A blast from a war long past

There was widespread dismay when President Truman relieved General Macarthur of his command in 1951 during the Korean War.  Now, information has come to light that it may have been a lot more necessary than was perceived at the time.

The MacArthur firing prompted the Democratic-led Congress to invite the general to address a joint session, which MacArthur moved to applause and tears when he declared that “old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” Among Republicans, there were murmurs of support for a MacArthur candidacy for president. The Senate’s Armed Services and Foreign Relations Committes held joint hearings, at which MacArthur detailed his disagreement with the president and claimed the backing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for his position.

The joint chiefs contradicted him. The Senate hearings were closed to the public, but a transcript was released each day including all but the most sensitive comments. Omar Bradley, the chairman of the joint chiefs, flatly rejected MacArthur’s call for a wider war. “In the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this strategy would involve us in the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time and with the wrong enemy,” he said.

Bradley’s categorical conclusion proved the most compelling public statement by any official at the committee hearings. For a soldier of Bradley’s stature, with no history of politics, to contradict MacArthur so completely caused even the most ardent of MacArthur’s supporters to pause and reconsider.

Yet it was the statements that were not made public that did the real damage to MacArthur. Not until the 1970s was the secret testimony declassified, and even then it languished in the archives, overlooked by all but a few specialists in a topic time seemed to have passed by. But to read it now is to understand how quickly, and thoroughly, one of America’s most popular generals was undone.

. . .

Other excised testimony revealed a fundamental reason for the administration’s reluctance to escalate in northeast Asia: There was precious little for the United States to escalate with. American air power, in particular, was stretched very thin. Hoyt Vandenberg, the Air Force chief of staff, told the committee that Korea was already claiming a large part of America’s available air strength. “The Air Force part that is engaged in Korea is roughly 85 percent—80 to 85 percent—of the tactical capacity of the United States,” he said. “The strategic portion, which is used tactically, is roughly between one-fourth and one-fifth. The air defense forces are, I would judge, about 20 percent.”

. . .

Democrat Walter George of Georgia, echoing MacArthur’s assertion that “China is using the maximum of her force against us,” said it was unfair that MacArthur had to fight a limited war while the Chinese fought all out.

Omar Bradley responded that George was quite mistaken—and, by implication, that MacArthur was quite misleading. The Chinese were not fighting all out, not by a great deal. “They have not used air against our front line troops, against our lines of communication in Korea, our ports; they have not used air against our bases in Japan or against our naval air forces.” China’s restraint in these areas had been crucial to the survival of American and U.N. forces in Korea. On balance, Bradley said, the limited nature of the war benefited the United States at least as much as it did the Chinese. “We are fighting under rather favorable rules for ourselves.”

Vandenberg amplified this point … “I would like to point out that that operates just as much a limitation, so far, for the Chinese as it has for the United Nations troops in that our main base of supply is the Japanese islands. The port of Pusan is very important to us … Our naval forces are operating on the flanks allowing us naval gunfire support, carrier aircraft strikes, and the landing of such formations as the Inchon landing, all without the Chinese air force projecting itself into the area,” Vandenberg said. “Therefore, the sanctuary business, as it is called, is operating on both sides, and is not completely a limited war on our part.”

. . .

In other words—and this was Marshall’s crucial point, as it had been Vandenberg’s—the limitations on the fighting in Korea, so loudly assailed by MacArthur and his supporters, in fact favored the American side.

There’s much more at the link.  Great reading for military history buffs, and a solid lesson in geopolitics as well – something that might benefit contemporary leaders, faced as they are with the present confused and uncertain international situation.



  1. I'm not sure. I recently finished American Caesar, and it's still possible that the communist forces in Asia were much better looking on paper than they were in reality. All these decades of human misery in North Korea and beyond might have been been prevented. It seems very sketchy to me that we had so much military equipment at the end of WWII and a government without the foresight to mothball the best of it and maintain a large emergency reservist force.

  2. THERE was a clown that blew WAY past his military "Peter principal" level. I'm thinking we won WW2 in spite of him.

  3. Steffen:

    Due to agreements with the production sector, most of the war materiel was destroyed after ww2, rather than returned to the US. Aircraft were bulldozed into pits on various Pacific Islands, for instance. They did not want the aluminum to be recycled for post war benefit. This sort of idiocy was widespread, which is why we were hard pressed to prosecute a war so soon after such a world wide endeavor. We threw everything away, including the manpower and expertise. NOTHING was learned from ww1 and it's aftermath. We do this after every war, which will be the last war, obviously!

  4. Will: I presume you're talking about Eisenhower?

    MacArthur… Patton.. the good ones are pushed out or murdered off.

    Perhaps there wouldn't have been that much more that could have been done by wasting the strategic air power of the US Air Force dropping HE on North Korean camps. But that wasn't exactly what MacArthur was advocating, was it?

  5. The problem with the testimony from the Joint Chiefs was China's commanding general said they were fully committed. The Red Chinese didn't have much of an air force at the time and what they had was committed.

    Bradley disagreed with MacArthur on Korea, but it was well known that he was a Democrat General. Alas, the period of the late 40s into the 60s, the Generals were politicized and many came out openly.

    MacArthur's plans had to be run through the White House and we now know that the Reds had moles in the WH and everything MacArthur planned was sitting in Moscow and Peking before the day was out. MacArthur complained that the enemy seemd to know what he was going to do before he even cut orders. He was more right than he knew.

  6. I read it, and was unimpressed. There were simply too many counterfactuals to successfully portray MacArthur as an ignorant dolt. (Not to mention that the article doesn't treat MacArthur's side as anything but a strawman.)

    I think we made the right choice, but MacArthur's high risk/high reward strategy could have paid off at a much lower cost in blood and treasure. (Not to mention saving tens of millions of Chinese, Russians, etc. from being murdered.)
    It's fine to say the path we chose worked.
    It isn't fine to say that because it worked, it was the only path.

    But what I'm really seeing here, is pushback against the complaint of restrictive Rules of Engagement hamstringing our troops, and a political hegemony that's eager to start wars, but not win them.
    It's a proxy fight, using a piece of our history most of our population is ignorant of as a strawman.

  7. Macarthur made a lot of enemies on the hard left when he broke up the veteran's march. The communists accused him of using war gas and killing hundreds of veterans. The hard left in FDR's administration had a 'we hates him, we hates him forever' view of Macarthur. He took the Phillipines as a retirement job. Then in the war, he did okay on retreat, and ALL of his amphibious attacks worked perfectly. Made the other guys look bad, so he had a lot of enemies in the military brass. Then in Korea, he lost a battle. So his enemies ganged up and got him fired. After all, he was pretty old by then, and after all, firing a general for losing a battle is usually a good idea.

    But all this 'American Caesar' crap is nonsense put out to cover for the old hard left's hatreds.

  8. re: post WWII equipment, take a look at the stuff at https://wwiiafterwwii.wordpress.com/ especially go back to the two entries on what was done to mothball the navy ( https://wwiiafterwwii.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/mothballing-the-us-navy-after-wwii-pt-1/
    https://wwiiafterwwii.wordpress.com/2016/03/27/mothballing-the-us-navy-after-wwii-pt-2/ )

    very interesting stuff, and the way the plans changed show how strong the desire was to free up people and cut the military budget by any means possible.

    The Navy tried to mothball things, but in airpower, the technology was changing so fast that most of the planes that were available were considered obsolete (Jets had just shown up, and their limitations were not really recognized yet), or expected to be obsolete within a very few years.

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