Words That Men Live By
Gen. Douglas Macarthur (1951)
WASHINGTON, D. C., April 19, 1951 - General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, most picturesque of the commanders in the World War II and virtual proconsul of the Western powers in the Pacific until stripped of his command in recent weeks by President Harry S. Truman, delivered his farewell to half a century of military life in an unprecedented setting, as the honored guest of a Joint Session of the Senate and House.
Never at a loss for eloquent expression, General MacArthur gracefully accepted his dismissal, but in this eulogy of his own career backed down not an inch from the stand which brought it about. He placed himself among the ageless line of old soldiers who “just fade away,” but in his passing from the picture he cautioned that the halfway measures prescribed for the current war in Korea – confinement of action against the Communists to the small land mass of North Korea – would only encourage and perpetuate the determination of the Communists to continue their world-wide onslaught against the Western democracies.
The drama of General MacArthur’s extraordinary appearance here was part of a political clash of forces that demonstrate how far the unanimity of views in World War II has deteriorated; some observers consider it a tragic example of the depths to which political intrigues can descend in the aftermath of great wars. And in this picture no single figure or group is singled out as being either wholly to blame or wholly blameless.
Many observers feel that President Truman, in upholding the authority of his office, had no choice, after General MacArthur’s blunt but undiplomatic comments from his erstwhile headquarters in Tokyo, but to dismiss him from Supreme Command of United Nations Forces in the Far East. At the same time, the Congress, now controlled in both houses by Republican majorities, were given a new political issue.
It remained for General MacArthur to take simultaneous steps to preserve his reputation earned over half a century, to answer his critics, and yet to refrain from kindling further political fires.
I stand on this rostrum with a sense of deep humility and great pride – humility in the wake of those great architects of our history who have stood here before me, pride in the reflection that this home of legislative debate represents human liberty in the purest from yet devised.
Here are centered the hopes and aspirations and faith of the entire human race.
I do not stand here as advocate for any partisan cause, for the issues are fundamental and reach quite beyond the realm of partisan considerations. They must be resolved on the highest plane of national interest if our course is to prove sound and our future protected.
I trust, therefore, that you will do me the justice of receiving that which I have to say as solely expressing the considered viewpoint of a fellow American.
I address you with neither rancor nor bitterness in the fading twilight of life, with but one purpose in mind: to serve my country.
The issues are global, and so interlocked that to consider the problems of one sector oblivious to those of another is to court disaster for the whole. While Asia is commonly referred to as the gateway to Europe, it is no less true that Europe is the gateway to Asia, and the broad influence of the one cannot fail to have its impact upon the other.
There are those who claim our strength is inadequate to protect on both fronts, that we cannot divide our effort. I can think of no greater expression of defeatism.
If a potential enemy can divide his strength on two fronts, it is for us to counter his efforts. The Communist threat is a global one. Its successful advance in one sector threatens the destruction of every other sector. You cannot appease or otherwise surrender to communism in Asia without simultaneously undermining our efforts to halt its advance in Europe.
I have from the beginning believed that the Chinese Communists’ support of the North Koreans was the dominant one. Their interests are at present parallel with those recently displayed not only in Korea but also in Indo-China and Tibet and pointing potentially toward the South, reflecting predominantly the same lust for expansion of power which has animated every would-be conqueror since the beginning of time.
While I was not consulted prior to the President’s decision to intervene in support of the republic of Korea, that decision, from a military standpoint, proved a sound one. As I say, it proved a sound one, as we hurled back the invader and decimated his forces. Our victory was complete, and our objectives within reach, when Red China intervened with numerically superior ground forces.
This created a new war and an entirely new situation, a situation not contemplated when our forced were committed against the North Korean invaders; a situation which called for new decisions in the diplomatic sphere to permit the realistic adjustment of military strategy. Such decisions have not been forthcoming.
While no man in his right mind would advocate sending our ground forces into continental China, and such was never given a thought, the new situation did urgently demand a drastic revision of strategic planning if our political aim was to defeat this new enemy as we had defeated the old….
I have constantly called for the new political decisions essential to a solution.
Efforts have been made to distort my position. It has been said in effect that I was a warmonger. Nothing could be further from the truth.
I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocate its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes….
But once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War’s very object is victory, not prolonged indecision.
In war, there is no substitute for victory.
The tragedy of Korea is further heightened by the fact that its military action is confined to its territorial limits: It condemns that nation, which it is our purpose to save, to suffer the devastating impact of full naval and air bombardment while the enemy’s sanctuaries are fully protected from such attack and devastation.
Of the nations of the world, Korea alone, up to now, is the sole one which has risked its all against communism. The magnificence of the courage and fortitude of the Korean people defies description. They have chosen to risk death rather than slavery. Their last words to me were: “Don’t scuttle the Pacific.”
I am closing my fifty-two years of military service. When I joined the army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fulfillment of all my boyish hopes and dreams.
The world has turned over many times since I took the oath on the plain at West Point. And the hopes and dreams have long since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away.
And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty. Good-by.
~ Postlogue ~
There still remained years later sharp difference of opinion over the military events and decisions that brought about the historic clash between President Truman and General MacArthur.
But the general, 71 years old when he took off his uniform, proved himself a true prophet in his famous quotation. Still active in 1959 as chairman of one of America’s great corporations, he most certainly had not died, but as a military or political force he had discreetly faded out of public view.Printable version