|11 April 1951
Truman Dismisses MacArthur from Command
|Relations between Truman and MacArthur had been strained
for some time, but after the Chinese intervention in Korea their relationship
deteriorated quickly. MacArthur, after all, had dismissed the idea that
the Chinese would get involved, ignoring the fact that large numbers of
Chinese forces had been massing along the Yalu River for weeks beforehand.
Making matters worse were MacArthur’s policy recommendations in the disastrous
weeks after the initial Chinese attacks. He began calling for the “unleashing” of
Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces on Taiwan, which were eager to exact
revenge on Mao’s communists. Even more provocatively, he advocated the
use of atomic weapons—as many as fifty of them, according to some sources—against
targets in China.
All of this left Truman in an uncomfortable position. Ever since the outbreak of hostilities in June he had sought to keep the conflict limited. The president feared that the use of Chinese Nationalist forces and atomic weapons would lead to full-scale war with the People’s Republic of China—and quite possibly with the Soviet Union as well.
What really spelled the end for MacArthur, however, was that after Truman rejected his recommendations the general began expressing his differences of opinion over strategy to the press. The final straw came in late March when, in a letter to the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, MacArthur made clear his criticism of the president’s conduct of the war. When this letter was read on the floor of Congress, MacArthur’s days as commander were numbered. The order came on 11 April—effective immediately the general was removed from command, replaced by General Matthew Ridgway.
MacArthur’s firing set off a huge political controversy back home, as Republicans denounced Truman for firing the one man they believed had a winning strategy for Korea. The general was invited to address a joint session of Congress, and for several weeks he was greeted with ticker-tape parades in every city he visited. Meanwhile Truman’s poll numbers dropped to a record low—that spring only 23 percent of Americans approved of the job he was doing as president.