1951 50 Years Ago

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On April 10 in Washington (April 11 in Asia), President Harry S. Truman removed Gen. Douglas MacArthur as the Army’s supreme Asian commander, replacing him with Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway. The move, announced at a hastily summoned news conference at 1:00 A.M., after word had begun to leak, was no routine personnel change, for after spending 52 of his 70 years in the Army, MacArthur was as feared as he was revered. In World War I, MacArthur had commanded a brigade, been wounded twice, and received seven Silver Stars. Between 1942 and 1945, his “island-hopping” campaign had brought the Japanese to their knees. Since then, he had ruled Japan as its military governor, adding the command of United Nations forces in Korea when war broke out there.

After the Chinese counterattack in November 1950, MacArthur had bluntly and repeatedly criticized Truman’s conduct of the war. In early April, a letter in which MacArthur complained of not being allowed to pursue the Chinese aggressively enough was read in the House of Representatives. For months, Truman had been growing increasingly annoyed at MacArthur’s undermining of his policy, and that letter was the last straw.

MacArthur, still a hero to many, was given a triumphal welcome on his return to America. Addressing a joint session of Congress on April 19, he quoted an Army song: “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” MacArthur promised to do exactly that, but instead he busied himself making speeches and granting interviews in what many saw as a campaign for the 1952 presidential nomination. Unfortunately for him, no groundswell of support materialized.

Truman, meanwhile, found himself bogged down in Korea, unable to win the war or craft a peace. He decided not to run for a third term, though he was eligible to do so, and in the 1952 presidential election America chose Dwight D. Eisenhower, a general and World War II hero like MacArthur, but one who had managed to stay out of public politics while in uniform.