel (Ret.) Rick Swain and Pat Roe, author and Marine veteran of Korea, read what I wrote about military operations and saved me from some bad mistakes. Bob Ferrell, Dennis Giangreco, and Ed Drea, true experts on Truman or MacArthur, read drafts and tried to educate me about this ...

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pp. xv-xviii

Notwithstanding movies such as Seven Days in May and JFK, the American officer corps has been remarkably compliant to the civilian head of state, although generals have disagreed with government policy, as has everyone else. Winfield Scott, the commander of the expeditionary army occupying Mexico in 1847, was deeply aggrieved at President James K. Polk’s policy of conquest. ...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xix-xxii

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1: Truman and MacArthur, before Korea

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pp. 1-26

Hostility toward a president did not suddenly emerge in Douglas MacArthur in the midst of the Korean War. It had roots in the parents who raised him to believe he had a special destiny, an outgrowth of his father’s own conflicts with officialdom. It also lay in MacArthur’s experience in the Philippines, the place he thought destined to determine global supremacy. He would become a public ...

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2: Defense Policy on the Eve of the Korean War

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pp. 27-55

The roots of the Korean War conflict between Truman and MacArthur lay outside Korea, a minor issue in the United States before the North invaded the South in June 1950. The public, the president, and the political parties paid far more attention to the Chinese civil war, as did the commanding general military forces, Far East. International and domestic politics were joined at the...

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3: The War against North Korea: From Commitment to the Pusan Perimeter

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pp. 56-98

One military theory proposes that war occurs when a rival seems too weak to prevent a contestant from working its will without much risk. Another holds that it happens when an adversary fears that if it doesn’t act now, its opponent will amass enough power to win a future war at its convenience. Both concepts have validity for both sides in the case of Korea. Stalin thought the North Korean...

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4: The War against North Korea: From Inchon to the Yalu River

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pp. 99-133

United Nations forces wore down the North Korea army at the Pusan perimeter before Douglas MacArthur conducted his Inchon landing in mid-September 1950. However, few Americans had grasped the critical condition of the KPA. Truman, always hesitant to be a politician interfering with military operations, now deferred to the general as a genius, particularly when they met at Wake...

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5: The War against China: Winter 1950 to Spring 1951

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pp. 134-168

The Chinese attack roused Truman’s fury at MacArthur, who assured him no such thing would happen. However—for military, political, and personal reasons—the president would not relieve the theater commander. MacArthur thereby retained his position to affect events in Korea, including the appointment of Matt Ridgway to ground forces command. Presumed to be a protégé, he...

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6: Truman Fires MacArthur

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pp. 169-198

Relations between Truman and MacArthur went through three stages during the Korean War. In stage one—from intervention through Inchon in mid-1950— implicit bargaining and compromise was common. Stage two—the late fall— was one of CINCFE ascendancy over Truman, an “inveterate idealist about generals” according to an assistant, who said the president would “passively await...

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7: Public Verdict and Consequences: Military and Political, Home and Abroad

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pp. 199-234

The public’s initial response to the dismissal of Douglas MacArthur was largely one of outrage at the presumption of Harry Truman, a politician not held in high esteem. A few adept senators on the president’s side, particularly Richard Russell, defused the fury by demonstrating that the general did not speak for the entire military profession, particularly for Omar Bradley, chairman of the...

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8: Ending the War without Truman or MacArthur

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pp. 235-267

Harry Truman could retain political viability despite dismissing Douglas Mac- Arthur as long as he could hold out credible hope that he was about to end the war. That claim lost plausibility once the president insisted that prisoners of war get to choose their place of repatriation, a symbolic victory despite deadlock on the battlefield. Several thousand communist soldiers indicated they would...

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9: Truman and MacArthur: Summary, Conclusion, and Postscript

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pp. 267-274

Writers who claim to recap 267 pages of text in a 7-page conclusion are admit-ting to have wasted 260. The attempt must still be made to prevent details from eclipsing the most essential points. The conflict between President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur had three major components: policies, politics, and personalities, including a hunger for honor and renown. The ...


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pp. 275-332

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 333-346


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pp. 347-352

E-ISBN-13: 9780253000187
E-ISBN-10: 0253000181
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253350664

Page Count: 376
Illustrations: 14 b&w photos, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2008