This day in history, April 11, 1951, President Harry S. Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of command of the U.S. forces in Korea, sparking controversy among the American public.
During the early fighting in the Korean War, MacArthur, who was the designated commander of the United Nations forces defending South Korea at the time, devised several key strategies and military maneuvers that helped save South Korea from invading North Korean forces. MacArthur was hailed as a military genius for conceiving and executing the amphibious assault at Inchon in September 1950.
When U.S. And United Nation forces began pushing back North Korean forces, MacArthur argued for a policy of pushing into North Korea to completely defeat the communist forces. Truman agreed to the plan but was hesitant because he worried that the People’s Republic of China might intervene in the conflict if they viewed it as a hostile act.
In October, MacArthur told Truman that China would not intervene, but one month later, hundreds of thousands of Chinese forces crossed into North Korea and drove U.S. troops back into South Korea. MacArthur wanted to retaliate against the Chinese forces, but Truman refused, leading to a rift between the two. MacArthur made public statements calling for retaliation, which irritated Truman.
In April 1951, President Truman fired MacArthur and replaced him with Gen. Matthew Ridgeway. On April 11, Truman addressed the nation and explained to them why he relieved MacArthur of his commands.
It “would be wrong—tragically wrong—for us to take the initiative in extending the war… Our aim is to avoid the spread of the conflict,” Truman said. “I believe that we must try to limit the war to Korea for these vital reasons: To make sure that the precious lives of our fighting men are not wasted; to see that the security of our country and the free world is not needlessly jeopardized; and to prevent a third world war.”
MacArthur was fired “so that there would be no doubt or confusion as to the real purpose and aim of our policy,” Truman added.
The Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held a joint inquiry into the military situation and the circumstances surrounding MacArthur’s relief, and concluded that “the removal of General MacArthur was within the constitutional powers of the President but the circumstances were a shock to national pride.”
Public opinion was strongly against Truman’s actions, but he stuck with his decision anyway and the American people eventually came to understand that MacArthur’s policies may have led to a larger war in Asia.