The Korean conflict between President Harry S. Truman and General Douglas MacArthur has been framed in history by the partisans of Truman as a case of the commander-in-chief replacing an insubordinate general. However, the full context is not only more relevant, but also applicable to today.
Consistent with his second-hand nature, Truman was both dependent upon allies and deferential to them.
As several British officials were actually Soviet agents, this led to the Chinese communists knowing the limits Truman had put upon MacArthur’s scope of actions and specific battle plans that MacArthur had reported to Washington; in fact, the Chinese communists have stated that they would not have sent troops into North Korea if they had not known about Truman’s straightjacketing MacArthur from taking effective actions against the enemy forces.
MacArthur’s initiatives for victory were blunted by actual ally objections, and worries about not upsetting allied sensibilities.
Meanwhile, recommendations by MacArthur to use Chinese nationalists as allies were blocked as an unacceptable risk; they could have been used to contribute forces in battle or act as a decoy to hold Chinese communist reserves out of Korea. In fact, as ordered by the Truman Administration, the US Navy protected the flank of the Chicoms by preventing Nationalists from attacking the mainland across the straight.
Our use of allies in the War on Terror, Afghanistan, and Iraq has been a subject of much public comment and debate. We find that not all allies are equal and some can be a serious detriment to our efforts. Further, as in Korea, our use of allies has created conflicts between American interests and allied constraints. Like during the Truman Administration, the Obama Administration has pursued an invalid hierarchy: first appease our enemies, then appease our allies, and finally consider American interests.
This is the third in a series of six posts on the lessons from the Truman-MacArthur conflict.
1) Voting for Leaders
2) The Problem of Inferior Leaders
3) Allies as Liabilities
4) Unprincipled Policies Lead to Serial SNAFUs
5) An Administration Not on the Same Page
6) Limited War and Defeat
Pingback: President Truman vs. General MacArthur: Six Lessons for Today | Selfish Citizenship
Pingback: President Truman vs. General MacArthur: The Problem of Inferior Leaders | Selfish Citizenship
Pingback: President Truman vs. General MacArthur: Unprincipled Policies Lead to Serial SNAFUs | Selfish Citizenship
Pingback: President Truman vs. General MacArthur: An Administration Not on the Same Page | Selfish Citizenship