"Old Soldiers Never Die" Primary Source eText

Primary Source

General Douglas MacArthur delivers his farewell address to Congress after being removed from command. President Truman, backed by his joint chiefs of staff, and the secretaries of state and defense, intended to replace MacArthur with someone who would be General Douglas MacArthur delivers his farewell address to Congress after being removed from command. President Truman, backed by his joint chiefs of staff, and the secretaries of state and defense, intended to replace MacArthur with someone who would be more in accord with the presidential adminstration. © BETTMANN/CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION. Published by Gale Cengage © BETTMANN/CORBIS. REPRODUCED BY PERMISSION.


By: Douglas MacArthur

Date: April 19, 1951

Source: MacArthur, Douglas. "'Old Soldiers Never Die' Address to Congress." April 19, 1951. Available online at website home page: http://www.pbs.org (accessed June 18, 2003).

About the Author: Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964) graduated from West Point in 1903. He distinguished himself throughout his military career, including during World War I (1914–1918), as a commandant of West Point from 1919–1922, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army commander of the Philippine military (the Phillippines were a U.S. posession at that time), and Supreme Commander of Allied Powers occupying Japan. MacArthur had obtained the rank of five-star general several years before he led the United Nations (UN) forces and repelled the North Korean invaders. Following a series of overt challenges to President Harry Truman (served 1945–1953), Truman fired him for insubordination in 1951.


Douglas MacArthur's discontent with the Truman administration's policy toward Korea began long before the Korean War's outbreak in 1950. Despite the growing strength of the Communist Party in China and the formation of the Communist People's Democratic Republic of Korea (North Korea) in 1948, MacArthur opposed significant U.S. investment in the strengthening of non-communist South Korea. This changed dramatically with the victory of the communists in the Chinese revolution of 1949. Anticommunists in the United States and MacArthur in Japan argued that Truman had "lost China" to communism.

North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, and rapidly pushed the South Korean army and the small number of U.S. troops with them back. President Truman, with the backing of the United Nations, quickly decided to commit the United States to a major effort to defend South Korea. As troop build-up began, and General MacArthur was placed in command of all UN forces in Korea. Badly outnumbered initially, MacArthur managed to hang on in South Korea long enough to orchestrate a brilliant landing behind North Korean lines at Inchon in September 1950. Cut-off from supply and fighting on two fronts, the North Korean troops were soon either defeated or forced out of the South. MacArthur's forces regained control of the thirty-eighth parallel, the demarcation boundary between North and South Korea. Pleased with this success, the Truman administration altered its strategy to support a further advancement aimed at destroying the North Korean government. However, it ordered MacArthur to keep American troops away from the border with China and placed other restrictions on his actions that it hoped would keep the communist Chinese from intervening to help North Korea. The Chinese had warned that the idea of U.S. troops near their borders was unacceptable to them.

Truman and his advisers feared the possibility of a Chinese intervention not only because it would jeopradize victory in Korea, but because it carried with it the threat of a much larger and prolonged war, even a new world war. This was something they were not prepared to risk simply in order to end communist control of North Korea. Their essential goal remained the defense of South Korea. MacArthur disagreed, seeing no reason why the United States, with its enormous military might, need fear another world war. If anything, he welcomed it as an opportunity to roll back communism, or even defeat it once and for all. He argued for bolder action but was rebuffed by Truman.

Still disinclined to follow Truman's policies, MacArthur did little to restrain his troops in their attack into North Korea. American forces were approaching the Yalu River, which divided North Korea and China, by late November, 1950. In fact, U.S. aircraft were flying over the border, and even made some attacks on the Chinese side. On November 26, Chinese forces counterattacked in great force. The U.S forces were forced to retreat all the way back into South Korean territory.

Now that China was in the war, MacArthur argued that the United States should use every means at its disposal to defeat it outright. This included the bombing of Chinese industry and cities and the use of nuclear weapons. Truman and his advisers remained adamantly opposed to such moves, as they wished to keep the war limited to Korea. MacArthur would not accept this and began to publicly criticize Truman and his policies. He also began to act increasingly independently, threatening to bomb China if it would not negotiate directly with him.

In an April 5, 1951, letter to Representative Joseph Martin, which Martin read to Congress, MacArthur blamed Truman for the deaths of U.S. soldiers and for losing the war effort. By this point Truman had had enough. On April 11, he fired MacArthur for insubordination. On April 16, MacArthur left Japan, met at the airport by a throng of supporters. Following his return to the United States, congressional leaders provided him with an opportunity to rebuke Truman and explain his actions to the nation.


Not surprisingly, MacArthur characertized his actions in the most glowing terms. His mission was to repel communist invaders in an effort to ensure the survival of the free world—rhetoric not too different from Truman when the president justified the United States' initial involvement in the war. Just as policy makers in the Truman and Dwight Eisenhower (served 1953–1961) adminstrations had consistently argued, MacArthur viewed China's intervention as unjustified aggression against the United States. He ignored the fact that he had ordered attacks on Chinese forces north of the Yalu River as a first step in the ultimate overthrow of the Chinese Communist Party, not simply as a means to "neutralize sanctuary protection given the enemy north of the Yalu." In declaring that "in war there can be no substitute for victory," MacArthur confronted implicitly Truman's refusal to authorize the use of nuclear bombs in North Korea and China. At the height of anticommunist fervor in the United States, many agreed with MacArthur's desire to use the United States' nuclear power to annihilate the opposition.

MacArthur concluded the address with a song reference that made the speech famous, further heightening his stature in public memory. Presenting himself as an almost spiritual figure, he acknowledged that now was his time to "just fade away." Far from fading away, he soon became swept up in the public euphoria that followed his speech. He considered a run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1952 but quickly became overshadowed by Eisenhower, an even more popular hero of World War II (1939–1945). Eisenhower rode popular discontent with Truman all the way to the White House and served two terms as president.

The Korean War dragged on into 1953, with neither side able to make much headway against the other. The armistice that ended the fighting restored the old border along the 38th parallel. A congressional investigation into Truman's firing of MacArthur vindicated the president's action. The inquiry showed that MacArthur had in fact violated the president's orders. Furthermore, popular and influential military men and World War II heros, such as Omar Bradley and George Marshall, spoke out in favor of Truman's policy of limiting the war to Korea.

Primary Source: "Old Soldiers Never Die' Address to Congress" [excerpt]

SYNOPSIS: In the following excerpt, MacArthur addresses a joint session of Congress and a nationwide television audience, who do not know what to expect from the bombastic, egotistical, yet widely revered military leader. Many will view the address as marking the final return home for a defiant World War II hero who served his country for nearly fifty years. The thirty-seven-minute speech enraptures the congressional members in attendance, who stand and cheer wildly after MacArthur's self-glorifying climax.

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker and Distinguished Members of the Congress:

I stand on this rostrum with a sense of deep humility and pride—humility in the weight of those great architects of our history who have stood here before me, pride in the reflection that this home of legislative debate represent human liberty in the purest form yet devised.

Here are centered the hopes and aspirations and faith of the entire human race.

I do not stand here as advocate for any partisan cause, for the issues are fundamental and reach quite beyond the realm of partisan considerations. They must be resolved on the highest plane of national interest if our course is to prove sound and our future protected.

I trust, therefore, that you will do me the justice of receiving that which I have to say as solely expressing the considered viewpoint of a fellow American.

I address you with neither rancor nor bitterness in the fading twilight of life, with but one purpose in mind: to serve my country.

The issues are global, and so interlocked that to consider the problems of one sector oblivious to those of another is to court disaster for the whole. While Asia is commonly referred to as the Gateway to Europe, it is no less true that Europe is the Gateway to Asia, and the broad influence of the one cannot fail to have its impact upon the other. There are those who claim our strength is inadequate to protect on both fronts, that we cannot divide our effort. I can think of no greater expression of defeatism.

If a potential enemy can divide his strength on two fronts, it is for us to counter his effort. The Communist threat is a global one.

Its successful advance in one sector threatens the destruction of every other sector. You can not appease or otherwise surrender to communism in Asia without simultaneously undermining our efforts to halt its advance in Europe.…

While I was not consulted prior to the President's decision to intervene in support of the Republic of Korea, that decision from a military standpoint, proved a sound one. As I said, it proved to be a sound one, as we hurled back the invader and decimated his forces. Our victory was complete, and our objectives within reach, when Red China intervened with numerically superior ground forces.

This created a new war and an entirely new situation, a situation not contemplated when our forces were committed against the North Korean invaders; a situation which called for new decisions in the diplomatic sphere to permit the realistic adjustment of military strategy. Such decisions have not been forthcoming.

While no man in his right mind would advocate sending our ground forces into continental China, and such was never given a thought, the new situation did urgently demand a drastic revision of strategic planning if our political aim was to defeat this new enemy as we had defeated the old one.

Apart from the military need, as I saw it, to neutralize sanctuary protection given the enemy north of the Yalu, I felt that military necessity in the conduct of the war made necessary the intesification of our economic blockade against China, the imposition of a naval blockade against the China coast, removal of restrictions on air reconnaissance of China's coastal area and of Manchuria, removal of restrictions on the forces of the Republic of China on Formosa, with logistical support to contribution to-their effective operations against the Chinese mainland.

For entertaining these views, all professionally designed to support our forces in Korea and to bring hostilities to an end with the least possible delay and at a savings of countless American and Allied lives, I have been severely criticized in lay circles, principally abroad, despite my understanding that from a military standpoint the above views have been fully shared in the past by practically every military leader concerned with the Korean campaign, including our own Joint Chiefs of Staff.

I called for reinforcements, but was informed that reinforcements were not available. I made clear that if not permitted to destroy the enemy built-up bases north of the Yalu, if not permitted to utilize the friendly Chinese Force of some 600,000 men on Formosa, if not permitted to blockade the China coast to prevent the Chinese Reds from getting succor from without, and if there was to be no hope of major reinforcements, the position of the command from the military standpoint forbade victory.

We could hold in Korea by constant maneuver and in an approximate area where our supply line advantages were in balance with the supply line disadvantages of the enemy, but we could hope at best for only an indecisive campaign with its terrible and constant attrition upon our forces if the enemy utilized its full military potential.

I have constantly called for the new political decisions essential to a solution.

Efforts have been made to distort my position. It has been said in effect that I was a warmonger. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know war as few other men now living know it, and nothing to me—and nothing to me is more revolting. I have long advocated its complete abolition, as its very destructiveness on both friend and foe has rendered it useless as a means of settling international disputes.

Indeed, the Second Day of September, 1945, just following the surrender of the Japanese nation on the Battleship Missouri, I formally cautioned as follows:

Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have been attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start workable methods were found in so far as individual citizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, Leagues of Nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be 'by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blocks out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we will not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all the material and cultural developments of the past 2000 years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.

But once war is forced upon us, there is no other alternative than to apply every available means to bring it to a swift end. War's very object is victory, not prolonged indecision.

In war there can be no substitute for victory.

There are some who for varying reasons would appease Red China. They are blind to history's clear lesson, for history teaches with unmistakable emphasis that appeasement but begets new and bloodier wars. It points to no single instance where this end has justified that means, where appeasement has led to more than a sham peace. Like blackmail, it lays the basis for new and successively greater demands until, as in blackmail, violence becomes the only other alternative. Why, my soldiers asked me, surrender military advantages to an enemy in the field? I could not answer.

Some may say to avoid spread of the conflict into an all-out war with China, others, to avoid Soviet intervention. Neither explanation seems valid, for China is already engaging with the maximum power it can commit, and the Soviet Union will not necessarily mesh its actions with our moves. Like a cobra, any new enemy will more likely strike whenever it feels that the relativity of military and other potentialities is in its favor on a world-wide basis.

The tragedy of Korea is further heightened by the fact that its military action was confined to its territorial limits. It condemns that nation, which it is our purpose to save, to suffer the devastating impact of full naval and air bombardment while the enemy's sanctuaries are fully protected from such attack and devastation.

Of the nations of the world, Korea alone, up to now, is the sole one which has risked its all against communism. The magnificence of the courage and fortitude of the Korean people defies description. They have chosen to risk death rather than slavery. Their last words to me were: "Don't scuttle the Pacific."

I have just left your fighting sons in Korea. They have done their best there, and I can report to you without reservation that they are splendid in every way.

It was my constant effort to preserve them and end this savage conflict honorably and with the least loss of time and a minimum sacrifice of life. Its growing bloodshed has caused me the deepest anguish and anxiety. Those gallant men will remain often in my thoughts and in my prayers always.

I am closing my 52 years of military service. When I joined the Army, even before the turn of the century, it was the fullfillment of all of my boyish hopes and dreams. The world has turned over many times since I took the oath at West Point, and the hopes and dreams have all since vanished, but I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.

Good Bye.

Further Resources


Cumings, Bruce. The Origins of the Korean War. Vol. 2, The

Roaring of the Cataract, 1947–1950. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1990.

Dower, John W. Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. New York: Norton, 1999.

Gaddis, John Lewis. We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Hogan, Michael J. A Cross of Iron: Harry S. Truman and the Origins of the National Security State, 1945–1954. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.


Schaller, Michael. "MacArthur, Douglas." American NationalBiography Online. Available online at http://www.anb.org/articles/07/07–00178.html; website home page: http://www.anb.org/ (accessed June 18, 2003) This website is a subscription-based service that is available for free through most libraries.