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Posted on Apr 10, 2005 in War College

Commentary on the Truman-MacArthur Controversy

By Mo Ludan

Issue #4: MacArthur challenged Truman’s constitutional authority as the nation’s commander-in-chief.

Comment: Let me quote the General:
“(1) The decision of (my) dismissal was arbitrary. I warned of the dangers of Formosa (Taiwan) falling under Communist control. This was said to be contrary to existing policy. The Secretary of State has since declared that it was a long-standing policy of the United States.
(2) The second reason given was my readiness to meet the enemy commander to discuss terms. This identical proposal was received enthusiastically when made by the Soviets.
(3) The third reason was my reply to a Congressman. There is a law that no member of the Armed forces shall be restricted from communicating with members of Congress.”


If Truman were truly serious about this issue, why didn’t he summon MacArthur to Washington to consult with him and his JCS. There was no warning or face-saving re-assignment offered to a genuine American hero. A more savvy and astute FDR would have handled the matter differently.
(After their first meeting in 1945, Stalin, a skillful, high-stakes political poker player, observed wryly that “this Truman fellow is not as clever and sophisticated as President Roosevelt.”)

One wonders why, since no civil authority was challenged nor any directive disobeyed, didn’t Marshall, Bradley & Co. come to the defense of their fellow professional soldier? Just as Samsonov and Rennenkampf before them at Tannenberg (Morelock, “Book of Great Land Battles”), MacArthur and Marshall (et al) harbored deep-seated animosity dating back to the days of WWI. Desk-bound Marshall was resentful of MacArthur’s rising star, set ablaze by smashing battlefield successes at Cote-de-Chatillon and beyond (Wm. Breuer, “Feuding Allies”).

On November 16, 1950, Truman released a carefully worded statement regarding a Security Council resolution pledging that the Chinese frontier would be kept inviolate. As Frazier Hunt notes: it was the first time that the phrase “privilege sanctuary” had been used in a public document. It struck a bell in the minds of the worried field commanders 10,000 miles away, who realized the desperate task they were undertaking but who had supreme confidence in their troops and in MacArthur’s leadership.

Issue #5. MacArthur split his forces and made them vulnerable to the advancing Red Chinese forces.

Comment: On the contrary, the withdrawals of the 8th Army, with X Corps in the east, were made with consummate skill. As a result, MacArthur had placed his forces in a position to launch a successful counter-attack in January 1951. Compared to similar situations faced by the U.S. Army, the outcome in Korea was spectacular. On the average, individual divisions on Okinawa sustained from two to five times the losses incurred in the withdrawals from the Yalu five years later. MacArthur’s 8th Army in 1950 took on anywhere from 24 to 39 Chinese divisions. The 10th Army in the Ryukus was involved with only one Japanese corps of three divisions. In the Ryukus total losses were 65,631 compared to 12,975 in the Yalu (Willoughby and Chamberlain).

In the Battle of the Bulge, Ike was caught completely by surprise (he heard the news while attending his aide’s wedding reception at a French chateau) although he was not as severely criticized as his future counterpart in Korea. Ike’s 106th Infantry Division, in the line of German advance, lost 8,490 men of its total strength of 14,032 in only 3 days. It was the largest surrender of US troops in the European Theater of Operations. In the Anzio campaign in the spring of 1943, American losses for the 4-month period amounted to around 43,000. Casualties of the 3rd Infantry Division alone were 3,131 during an 8-day period. That same division was in the Hamhung-Wonson withdrawal in Korea eight years later: it lost 650! (Wm Manchester, “American Caesar”, Willoughby and Chamberlain).

Finally, the evacuation of the X Corps from the eastern port of Hungnam (off the Sea of Japan), with the 1st Marine Division, and the 3rd and 7th Infantry Divisions fighting rear-guard actions that stopped three Chinese corps, was a great success. Evacuated were 205,000 personnel vs. 338,000 at Dunkirk, where 163 out of 841 ships were sunk vs. none out of 163 ships at Hungnam.


MacArthur’s Korean campaign was brilliant in spite of the artificial limits placed on him by Truman and the U.N. When the Red Chinese crossed the Yalu in late 1950, MacArthur instantly ordered the bridges – all 6 of them – destroyed by the air force. Within hours, his orders were countermanded from Washington. Those bridges remained inviolate, intact. They allowed hordes of Chinese “volunteer armies” to cross into Korea. In his bitterness, General MacArthur exclaimed: “I realized for the first time that I had actually been denied the use of my full military power to safeguard the lives of my soldier and the safety of the army. To me it clearly foreshadowed a future tragic situation in Korea and left me with a sense of inexpressible shock.” One could only imagine the outcome of the Battle of the Bulge had FDR given the same order to Ike.

Following the second time the General saved South Korea from the Communists with his January 1951 counteroffensive, Truman sent a personal message dated January 14, 1951 with these words: “The entire nation is grateful for your splendid leadership in the difficult struggle in Korea and for the superb performance of your forces under most difficult circumstances.”

Less than three months later, on the eve of another victory with Seoul’s recapture, he suddenly, without warning, relieved MacArthur of his command in a most savage and despicable way. The peremptory order did not permit him even to bid goodbye to his troops – an episode not lost on the American people. Truman’s approval rating plummeted to the lowest level of any sitting president. It was so bad he was forced not to seek re-election. In the end, as Truman fired MacArthur, the American people fired him.

“The most humane way to fight a war is by total effort.” DM


Bajanov, Evgueni.* Assessing the Politics of the Korean War, 1949-51. Cold War International History Project. Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Washington D.C., 1995.

*Dr. Bajanov is Director of the Institute for Contemporary International Problems, Russian Foreign Ministry, Moscow, Russia.

Breuer, William B. Feuding Allies: The Private Wars of the High Command. John Wiley & Sons, 1995.

Coulter, Ann. “Treason.” New York, 2003.

Davis, Colonel William J. et al, Ed. “Understanding & Remembering 50th Anniversary of the Korean War International Symposium.” Norfolk VA, 2002.

Hunt, Frazier. The Untold Story of Douglas MacArthur. New York, 1954.

MacArthur, Douglas. Reminiscences. New York, 1964.

Manchester, William. American Caesar. Boston, 1978.

Morelock, Colonel J.D. The Army Times Book of Great Land Battles. New York, 1994.

Romerstein, Herbert, and Eric Breindel. “The Verona Secrets.” Washington D.C., 2000.

Triplett II, William C. Rogue State. Washington D.C., 2004.

Willoughby, Charles A., and John Chamberlain. MacArthur, 1941 – 1951. New York, 1954.

Willoughby, Charles A. “Shanghai Conspiracy.”* American Opinion Reports. Belmont MA, 1961

* includes the story of the famed Soviet super spy, Richard Sorge.

Author Information:

Romulo Ludan – My special areas of interest are the Pacific Campaign of WW2 and the Korean War. As part of my community involvement, I work with WW2 veterans and participate in panel discussions dedicated to the youth’s continued appreciation of the country’s rich military history. An example is the “American Studies Program.”* I currently work as executive in a major West Coast financial institution.* *

* held annually in Snohomish High School, Snohomish Co., WA
** graduated from Harvard, ’70


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  1. It’s hard to take you seriously when you:
    1. Compare casualty rates of the bug out of the 8th Army with the attack of Okinawa. How do you compare a retreat with an attack against an entrenched Japanese enemy defending their home territory. Of course an attacking force against a well prepared enemy will incur higher casualties.
    2. Describe the retreat of the 8th Army as a withdrawal made with “consummate skill”. History are you reading. You need to read Donald Knox’s The Korean War: Pusan to Chosin to read actual recollections of men who were there to understand that this was an disorganized bug out.
    3. Give credit to MacArthur for the ’51 counteroffensive, when any student of the war knows that Gen. Ridgeway was responsible for and directed this offensive
    4. In you discussion of MacArthur’s sacking, you leave out crucial and significant actions. MacArthur’s letter to his congressman was a full discourse of disagreement with his commander. Sorry, but field commanders are not afforded this luxury. He was directed not to issue communiqués to the press. He constantly ignored this and continued to publically push for his views for the course of the war. If anything Truman took too long to pull the plug on MacArthur.

  2. Mac is a good example of a recurring theme among so many military men: that they don’t understand, or even perceive, that the military part is only one small part of a multifacetted situation. This is OK as long as 1. the person in question is quite clear that he is completely subject to the orders of the US *civil* leadership, and 2. that civil leadership is competent. Mac is certainly not a singular case; military grumbling has occurred plenty of times. However it would be so much better if we educated the people who become our officers in ALL of these fields (e.g. diplomacy, econoics, sociology etc. etc.). The lamentable way Iraq has gone is a good example, where several high officers did NOT understand this, and the result was the use, exclusively in some cases (Odierno….) of heavy handed tactics and alienation of the population.