Since MacArthur’s Firing 72 Years Ago, All U.S. Wars Have Been Substitutes for Victory - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
Since MacArthur’s Firing 72 Years Ago, All U.S. Wars Have Been Substitutes for Victory
General Douglas MacArthur (center) observes the shelling of Inchon from the U.S.S. Mt. McKinley, September 15, 1950 (Wikimedia Commons)

After a GOP member of Congress publicly revealed a letter from Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then commanding U.S. and UN forces in Korea, that stated, “There is no substitute for victory,” President Harry Truman on April 11, 1951, fired MacArthur for repeatedly voicing opinions that differed from Truman’s war policy. MacArthur, after China entered the war in October-November 1950, felt that he and his forces were unfairly and dangerously being restricted from waging successful war against Chinese forces. “Why, my soldiers asked of me, surrender military advantages to an enemy in the field? I could not answer,” the general memorably told Congress after his removal from command. More U.S. troops died in Korea after than before MacArthur was fired. And the only way we ended the Korean War was to threaten, as MacArthur suggested, to widen the war and possibly use nuclear weapons — both Truman and Eisenhower did that. We didn’t win the Korean War. We lost the Vietnam War. We won the brief Gulf War in 1991, but lost the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In America’s wars, thanks to Harry Truman, there are always substitutes for victory.

Truman, of course, properly exercised his constitutional power to relieve MacArthur of command, but that doesn’t mean his decision was wise or that his war policy of stalemate instead of victory was the best one. Most liberal historians (which means most historians) credit Truman with avoiding World War III, and portray MacArthur as an arrogant, reckless warmonger. MacArthur was certainly arrogant, but his recklessness was usually limited to unnecessarily risking his own life in battles. The man detractors called “dugout Doug” was in reality one of the most courageous men ever to wear a military uniform. His combined arms strategy in the southwest Pacific in World War II won victories with relatively fewer casualties than in other theaters of the war. Why take by attrition what I can achieve by strategy, he often remarked.

In his speech to Congress after being relieved of command, MacArthur bragged, “I know war as few men living today know it,” but that also happened to be true. He fought bravely with American expeditionary forces in Mexico, he was among the most decorated soldiers of the First World War (winning seven Silver Stars, among other medals), and won the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II. Biographer William Manchester called MacArthur the greatest man at arms this nation has produced. Military historian Geoffrey Perret ranked MacArthur second only to Ulysses Grant on the list of great American generals.

Waging war without victory as a goal was against everything MacArthur learned and believed. He idolized his father, Arthur MacArthur, who as a young 19-year-old soldier won the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroics on Missionary Ridge during the Civil War Battle of Chattanooga. Lincoln, Grant, and the Union fought the Civil War to achieve victory, not stalemate. The United States won victories in World Wars I and II. And later, even after the Korean stalemate that he abhorred, MacArthur would tell the cadets at West Point: “Your mission remains fixed, determined, inviolable — it is to win our wars.”

Arthur Herman, MacArthur’s most recent biographer, notes the consequences of America’s adopting Truman’s instead of MacArthur’s approach to war. “[A]fter the experiences of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan,” Herman writes, “it seems debatable whether the U.S. military, and the world, is truly better off for rejecting the MacArthur model.” The substitutes for victory since Korea have been defeats or endless wars. Truman’s legacy in firing MacArthur, in Herman’s words, is “an America resigned to fighting wars that its political leadership is determined not to win, until the public finally loses patience and insists that its leaders call it quits.”

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