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Lessons and takeaways and MacArthur

June 24, 2010

Hello faithful readers!  I hope you all had a wonderful solstice, sad to think we’ve already had the longest day of the year and it’s not even July.  Boo.  I bring you in consolation, however, a few lessons and takeaways from the weekend and the beginning of this week:

1)  Having someone around that can change a tire is good.

2)  Beware the second mint julep, especially after you’ve already had a beer, a gin and tonic, and the first mint julep.

3)  Baseball.  Ah, I love my Braves, but sometimes, jeez, Tommy what are you doing to me?

4)  Never, ever, ever underestimate the value of added injury time.  Thank you Landon Donovan.  Now we get to watch Ghana probably have their way with us, especially if they play the way they did against Germany.  But, hey, at least it’s the knockout round!

5)  I go back and forth on tennis, I really do.  I was a bit obsessed during the 2000 U.S. Open, but then again, I worked for my cousins during that tournament as the “office manager” for the suites’ catering at Arthur Ashe stadium.  But since Lindsey Davenport retired (don’t ask, there’s no satisfying answer) my interested has waned as far as the right wing of the Republican Party (same thing, and apparently we’re calling them GOBP- I didn’t think of it but I can’t find the link) has left reality.  But, the Wednesday marathon 5th set (which is still not done as I type this, it’s 59 games, not points, games each) between Isner and Mahut really was fascinating.  My office mate and I were entranced.  One of us following the reasonable NY Times updates, one of us following the zombie-talk of the Guardian.  Man I love my minute by minutes!

6) Michael Steele and his “wisdom” are back.  Hurrah!

7) This is true.

8)  Did General McChrystal really think it was a good idea to have a reporter hang out with him and his staff?  And that nothing bad would come of it when your aides, and even you, disparage members of the President’s security team?  All while drinking Bud Light Lime?  My officemate and I discussed it Tuesday morning, before it became the only news story of the day and he and I managed to capture every major talking point within that 5-minute conversation.  We were wrong though, about one thing, I said was it a lose/lose for President Obama no matter which way he went.  I am glad to say I was wrong.  General Patraeus may not be everyone’s cup of tea (see Iraq) but he certainly took the wind out of the opposition’s sails.  

You may be reading a bit about Truman and MacArthur, or even Lincoln and McClellan, and thinking to yourself, what the heck are those references?  Well, Doris Kerns Godwin stole my thunder on Lincoln, darn her.  I will only add that McClellan also frustrated President Lincoln to no end in his refusal to take his numerically superior Army of the Potomac and engage the Confederacy.  He sat.  And sat.  And sat.  And ignored President Lincoln’s subtle, and not so subtle, attempts to get him off the stick and moving.

But, if you will allow me, I will explain just a bit about Truman and MacArthur.  In 1951, this country was engaged in a bit of a stalemate 10 months into the Korean conflict.  Back in November 1950 General MacArthur oversaw one of the worst defeats of an American army (not counting the whole Civil War) near the Yalu River (for fun, I Google mapped the directions from my house to this river, it had me kayak across the Pacific.  I think the Google folks are having us on). 

From that loss, General MacArthur, from contemporary accounts, “did not want facts or logic,” but instead “wanted salve for his wounded pride.”  This consuming drive to remove the Chinese from North Korea and take the fight into China became MacArthur’s overriding goal.  Where Truman wanted to limit the war to the Korean peninsula, MacArthur found that boundary stifling and contrary to his goal of destroying Communist China itself.   Truman had changed the goal of his Korean invasion midstream as well, from liberating the entire peninsula to maintaining the division at the thirty-eighth parallel.  This conflict of strategy and MacArthur’s unwillingness to consider a limited war led to Truman’s relieving him of command on April 11, 1951.

What happened next was nothing less than body blows to a faltering Truman presidency and a severe challenge to the principle of civilian control of the military.  Upon his return to the U.S., MacArthur was invited by Republicans to address a joint “meeting” of Congress which was listened to by 30 million Americans on their radios.  MacArthur had a rapt audience which to sell his strategy of Chinese victory to, and Truman’s response of the potential for a land war in Asia (never get involved in one of those) was ripped to shreds.  The tug of war continued, and led to a congressional investigation of the Far Eastern policies of Truman and televised hearings.  These hearings were MacArthur’s undoing- again, by his own hand. 

When MacArthur finished his three days of testimony on his view of the conflict, the administration’s policies, and his own vision of a victory in China he was followed by Truman’s military advisors, including the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Omar Bradley (that’s twice he’s appeared in this blog, strange).  Their 19 days of testimony called MacArthur’s conduct, his victory plan, and his military reputation onto the carpet.  Repeatedly.  General Bradley’s quote probably is the most famous from their testimony: following MacArthur’s plan would lead the United States into “the wrong war at the wrong time with the wrong enemy.”  True words that are correct even to this day (Iran comes to mind).

The end of MacArthur’s influence came swiftly, from his speaking tour, to his numbing speech at the 1952 Republican Convention.  He was out of public life only 14 months after his triumphant, clamor-inducing, return to the U.S. 

The ability of Obama to remove McChrystal from office comes from the strength of our civilian control of the military put to the test by Lincoln and McClellan, strained by Truman and MacArthur, but ultimately standing as shown by the force, the speed, and ultimately the resigned actions of General McChrystal himself.

Extra book bonus:  “Your mother” read this account of the Korean War.  Said it was awesome.  Probably not those words exactly, but something along those lines.

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