Joe Pappalardo at Popular Mechanics on why the two cases aren’t as similar as many think:
In short, the dispute between President Truman and Gen. MacArthur was more substantive than what we saw between President Obama and Gen. McChrystal. During the Korean War, after the Chinese invaded Korea to force advancing United Nations troops away from its border, MacArthur agitated in public to attack the Chinese mainland. Truman refused to entertain the idea of a wider war, or the use of nuclear weapons. Contrast that heady dispute with a Rolling Stone article in which administration officials were insulted for not understanding the challenge facing the military: It doesn’t exactly measure up.
In fact, President Truman avoided firing MacArthur for a long time. The General was practically running for the White House from Korea. Truman suffered insults, backbiting and sneers from the revered general. During one meeting, MacArthur greeted his commander-in-chief with a handshake instead of a salute. Truman wisely ignored the slight. (Granted, the war was going well at that point and MacArthur was wildly popular in the U.S.) Truman acted only when MacArthur sent a letter to a congressman that questioned the president’s limited war strategy, which was read on the floor of the House of Representatives. That was impossible to ignore—and the world was watching.
True, McChrystal’s conduct is fairly tame compared to MacArthur’s but in both cases the world was watching. Hendrik Hertzberg makes an excellent point about the impact of McChrystal’s conduct in a wired world:
Just as important, frontline troops nowadays are also online troops. They are plugged in to the Internet, to Facebook, to blogs, to e-mail and Skype. They talk to each other in chat rooms with little or no supervision from the brass. It’s all instant and it’s all in their face. And that, I hasten to add, is not a bad thing. It’s a good thing. But it makes the morale of the troops that much more fragile, that much more apt to be affected by relative trivialities. The fact that General McChrystal, along with his “Team America” posse of adjutants, understood none of this was reason enough to send him packing. His “conduct” wasn’t just a disservice to his President; it was a disservice to the men and women under his command.
Peter Roff finds another interesting contrast in the men who fired their generals:
Let’s stipulate, using what some see as the obvious example, that McChrystal is no Douglas MacArthur. True enough, but Obama is no Harry Truman, who was a vigorous and effective commander-in-chief during the earliest days of the Cold War. Obama’s feckless leadership in the war on terror bespeaks a leader who does not want or know how to win the fight we are in. It is notable, for example, that it took nearly 10 months for Obama and McChrystal to meet face-to-face–via a video uplink–after the general called for a significant infusion of troops into Afghanistan. It only took about 10 hours for a meeting to occur once McChrystal’s comments leaked out.