Truman Vs. MacArthur


Generals in the audience openly wept. Legislators hurled themselves at the departing general, virtually prostrating themselves at his feet. “It’s disloyal not to agree with General MacArthur!” one senator shouted from the floor. “We have heard God speak today. God in the flesh, the voice of God,” shouted Rep. Dewey Short of Missouri, who had been educated at Harvard, Oxford, and Heidelberg. The normally levelheaded former President Herbert Hoover hailed MacArthur as the “reincarnation of St. Paul.” Fury over his dismissal boiled up anew and newspaper offices again were besieged with vehement calls condemning the “traitorous” State Department and the “bankrupt haberdasher” who was “appeasing Red China. ” It boiled up, too, on the floor of the House. As one senator confided to a reporter later that day: “I have never feared more for the institutions of the country. I honestly felt that if the speech had gone on much longer there might have been a march on the White House.”


MacArthur’s powerful speech, a magniloquent contrast to the President’s pawky little lectures, “visibly and profoundly shook” the President’s supporters in Congress, as The New fork Times reported. The President’s cabinet, after watching MacArthur on a White House television set, sank into gloom, convinced that the general, in a single blow, had put a finish to the Truman administration. The welcoming parade for the general in New York City confirmed their worst fears.

MACARTHUR FLEW to the city on the evening of the nineteenth, settling into what was to be his home for the remaining thirteen years of his life: a palatial tenroom suite on the thirty-seventh floor of the Waldorf-Astoria. The hotel was to be the parade’s point of departure. The general would be driven in an open car—the same that had carried General Eisenhower six years before —through Central Park, down to the Battery, up through the canyons of Wall Street, and homeward along Fifth Avenue—over nineteen miles in all. The triumphal progress was to begin at 11:00 A.M. , but by dawn hundreds of thousands of people had already begun pouring into the city. By the time the general’s motorcade had reached the financial district, some six million flag-waving enthusiasts were jamming the sidewalks, dwarfing Eisenhower’s postwar parade and Lindbergh’s almost legendary reception. Overhead in the bright, cloudless sky, airplanes spelled out “Welcome Home” in mile-long streamers. Shreds of paper fell in dense blizzards, covering people’s feet to the ankles and darkening television screens for minutes at a time. As the general’s car approached, the crowds craned hungrily forward, then burst into cheers, deafening in their volume, startling in their intensity. Not everyone shouted his acclaim. There were people who watched the general pass by in silence, faces rapt and grim, marking a cross on their breasts. New York, as MacArthur’s bodyguard was to put it, had been turned into “a band of hysterical sheep”—hard-bitten, cynical New York, stronghold of the Democratic party.


Late that afternoon, while the general was passing up howling Fifth Avenue, a popular demonstration of a different sort took place at a baseball park in the nation’s capital. As the President and his entourage were about to leave Griffith Stadium—Truman had thrown out the traditional first ball of the year—he was met with a storm of boos. Republicans were now saying the choice before the country was “Truman or MacArthur”; on April 20, Americans seemed already to have made it.

In his struggle with MacArthur, the President faced severe handicaps, most of them self-inflicted. The political derangement of the country was to a large extent his own doing. Determined to arouse the nation to the menace of Soviet expansion, yet convinced that he governed an obstinately “isolationist” people, Truman had never scrupled to exaggerate every danger, to sound alarms, to decry in any communist move he opposed another step in the “Kremlin plot for world conquest.” Moreover, he had constantly used the great World War II generals—MacArthur included—to defend his policies and shield him from criticism. The results were inevitable. Because Truman had glorified the wisdom of the generals, he had weakened the civilian authority he was now forced to defend. Because he justified even prudent deeds with inflammatory words, it had become difficult to justify prudent deeds with prudent arguments—the sort of argument he was now forced to make.