I knew only the bare bones of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur’s life and accomplishments until I read Francis P. Sempa’s “Why MacArthur Was America’s Greatest General of the 20th Century” (The American Spectator, October 10, 2021). Brief as it is, Sempa’s piece adds greatly to my knowledge of MacArthur.
The article piqued my interest in MacArthur, so I acquired a copy of William Manchester’s American Caesar, purportedly the definitive biography of MacArthur. A review of that book — and an assessment of Sempa’s praise for MacArthur — might appear here someday.
In any case, I fully agree with these passages in Sempa’s article:
There is serious talk of war in the South China Sea, as Chinese air incursions into Taiwan’s air defense space increase and the rhetoric of war becomes all too commonplace. What political scientist Graham Allison called the “Thucydides Trap” (war produced by a rising power’s challenge to the current leading power) may have been tripped. It may once again be a time when America needs great generals and admirals….
When war broke out … on the Korean peninsula, MacArthur was chosen to lead U.S. and UN forces against the communists…. He conceived the brilliantly successful Inchon landing of September 15, 1950, once again overcoming the doubts and opposition of the military hierarchy in Washington. When China massively intervened in the war in October-November 1950, MacArthur urged political leaders in Washington to allow him to achieve victory over Chinese forces. “In war,” MacArthur wrote, “there is no substitute for victory.” The Truman administration, which had basked in the general’s victory at Inchon and had authorized him to liberate all of North Korea from communist rule, now decided that Korea was the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time, and they blamed MacArthur for trying to start World War III. When MacArthur publicly noted his disagreement with a policy that sought stalemate instead of victory, he was relieved of command by President Truman. Liberal historians universally side with Truman in this dispute, but settling for stalemate meant continued misery and tyranny in North Korea, emboldened the Chinese Communist Party that today is our greatest geopolitical challenger, and set a precedent that helped lead to our subsequent defeat in Vietnam [emphasis added]….
Today, as we face a possible war with China over Taiwan, we may need more generals like MacArthur because “there is no substitute for victory.”
Related post: The Way Ahead?