Today in 1951 United States President Harry S. Truman fired General Douglas MacArthur and relieved him of command of all U.S. forces in Korea.
There was a “police action” going on at the time, which is to say a war.
The war began in 1950, and in the early months General MacArthur’s methods saved South Korea from being overtaken by North Korea. After turning back the North Koreans, MacArthur wanted to go on and crush their Chinese-backed communist forces, but President Truman didn’t want to tussle with the Chinese army.
MacArthur was not shy about arguing with the policy of the president, and his arrogance and insubordination eventually led Truman to relieve him of command. It’s long been argued that Truman made an important statement about the importance of American military forces being under civilian control.
Of course, nobody knows for sure why Truman fired MacArthur. The general wanted to expand the war and use atomic bombs — a lot of them — in North Korea and China, and Truman was against it. That’s one version. On the face of it, that makes Truman seem like an okay guy. Until you remember that Truman was okay with bombing cities and burning people with napalm.
Anyhow, Truman fired MacArthur and replaced him with General Matthew Ridgeway. General MacArthur came back to the U.S. and was treated to a hero’s welcome. He spoke before the congress and gave a farewell address, during which he famously proclaimed that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” That’s supposed to sound humble and kind of heroic, but it sounds more self-pitying and maudlin at this distance. I suppose that’s a fine line.
Here are the dramatic final five minutes of General Douglas MacArthur’s farewell speech: