Seth Barrett Tillman: Eisenhower (WWII) and MacArthur (Korea): the Limits of Civilian Control


At the very outset of creating the first integrated Anglo-American command structure in 1942, Eisenhower made it clear that he would not tolerate any diminution of his own authority and responsibility as supreme commander. The British War Office had issued its own directive to General Sir Kenneth Anderson, the British land force commander, which simply repeated the terms of that given to Haig in the Great War, authorising Anderson to appeal to his own government if and when he believed that an order from Eisenhower endangered his army. Such a directive stood in blatant contradiction to the new integrated command structure, whereby Eisenhower was serving as an Allied commander responsible to an Allied authority, the combined chiefs of staff, and thence to the prime minister and president jointly.

[Emphasis in original.]

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10 thoughts on “Seth Barrett Tillman: <i>Eisenhower (WWII) and MacArthur (Korea): the Limits of Civilian Control</i>”

  1. “Exactly who was MacArthur—issuing orders for a UN Command under a Security Council resolution—responsible to?”

    It was MacArthur, so that question is not answerable. ;)

    A career spent ‘off the chain’ was his legacy. No Eisenhower, that’s for sure, but a great general in his own right. Not one I’d want in my army though.

  2. If MacA had stopped at Pyongyang and gone to defense, a lot of history would be different. That is the narrow point of the peninsula and would have been defensible.

  3. It’s one of the great ironies of history that Ike was so successful a commander when he’d never seen action himself.

  4. Although Eisenhower had never seen action Churchill had seen quite a bit, and yet (presumably) didn’t try to use that disparity improperly to try to get his own way; or of he did, I’ve not come across it in my reading. As far as I can tell, he treated Ike with only the same sort of enthusiastic badgering that he treated everyone else.

    I was amused by the idea that the ruthless, reckless egomaniac Mountbatten was likely to absorb Ike’s wise words. I wonder whether he did.

  5. Speaking of MacArthur. An interesting article in the Smithsonian Magazine on a classified congressional hearing in 1951 that was declassified in 1970, but never publicized then.

    We had drawn down the Army/Navy/Air Force so much after WW2 that the Korean War had really stretched the Army and Air Force very tightly. MacArthur truly did not realize this situation.

  6. “MacArthur truly did not realize this situation.” Then we was unfit for command: Truman was right.

  7. I saw that Smithsonian article and consider it to be badly biased. The Senate committees were misinformed about the air power threat. The Chinese didn’t really have any air assets. The MiGs that did fly against us were controlled by and piloted by Russians, and our F-86s blew them out of the sky once we figured out how to outmaneuver them. The Chinese (Russians) stayed limited not because of some game theory cold calculations but because there was no way in hell they could have kept up with us. Furthermore, Stalin was dying and too obsessed with real or imagined conspiracies against him within the Kremlin to ever escalate.

    These hearings only prove to me that forces within the Administration were hell bent on following the advice of a combination of Leftist sympathizers and clueless strategic theorists. Truman’s blunders gravely damaged our position in the world and probably prolonged the Cold War by 20 years.

  8. The Army had only 590000 troops in 1950. The Air Force had less than 3500 fighters in 1950 and half of those were WW2 piston engine planes. We had demobilized in 1946 and were depending upon nuclear weapons to deter Stalin from pushing into Western Europe. The Army was stretched thin even with the Marines to help. All services started increasing but no real increase in combat strength was available until the war was nearly over.

  9. Churchill is very clear in his reminiscence of his numerous positions in the First World War that he was willing to continence a great deal in the way of losses from the secession of predictably futile “offensives” in order to support the French that were suffering the worst and supplying the bulk of the troops. I believe that Eisenhower was explicit on many occasions in acknowledging Churchill’s pretty much “blank check” support.

    At the beginning of 1918, the British drafts and reinforcements to makeup the wastage of 1917 were deliberately kept out of France because the British government felt that it was the only way to forestall another huge summer assault. They saw 1918 as a time to go on the defensive while the American presence built. This almost proved disastrous when the Germans used the troops liberated by the Russian collapse to launch their own, ultimately disastrous for the Germans, offensive.

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