Today’s post was written by David Langbart, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park.
Douglas MacArthur was born on January 26, 1880. As his 70th birthday approached, he was serving as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) in occupied Japan. In that position he had significant interaction with the Department of State. In honor of the General’s birthday, Secretary of State Dean Acheson signed the telegram shown below. The relationship between SCAP and the Department of State was, to put it mildly, not the best, so perhaps sending the telegram to celebrate this milestone birthday was an effort to improve connections at the policymaker level.
MacArthur responded with the following telegram:
Given the events of the next 15 months, this exchange of messages might reflect the high point in the contentious relationship between MacArthur and Acheson. MacArthur’s actions in Korea after the Chinese intervention in the war there in late 1950 ultimately led President Truman to relieve the General of his command and led to a total rupture in the remaining professional and personal relationship between MacArthur and Acheson. Acheson later referred to MacArthur as a “jackass” and in his memoirs referred to the damage MacArthur’s “willful insubordination and incredibly bad judgment” did to the U.S. He further noted that his actions “diminished” the “effectiveness” of U.S. foreign policy.
Source: Secretary of State to Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, Telegram, January 25, 1950, file 711.551/1-2550 and Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers to the Secretary of State, Telegram Z-35888, January 27, 1950, file 711.551/1-2750 both in the Central Decimal Files, 1950-1954 (NAID 302021), RG 59: General Records of the Department of State.
For more information on the MacArthur-Acheson relationship, see:
- Dean Acheson, Present at the Creation: My Years in the State Department (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1969)
- Robert L. Beisner, Dean Acheson: A Life in the Cold War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)