Address to Congress

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Douglas MacArthur

"Address to Congress"

Delivered April 19, 1951

In the last weeks of March 1951, the Truman administration developed plans to negotiate with the Chinese and North Koreans to bring an end to the Korean War (1950–53). To their dismay, before they could draft their offer to the communists, Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964), commander of the U.S. forces in the Far East—who knew of the president's plans—foiled the negotiations with a public statement threatening the communists with all-out war on their own land. MacArthur wanted a complete victory in Korea and did not seem able to cooperate with the administration's effort at limited warfare accompanied by negotiation. Because this was not the only instance of MacArthur's failure to play by the rules, most of President Harry S. Truman's (1884–1972) advisers believed he could not be relied on to carry out the administration's orders. Truman decided that the seventy-plus year-old general must be relieved of command. MacArthur was informed of this on April 11, 1951.

To many, MacArthur was a hero of almost godlike proportions. When he left his headquaters in Tokyo, Japan, to return to the United States after being fired, there were crowds of Japanese people lining the roads to say goodbye. When he

reached Hawaii, a huge, forty-mile parade was organized in his honor. Thousands of adoring fans met him when he arrived in San Francisco, California. Many newspapers attacked Truman and his administration for firing MacArthur. Immediately after the general's return, some of Truman's Republican opponents in the U.S. Congress began to talk about the possibility of impeaching the president (reprimanding him, and possibly removing him from office). After some debate, Congress invited MacArthur to speak about the Truman administration's Far East policy. He was received in Washington, D.C., on April 19, 1951, with full military honors (per Truman's instructions), and there he presented a televised speech to Congress outlining his views on the Korean War, part of which follows.

Things to remember while reading this excerpt from MacArthur's Address to Congress:

  • More than five hundred thousand people showed up to greet MacArthur in Washington, D.C. His speech was interrupted more than fifty times with applause and cheering from the public galleries.
  • The actual Senate hearings in which MacArthur was given a forum to contest the Truman administration's Far East policies did not occur until May 1951.
  • Douglas MacArthur made two unsuccessful attempts at the Republican nomination for U.S. president, in 1948 and 1952.
  • Communism is a set of political beliefs that advocates the elimination of private property. It is a system in which goods are owned by the community as a whole rather than by specific individuals and are available to all as needed. It is fundamentally at odds with the American economic system of capitalism, in which individuals rather than the state own the property and businesses.

Excerpt from MacArthur's Address to Congress, April 19, 1951

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 said, it proved to be 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 forces 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 one.

Apart from the military need, as I saw it, to neutralize sanctuary protection given the enemy north of the Yalu, I felt that military necessity in the conduct of the war made necessary (1) the intensification of our economic blockade against China, (2) the imposition of a naval blockade against the China coast, (3) removal of restrictions on air reconnaissance of China's coastal area and of Manchuria, (4) removal of restrictions on the forces of the Republic of China on Formosa [Taiwan], with logistical support to contribute to their effective operations against the Chinese mainland.

For entertaining these views, all professionally designed to support our forces in Korea and to bring hostilities to an end with the least possible delay and at a saving of countless American and allied lives, I have been severely criticized in lay circles, principally abroad, despite my understanding that from a military standpoint the above views have been fully shared in the past by practically every military leader concerned with the Korean campaign, including our own Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I called for reinforcements, but was informed that reinforcements were not available. I made clear that if not permitted to destroy the enemy built-up bases north of the Yalu, if not permitted to utilize the friendly Chinese force of some 600,000 men in Formosa, if not permitted to blockade the China coast to prevent the Chinese Reds from getting succor from without, and if there was to be no hope of major reinforcements, the position of the command from the military standpoint forbade victory.

We could hold in Korea by constant maneuver and in an approximate area where our supply line advantages were in balance with the supply line disadvantages of the enemy, but we could hope at best for only an indecisive campaign with its terrible and constant attrition upon our forces if the enemy utilized its full military potential.

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 war-monger. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me—and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated 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 can be no substitute for victory.

There are some who for varying reasons would appease Red China. They are blind to history's clear lesson, for history teaches with unmistakable emphasis that appeasement but begets new and bloodier wars. It points to no single instance where this end has justified that means, where appeasement has led to more than a sham peace. Like blackmail, it lays the basis for new and successively greater demands until, as in blackmail, violence becomes the only other alternative. Why, my soldiers asked me, surrender military advantages to an enemy in the field? I could not answer.

Some may say to avoid spread of the conflict into an all-out war with China. Others, to avoid Soviet intervention. Neither explanation seems valid, for China is already engaging with the maximum power it can commit, and the Soviet will not necessarily mesh its actions with our moves….

The tragedy of Korea is further heightened by the fact that its military action was 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 have just left your fighting sons in Korea. They have done their best there, and I can report to you without reservation that they are splendid in every way.

It was my constant effort to preserve them and end this savage conflict honorably and with the least loss of time and a minimum sacrifice of life. Its growing bloodshed has caused me the deepest anguish and anxiety. Those gallant men will remain often in my thoughts and in my prayers always.

I am closing my 52 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 at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have

all 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 bye.

What happened next…

Joseph C. Goulden, in Korea: The Untold Story of the War, sums up the impact of MacArthur's speech, noting that it is full of "factual and logical holes" but that "his performance ranked as one of the more powerful political experiences of the mid-twentieth century. Many congressmen wept openly as he finished; so, too, did men and women around the country who heard and saw the speech on radio and television."

MacArthur left Washington, D.C., for New York, where he was greeted by a jubilant nineteen-mile parade through Manhattan attended by an estimated 7.5 million people.

General Matthew B. Ridgway (1895–1993) took over MacArthur's Far East Command and held a defensive line near the 38th parallel, the dividing line between North and South Korea. Truce negotiations with the communist forces began in July 1951.

Did you know…

  • According to author James Michener, who was a war correspondent in Korea, the press played a big part in stirring up the public in favor of MacArthur and against Truman: "One radio man had to interview seventeen soldiers before he got one who would allow his voice to break and ask pathetically why they were doing this to his general. What the other sixteen said would have made better—but unwanted—stories."

Where to Learn More

Goulden, Joseph C. Korea: The Untold Story of the War. New York: Times Books, 1982.

Michener, James A. "Introduction," to Tokyo and Points East, by Keyes Beech. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1954.

Web sites

"AP Stenographic Transcript of General MacArthur's Address to Congress, April 19, 1951, as Checked Against Official Record." Harry S. Truman Library, Student Research File, B File, Korean War Dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur, President's Secretary's Files. [Online] (accessed on August 14, 2001).

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Address to Congress

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