James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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Lessons Learned: General MacArthur’s Dismissal

by James M. Lindsay
April 11, 2012

A new installment of “Lessons Learned” is now out. This week I discuss President Harry Truman’s announcement on April 11, 1951, that he had dismissed General Douglas MacArthur as commanding general of U.S. forces in Korea. In the video, I look at the principle of civilian control of the military and discuss when exercising that control is justified. Here’s a question to consider when thinking about wartime decision-making: How much deference should presidents give to the military, and under what conditions should they overrule military advice?  I encourage you to weigh in with your answer in the comments section below. And one quick correction. I mistakenly say in the video that General MacArthur sent a letter critical of the Truman administration’s policy in Korea to the “Republican speaker of the House.” MacArthur actually sent his letter to the House Republican minority leader.

I hope you enjoy the video.

If you are interested in learning more about Truman’s dismissal of MacArthur, or the U.S. role in the Korean War, here are some books worth reading:

David Halberstam. The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War. (2007)

William Manchester. American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880-1964. (1978)

Michael D. Pearlman. Truman and MacArthur: Policy, Politics, and the Hunger for Honor and Renown. (2008)

Stanley Sandler. The Korean War: No Victors, No Vanquished. (1999)

John W. Spanier. The Truman-MacArthur Controversy and the Korean War. (1965)

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