Famous showdown helped GOP to landslide, shaped decades of Cold War politics.
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So there was strong support for MacArthur’s sentiments as he expressed them in a January 1951 interview with the New York Times, an interview that had this headline:
M’Arthur, Near 71, Bitter Over Reds:
Says He is ready to Fight Them the Rest of His Life.
Read a MacArthur quote at the beginning of the story:
“Democracy — the American way of life — is the most wonderful thing we have and it is worth fighting for when it is threatened.”
Four months later, with Truman fed up over the increasingly public nature of MacArthur’s comments, the condescension he felt his general was showing the presidency and the general’s tendency to freelance diplomacy that went against White House policy, Truman astonished the world.
He fired MacArthur.
At that moment — and more importantly for the rest of the almost half-century duration of the Cold War and now extending into the War on Terror — the template of a central conflict between the Left and Right, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives began to harden.
The Left was perceived as favoring appeasement or negotiation or acceptance of enemies sworn to destroy America. The Progressive Party, Henry Wallace’s soapbox, quickly issued a statement saying that firing MacArthur “makes a profound re-direction to peace possible.” Within days the party that symbolized the ideas that would come to dominate the American Left over the next seven decades — right up until today — was calling a meeting “to chart a course” for “peace” — a peace that was widely interpreted by millions of Americans as appeasement, pacifism, or worse. The Right, on the other hand — anticipating Ronald Reagan by four decades — favored outright victory over the Soviet Union and Communism itself. Period.
The impact of MacArthur’s firing was immediate, a political earthquake.
In California Truman was hung in effigy. The Los Angeles City Council adjourned, furious at it what it called “the political assassination” of General MacArthur. Cars suddenly appeared on city streets carrying homemade banners demanding “Oust President Truman.” Newspapers across the country were flooded with calls of protest. The American Legion, in post-World War II America some four million members strong, was outraged. Incongruously, the Chicago Board of Trade reported that prices for wheat, corn, rye and oats were plunging as a result of the firing. The President’s poll numbers tumbled, finally bottoming on the eve of the 1952 election at 22%.
MacArthur returned, fired, as the conquering hero. Half a million people cheered him on his arrival in San Francisco. Over a million New Yorkers turned out just to see MacArthur ride from Idlewild (now JFK) Airport to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in Manhattan. Five million turned out for New York’s ticker-tape parade honoring MacArthur, with a record 2,850 tons of paper littering the city afterwards. There was a famous address to a cheering Congress and the memorable line that “Old Soldiers never die, they just fade away.”
That is, effectively, what did happen — to MacArthur. History records that MacArthur’s potential presidential candidacy fizzled. It is commonly held today that Truman did the correct thing in asserting his rights as commander-in-chief.
BUT THERE WAS SOMETHING ELSE, a very big political something else, that the media and historians of today always miss about that famous showdown between MacArthur and Truman.
It was a something else so politically potent it would eventually explode the image of Democrats as fearless opponents of American enemies. The once seemingly invincible image created by FDR’s wartime leadership in the greatest war of all time — the fight against Hitler and the Japanese that was World War II — was eviscerated.
MacArthur’s refusal to bend the knee to Communism drew a vividly bright line between the American Left and Right that exists to this day. Damaged in the moment was the perception of Truman’s own adamant opposition to Communism, and his emergence as America’s first hard-as-nails anti-Communist Cold War president. Truman’s appointment of another heroic World War II general, Mark Clark — the David Petraeus of his day — to take MacArthur’s place in Korea ,did nothing to halt the sea-change in American politics that the MacArthur removal signaled.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online