What General MacArthur wanted to do in Korea, mostly, was to declare war on China and then drop thirty to fifty atom bombs on Manchuria and the Chinese mainland. What President Truman wanted to do was arrange a cease-fire. When MacArthur issued his own proclamation to the Chinese, then, threatening to expand the war, Truman was furious, but responded carefully. Don’t, he told MacArthur, presume to speak for the government of the United States. MacArthur responded by speaking for himself instead - in a letter to the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives who read it, aloud, on the House floor. There was no substitute for victory, MacArthur said. He was fighting the real war against communism in Asia, while the diplomats talked and did nothing. This made Truman think of President Lincoln and General McClellan. About how McClellan had ignored orders; how McClellan made political pronouncements; how Lincoln, so unpopular, fired the popular general. Truman’s approval rating, just about then, was at an all-time low: 26%. Secretary of State Acheson warned him: if you relieve MacArthur, you will have the biggest fight of your administration.
On April 11, 1951, Truman announced the dismissal of MacArthur from his duties as Allied Commander of United Nations forces in the Far East. He asserted the principle of civilian control of the military, and went to bed. When he awoke in the morning, it was to hell. Firing MacArthur, the press pounded, was another Pearl Harbor, and great for the Russians. Truman should be impeached, the Republicans cried, and MacArthur, reinstated. 69% of Americans said they backed MacArthur. Longshoremen staged walkouts in protest, state legislatures passed statements of condemnation, and of the 44,358 telegrams sent to Congress in the 48 hours following the firing, only 334 supported Truman.
Truman went about his business as if nothing were the matter. Just three days later, in the midst of the onslaught, however, he wrote this letter to Acheson, thanking him, both as a man and as the president, for his support:
Your good letter of the 12th touched me deeply. I am most appreciative. You have been a tower of strength to me in all my trials and tribulations. I hope I shall always deserve your affection for me and your devotion to the President. Your feeling for me fully represents mine for you
Firing MacArthur, Truman would later say, was one of the most important decisions of his presidency.
Autograph Letter Signed, 1 page, quarto, The White House, Washington, April 14, 1951. To Secretary of State Dean Acheson.