An intemperate general. An unpopular war. A military and diplomatic team in disarray.
Those are the challenges President Obama has faced as he attempts to make a success of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan. They are also the challenges President Truman surmounted in the winter of 1950 as he began managing a war in Korea that risked becoming bigger and more costly. It was the first significant armed conflict of the Cold War: U.S. troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur came to the aid of the South Koreans after North Korea invaded. When Communist China entered the conflict on the side of the North Koreans, the crisis seemed on the verge of flaring into a world war. Truman was determined not to let that happen. MacArthur kept urging a widening of the war into China itself and ignoring his commander in chief. On April 11, 1951, after MacArthur had “shot his mouth off,” as one diplomat put it, one too many times, Truman fired him.
The story of their showdown—one of the most dramatic in U.S. history between a commander in chief and his top soldier in the field—is captured in all its detail by David McCullough in his Pulitzer Prize–winning biography Truman, and presented here in a ebook called Truman Fires MacArthur (ebook excerpt of Truman), which was the headline carried in many newspapers around the country the next day.