The other MacArthur precedent: Strategic demotions

President Obama has just announced that General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, will replace now-booted General McChrstyal as top commander in Afghanistan, technically a lower position though probably a more strategically vital one . This isn’t entirely unprecedented. In 1941, then-President Franklin Roosevelt demoted Douglas MacArthur as part of a strategic — not ...

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

President Obama has just announced that General David Petraeus, head of U.S. Central Command, will replace now-booted General McChrstyal as top commander in Afghanistan, technically a lower position though probably a more strategically vital one . This isn’t entirely unprecedented. In 1941, then-President Franklin Roosevelt demoted Douglas MacArthur as part of a strategic — not punitive — change of policy. A Time article from that year describes the general’s surprising composure in the wake of professional reshuffling:

Field Marshal Douglas MacArthur, Military Adviser to the Philippine Commonwealth, had just taken a demotion in rank. As he stood at a window in his penthouse apartment atop the swank Manila Hotel, looking out on the bay, on the brooding fortress of Corregidor, he was (for practical purposes) no longer a field marshal or the four-starred general he had been when he retired three and a half years ago from the U.S. Army. His Commander in Chief had just called him back to that Army in reduced but impressive rank.

General MacArthur was not downcast at this technical demotion, and he had no reason to be. For he had also been made commander of The U.S. Army Forces in the Far East."

Ten years later, of course, MacArthur got the axe for real for his public disagreements with President Harry Truman over U.S. strategy in the Korean war. Strangely, Dugout Doug seems to have set a precedent for both the generals in the current controversy. 

Clare Sestanovich and Sylvie Stein are researchers at Foreign Policy.

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