Harry S. Truman was never really fond of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, especially after their frosty 1950 Wake Island meeting in the Pacific while the Korean War raged.
Things had not gone particularly well since the North Koreans invaded South Korea in late June 1950. By October, South Korean troops had pushed across the 38th parallel, but there were warnings that the Chinese would enter the war. The general discounted the warnings and predicted he could send large numbers of troops home by Christmas. In late November, hundreds of thousands of Chinese roared into South Korea.
But in early 1951, MacArthur handed Truman a reason to get rid of him. Insubordination—publicly criticizing American policy in interviews and public statements.
MacArthur had even written a letter, in which he criticized Truman’s handling of the war, to Joseph Martin, the House Republican leader. Martin read it on the floor of the House. For Commander-in-Chief Truman, this was the final straw.
The President, suspecting MacArthur might see that his days were numbered and resign before he could act, moved quickly, announcing the dismissal at 1 a.m. on April 11, 1951:
“With deep regret, I have concluded that General of the Army Douglas MacArthur is unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the United States Government . . . military commanders must be governed by the policies and directives issued to them in the manner provided by our laws and Constitution. . . . General MacArthur’s place in history as one of our greatest commanders is fully established.”
The negative public and congressional reaction to MacArthur’s dismissal was overwhelming, complete with calls for Truman’s impeachment. MacArthur returned to a hero’s welcome, and in addressing Congress quoted the famous ballad, “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
MacArthur testified before Congress for days. But his extreme views about widening the war in Korea and bombing the Chinese helped to undermine support for the general.
A boomlet for MacArthur for President in 1952 fizzled, and he made few public appearances after his retirement. He died in 1964.