[Source:] On 11 April 1951, President Truman drafted an order to MacArthur, which was issued under Bradley's signature:

I deeply regret that it becomes my duty as President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States military forces to replace you as Supreme Commander, Allied Powers; Commander-in-Chief, United Nations Command; Commander-in-Chief, Far East; and Commanding General, U.S. Army, Far East.

become = 1. [no object, with complement] Begin to be:

I'm not that knowledgeable of US history, but when Truman (or Bradley) wrote this letter, did the US President already hold this duty to replace a General?

If so, then is this use of to become wrong? Such use wrongly means that Truman only began to hold this duty precisely at the moment that he (or Bradley) wrote this

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    It "became" necessary to replace him, and therefore it became his duty at that time. – DrMoishe Pippik Feb 3 '15 at 1:11
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    I would have used "has become" rather than "becomes" but both are grammatical. – Jason Patterson Feb 3 '15 at 2:30
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    Truman's intended meaning of become is the fourth one listed here: "to be suitable or necessary to the dignity, situation, or responsibility of." Truman is expressing to MacArthur that he is regretful/apologetic about replacing him, but the duties/responsibilities of his position (President) require him to do so. Refer to this page for an expression that uses become in the same way. – pyobum Feb 3 '15 at 5:27
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    Another example of become as I analyze Truman to have used it: "I cannot force myself to the conviction that I am capable of making war on my kindred upon their soil in a manner that would become my duty and station." - Capt. David A. Henkes, quoted in The Chicago Daily Tribune, February 25, 1918 – pyobum Feb 3 '15 at 7:10
  • @pyobum That's a very good example, and I think your point about Truman not choosing the present perfect bears thought. I'll think about this. (Right now, though, it behooves me to get some work done.) – Ben Kovitz Feb 3 '15 at 9:27

Becomes is correct.

Indeed Truman already had the duty to oversee the military, including appointing the highest generals. He held that duty all the time he was president.

When he says "It becomes my duty", he means that in his judgement, his general duty to oversee the military now specifically includes firing MacArthur, because of the present situation.

Here is another example of the same thing. A police officer's duties include arresting people suspected of crimes. When Wayne Thompson was sworn in as a police offer, he assumed that duty. But he did not have a duty at that time to arrest Walter Finch, because Walter Finch wasn't suspected of a crime at that time. Several months later, when Wayne Thompson saw Walter Finch breaking into a house, it became Wayne Thompson's duty to arrest him.

  • You (and other answerers) are misinterpreting the meaning of "become" in the quote. Compare it to the use of "become" in the common military expression "conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman." – pyobum Feb 3 '15 at 4:47
  • @pyobum I don't think that's the intended meaning. I could be wrong, of course. Do you know of any information that would enable us to tell which of the two theories is right? My own reasoning is just (1) that "becoming"'s meaning of "suitable to" has a connotation of desirability and seemliness that doesn't fit with Truman's act or situation; it's not something to regret. And (2) the meaning of "turning into my duty" easily makes sense here, and is something Truman would deeply regret having to do. – Ben Kovitz Feb 3 '15 at 6:23
  • See my new comment above. It has the same meaning as "behoove" when used in this way. Truman's statement could be rephrased as, "It is a required part of my duty as President..." On a personal level, Truman doesn't want to replace MacArthur. As President, he has to do it. If he were simply saying that replacing MacArthur is now his duty (but wasn't before), why wouldn't he have used present perfect: "It has become my duty..."? – pyobum Feb 3 '15 at 7:19

You are confusing an office with the duties it requires one to perform.

Truman holds an office which obliges him to perform certain duties as they arise.

Thus, Truman is referring to a particular duty/action which he must now perform, or that has become necessary for him to perform.

The M-W gives one of the main definitions of duty:
obligatory tasks, conduct, service, or functions enjoined by order or usage according to rank, occupation, or profession (duties that he knew he would have to do— Joseph Conrad)

The phrase it becomes my duty is almost a stock phrase, or at least it was. Google-book the phrase and you will see dozens of instances of it. Most often with regard to an office or obligation that one has or holds.

As for become, it can mean to befit, be proper to. But this meaning does not fit. I suggest you check dictionaries to see that this definition almost always has a person as its object. This sweater becomes me. Or it refers to an action that is unbecoming to someone. But not unbecoming to something.


The subject 'it' refers forward to a 'to'-infinitive clause or a finite subordinate clause

It costs so much to get there.

It becomes my duty to replace you as Supreme Commander.

It was amazing that audiences came to the theater at all.

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    But I'm not sure that replacing it with to replace you resolves the issue that the OP asks about. – user6951 Feb 3 '15 at 3:09
  • @δοῦλος Thank you. Alas, I also don't believe that this answer my questions. – Greek - Area 51 Proposal Feb 3 '15 at 3:56

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