When Donald Trump turned on his “Generals” and Barack Obama fired General Stanley McChrystal… partisans were quick to compare the moves to Truman’s relieving of Douglass MacArthur. Trump’s utter lack of policy depth caused a rift with his inner circle of former generals. McChrystal was placed in the improper position of a celebrity and interviewed by a journalist who did not provide proper boundaries for what was on or off the record. All of his comments, even the off-color ones, were printed in Rolling Stone magazine. Obama didn’t like the opinions of his commander and fired him for personal reasons.
These have all been politically motivated- Truman faced a Constitutional crisis in 1951.
MacArthur disobeyed orders from Truman… disregarded mandates from the United Nations, and was insubordinate when he met with members of Congress behind Truman’s back. Truman understood that generals would disagree with him, may even do so publicly. But MacArthur’s actions went far beyond critical words and Truman had to take action, “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a bitch, although he was, but that’s not against the law for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.” The official public notice made it clear, in America, civilian authorities make policy, not soldiers.
“With deep regret I have concluded that General of the Army Douglas MacArthur is unable to give his wholehearted support to the policies of the United States Government and of the United Nations in matters pertaining to his official duties. In view of the specific responsibilities imposed upon me by the Constitution of the United States and the added responsibility which has been entrusted to me by the United Nations, I have decided that I must make a change of command in the Far East. I have, therefore, relieved General MacArthur of his commands and have designated Lt. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway his successor.
Full and vigorous debate on matters of national policy is a vital element in the constitutional system of our free democracy. It is fundamental, however, that military commanders must be governed by the policies and directives issued to them in the manner provided by our laws and Constitution. In time of crisis, this consideration is particularly compelling.
General MacArthur’s place in history as one of our greatest commanders is fully established. The Nation owes him a debt of gratitude for the distinguished and exceptional service which he has rendered his country in posts of great responsibility. For that reason I repeat my regret at the necessity for the action I feel compelled to take in his case”