Farewell Address to Congress | Study Guide

Douglas MacArthur

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Farewell Address to Congress | Quotes


I do not stand here as advocate for any partisan cause, for the issues are fundamental and reach quite beyond the realm of partisan consideration.

General Douglas MacArthur

MacArthur opens his address by clarifying that as he sees it, the issues he is going to speak about are not politically divisive. This is an interesting note to start on. Not only had President Truman dismissed MacArthur from his post only days earlier, but MacArthur was the subject of rumors that he might run for president, which would have pitched him against Truman. Further, later in his speech he directly counters the president's policies and frame them as being soft on the Communist threat, which was a political talking point for the right-wing Republican Party.


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.

General Douglas MacArthur

By the end of his military career, MacArthur had spent around 14 years in Asia, not returning to the United States between 1937 and 1951. Because of his experience, his speech was largely built on what he had learned about Asia and what he felt was necessary for a stable future in the region. Here, he undermines common ideas about how the world order works. Rather than seeing Asia as a place through which goods or people pass, MacArthur argues that the future of Asia is tied to the future of Europe and, therefore, also to the future of the United States.


The Communist threat is a global one. Its successful advance in one sector threatens the destruction of every other sector. You cannot appease or otherwise surrender to Communism in Asia without simultaneously undermining our efforts to halt its advance in Europe.

General Douglas MacArthur

In the early 1950s, Communism was gaining ground in Asia. China had recently undergone a revolution led by Communist leader Chairman Mao, anti-capitalist leadership was gaining popularity in places like Vietnam, and the Korean War saw Chinese forces engaging with international troops. Here, MacArthur suggests that allowing Asia to become Communist would threaten Europe in much the same way the Soviet Union was. But he also goes further by linking surrender and appeasement, which is a sly dig at President Truman's desire for a negotiated peace.


Long exploited by the so-called colonial powers, with little opportunity to achieve any degree of social justice, individual dignity, or a higher standard of life such as guided our own noble administration in the Philippines, the peoples of Asia found their opportunity in the war just past to throw off the shackles of colonialism and now see the dawn of new opportunity, a heretofore unfelt dignity, and the self-respect of political freedom.

General Douglas MacArthur

In this passage, MacArthur lays out his vision of where Asian nations stood in the aftermath of World War II. He casts colonial power as having been a detriment to Asian culture, politics, and growth. However, he also sees that Asian states now have an opportunity to gain independence. What MacArthur does not mention, however, is that in the case of some of those countries—such as the Philippines—the United States played a key role in that colonization and did little to nothing to foster self-determination.


Whether one adheres to the concept of colonization or not, this is the direction of Asian progress and it may not be stopped. It is a corollary to the shift of the world economic frontiers as the whole epicenter of world affairs rotates back toward the area whence it started.

General Douglas MacArthur

Here MacArthur is forward thinking in his appraisal of Asia's importance. He points out, correctly, that in the second half of the 20th century, the rise of Asia would mean a shifting of the world economy. It is an astute observation of a region that had been at war for over a decade and would remain mired in multiple conflicts well into the 21st century.


What they seek now is friendly guidance, understanding, and support—not imperious direction—the dignity of equality and not the shame of subjugation.

General Douglas MacArthur

Here MacArthur reiterates his earlier point about Asian nations desiring equality and the opportunity to become emerging players on the international stage. Again, he frames this as if he himself were not part of implementing and designing policies that contributed to the former subjugation of nations like the Philippines.


Our strategic frontier then shifted to embrace the entire Pacific Ocean, which became a vast moat to protect us as long as we held it. Indeed, it acts as a protective shield for all of the Americas and all free lands of the Pacific Ocean area.

General Douglas MacArthur

Although earlier in his speech MacArthur talks about Asia as an independent entity, here he lays out the ways in which strong Asian states can benefit the United States. He sees the Pacific as a bulwark against the growing threat of Communism, arguing that defending and preserving Asian sovereignty is a means to protect the United States and other American countries from the Communist threat. But at this time, China was already a Communist state, which calls into question how he sees China fitting into the larger Asian landscape.


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.

General Douglas MacArthur

MacArthur had gained a reputation as being reactionary and quick to take action, and in war, he was thought to be a risk taker. However, in this speech he makes clear that he does not favor war when it is not necessary. He also, however, does not accept defeat and sees victory (specifically for the United States) as the only acceptable outcome of a conflict. Therefore, he believes in full military engagement until a war is resolved, which is a summation of his failed approach in North Korea.


They have chosen to risk death rather than slavery. Their last words to me were: "Don't scuttle the Pacific!"

General Douglas MacArthur

Here MacArthur invokes the South Korean forces, whom he says he just left before coming back to the United States. He is aligning his positions with the interests of the anti-Communist South Koreans, lending himself legitimacy within the framework he had already created when he encouraged those listening to consider independent Asian states as serving U.S. interests. By honoring them and suggesting that they told him to pass along such a message, he is positioning himself and the proposals he had already made as being aligned with those fighting for the future of South Korea.


This has produced a new and dominant power in Asia, which, for its own purposes, is allied with Soviet Russia but which in its own concepts and methods has become aggressively imperialistic, with a lust for expansion and increased power normal to this type of imperialism.

General Douglas MacArthur

In 1949, less than one year before the Korean War began, China experienced a revolution that brought the Chinese Civil War to an end and Chairman Mao Zedong to power. The country was war-torn, rife with inequality, and just beginning to rebuild. But MacArthur here makes clear that although China was not seen as an equal to the Soviet Union, it had similar ambitions and was already emerging as a force in the region. Today China is one of the world's superpowers, and MacArthur's observations ring true.


Politically, economically, and socially Japan is now abreast of many free nations of the earth and will not again fail the universal trust.

General Douglas MacArthur

MacArthur not only led U.S. forces in the Pacific, but also accepted the surrender of the Japanese and oversaw the U.S. occupation there. While this passage reads as a summation of the changes he had seen, it also functions as a subtle way for him to point out his own accomplishments as the man who oversaw the recovery of Japan. It is an opportunity for him to remind listeners that despite the circumstances of his relief, he was a key figure driving change in Asia.


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.

General Douglas MacArthur

Here MacArthur sets up the rationale for his refusal to follow orders in Korea. He contends that the situation on the ground demanded decisions, which were not being made in a timely manner. This insinuates that the choices he made were not self-serving or based on his own ambition, but rather were required to ensure the safety of the forces on the ground and of the larger mission.


For entertaining these views ... 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.

General Douglas MacArthur

MacArthur is here asserting that his choices and proposals had been met with some pushback, but he does not mention the president. Instead, he suggests that those in "lay circles," which here could refer to civilians like the president, opposed him. Rather than having gone rogue, MacArthur is suggesting that he was in line with the top military leaders on the ground, while those at a remove—again, like the president—criticized him.


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 is more revolting.

General Douglas MacArthur

Here, MacArthur asserts that, rather than take pleasure in making war, he hates it. This is a common refrain for those who have experienced war, but MacArthur's reputation was based in part on the idea that he was someone who threw himself fully into a conflict. While he does not counter that image—and in fact acknowledges that when a war is on, it must be fought—he does work here to soften his own image by signaling that war is never his own intention, but rather something forced on him.


I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barrack ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that "old soldiers never die; they just fade away."

General Douglas MacArthur

This is a quote for which MacArthur is remembered today. By invoking this old song, MacArthur is suggesting that he had come to the end of his career and would simply fade into the background. That, however, was not the case because he was the subject of numerous honors and celebrations around the country. He would also receive 17,000 votes in the 1952 presidential election, and to this day is remembered as one of the great military leaders of the last century. However, his play at humility worked well, and this quote has lived on.

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