Generals & Presidents: History's View

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President Obama and Gen. Stanley McChrystal may not have seen eye-to-eye on the course of the war in Afghanistan, but as American history shows, it is not unusual for generals to have disagreements with their commanders-in-chief.

However, when it comes to standoff between American generals and the presidents -- generals never win.

The U.S. Constitution declares the president as the commander-in-chief over the nation's armed forces, thus maintaining civilian control over the military.

The founding fathers were deeply concerned about the presence of a standing army, having witnessed how European armies had been used against civilians to collect taxes and to brutally keep the population under control.

"The greatest danger to liberty is from large standing armies," James Madison said during the 1787 constitutional convention. By giving the president overall command, it was deemed almost impossible for a military coup to take place.

The Constitution also gives Congress the power to raise, support, and maintain an army and a navy and "to declare war." That provision keeps the standing military subordinate to not one, but to two elected branches of government.

Notable Feuds and Firings

During the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln removed Gen. George McClellan from command for refusing to obey his direct orders to attack the Confederate forces. McClellan was the second of eight commanders that Lincoln would appoint during the course of the war. His final commander, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, led the Union forces to victory.

"I can't spare this man, he fights," Lincoln said of Grant.

Probably the most famous feud between a president and a general was between President Harry S. Truman and Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War.

Gen. MacArthur was regarded by the American public as one of the most celebrated heroes of World War II. He had planned and led the invasion of Inchon Harbor and had regained most of the South Korean territory, following an invasion from the North.

When Truman fired Gen. MacArthur on April 9, 1951 over constant insubordination, the public outcry was enormous. Today, historians side with Truman, saying he was justified in his decision to replace the highly decorated and usually, outright pompous commander.

"I fired him because he wouldn't respect the authority of the president," Truman later said during an interview.

Short Timeline in American History

Civil War (1861 - 1865) 

President Abraham Lincoln appointed and fires Gens. Irvin McDowell, George McClellan, John Pope, Ambrose Burnside, Joseph Hooker, and George Meade. The last commander he appointed, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, led the Union forces to victory.

Spanish-American War (1898) 

President William McKinley fired Gen. Nelson A. Miles, a popular Indian Wars hero, over how to wage the war.

Korean War (1950 - 1953) 

President Harry S. Truman fired Gen. Douglas MacArthur, a popular 5-star general and winner of the Medal of Honor, over insubordination and not supporting the policies of the United States.

Vietnam War (1961 - 1975) 

President Lyndon Johnson fired Air Force Gen. Curtis LeMay because he criticized the White House for not carpet-bombing North Vietnamese cities.

South Korea (1977) 

President Jimmy Carter fired Gen. John K. Singlaub in 1977 after the general criticized the decision to remove troops from the Korean peninsula.

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