MacArthur's Korean War Generals

By Boose, Donald W., Jr. | Parameters, Summer 2017 | Go to article overview

MacArthur's Korean War Generals


Boose, Donald W., Jr., Parameters


MacArthur's Korean War Generals

By Stephen R. Taaffe

Reviewed by Donald W. Boose Jr., Contract Faculty Instructor, US Army War College; author of US Army Forces in the Korean War 1950-53 (Osprey Publishing, 2005); and coeditor of The Ashgate Research Companion to the Korean War (Routledge, 2014)

In this fascinating book, Stephen R. Taaffe examines the performance of and relationships among senior US ground force commanders during the first year of the Korean War when General Douglas MacArthur served as the unified, multinational commander-in-chief, Far East Command, and commander-in-chief, United Nations Command (UNC). During MacArthur's tenure, his forces first conducted a delay against attacking North Korean forces, then began a counteroffensive with the amphibious landing at Inchon and subsequent push deep into North Korea. A massive Chinese intervention in the winter of 1950-51 forced the UNC back into South Korea. A renewed UNC counteroffensive and subsequent war of movement in 1951 culminated in a final drive back to a line generally north of the 38th Parallel. At that point, the two sides began negotiations that would, after another 18 months of bloody but static conflict, bring an armistice that remains in effect to this day. For each phase, Taaffe provides clear, tightly written descriptions of the strategic situation, the military operations, and the actions of the senior ground force leaders. He concludes each section with an analysis of the performance of the senior leaders.

Taaffe, an experienced and respected military historian who has published several excellent books on senior American military leaders during the Revolution, the Civil War, and World War II, is well placed to make these assessments. His evaluations are thoughtful, well informed, and persuasive. He deals with the two most controversial Korean War generals, MacArthur and X Corps Commander Edward M. Almond, objectively and unemotionally. He argues some of the qualities that had made MacArthur successful in the Pacific in World War II (giving his subordinates free play, remaining aloof from tactical decisions, and playing senior leaders against each other) were counterproductive in Korea. He also faults MacArthur for his decision to separate Almond's X Corps from Lieutenant General Walton H. Walker's Eighth Army, for withdrawing X Corps to conduct an amphibious turning movement into northeastern Korea, and for his hasty, ill-organized push north that left UNC forces vulnerable to the Chinese attack. Almond, he concludes "was certainly an overbearing, arbitrary, and insensitive man who made mistakes, but his innate aggressiveness and single-minded determination to win paid big dividends for the Eighth Army" (172). …

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