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1950

MacArthur named Korean commander

The day after the U.N. Security Council recommended that all U.N. forces in Korea be placed under the command of the U.S. military, General Douglas MacArthur, the hero of the war against Japan, is appointed head of the United Nations Command by President Harry S. Truman.

MacArthur, the son of a top-ranking army general who fought in the Civil War, was commissioned as an army lieutenant in 1903. During World War I, MacArthur served as a commander of the famed 84th Infantry Brigade. During the 1920s, he was stationed primarily in the Philippines, a U.S. commonwealth, and in the first half of the 1930s he served as U.S. Army chief of staff. In 1935, with Japanese expansion underway in the Pacific, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed MacArthur military adviser to the government of the Philippines. In 1941, five months before Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, he was named commander of all U.S. armed forces in the Pacific.

After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor, he conducted the defense of the Philippines against great odds. In March 1942, with Japanese victory imminent, Roosevelt ordered MacArthur to Australia, but the American general famously promised the Philippines “I shall return.” Five months later, the great U.S. counteroffensive against Japan began. On October 20, 1944, after advancing island by island across the South Pacific, MacArthur waded onto the Philippines’ shores. Eleven months later, he officiated the Japanese surrender and then served as the effective ruler of Japan during a productive five-year occupation.

After North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, MacArthur was appointed supreme commander of the U.S.-led U.N. force sent to aid the South. In September, he organized a risky but highly successful landing at Inchon, and by October North Korean forces had been driven back across the 38th parallel. With President Truman’s approval, U.N. forces crossed into North Korea and advanced all the way to the Yalu River–the border between North Korea and communist China–despite warnings that this would provoke Chinese intervention. When China did intervene, forcing U.N. forces into a desperate retreat, MacArthur pressed for permission to bomb China. President Truman, fearing the Cold War implications of an expanded war in the Far East, refused. MacArthur then publicly threatened to escalate hostilities with China in defiance of Truman’s stated war policy, leading Truman to fire him on April 11, 1951.

For his action against General MacArthur, the celebrated hero of the war against Japan, Truman was subjected to a torrent of attacks, and some Republicans called for his impeachment. On April 17, MacArthur returned to U.S. soil for the first time since before World War II and was given a hero’s welcome. Two days later, he announced the end of his military career before a joint meeting of Congress, declaring, “Old soldiers never die; they just fade away.” After unsuccessfully running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1952, MacArthur did indeed fade from public view. He died in 1964.

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