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Protesters Scuffle with Riot Police Calling for Dismantling
of a Statue of Douglas MacArthur in Incheon, South Korea, on Sunday
'We Were Taught That Truman Was an Idiot, but MacArthur a Hero'
The battle between those that idealize General Douglas MacArthur and those that revile him is based on a misunderstanding of the general’s true role in Korean History. Arguing against tearing down a statue of the great man in Incheon, this op-ed article from South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo suggests building more statues instead.
By Kang Kyu-hyung
September 15, 2005
Police block pro-U.S. protesters to prevent a clash
with anti-U.S. Protesters on Sunday
When we were children, our teachers told
us that General Douglas MacArthur was the man who saved South Korea, and
that Korea would have already achieved unification but for “the idiot Harry
Truman." MacArthur was our hero, but Truman was the traitor who sacked
him. The English text I with deep emotion all but memorized during my high
school days was MacArthur's farewell address before a joint session of
the U.S. Congress, with the famous phrase "Old soldiers never die;
they just fade away."
It was not until I began to study Cold
War history in the United States that those perceptions changed. Harry Truman, the “idiot," was
one of the most respected U.S. presidents. MacArthur was being evaluated fairly
against brilliant achievements like the Incheoon Landing and his darker
side -- including arbitrary decisions to ignore presidential instructions
and his consequent strategic errors in the Korean War.
Korea is now unexpectedly engulfed in a dispute over MacArthur. Some propose
that the Incheon International Airport be rechristened MacArthur Airport, while others wage a campaign denigrating the general. Some organizations
held a rally in Incheon’s Freedom Park on Saturday, calling for an end to “60 years of U.S. military occupation.” They attempted to topple the
MacArthur statue by force, asserting that he was a warmonger and the ringleader
in massacres of civilians and Korea's division. But that, too, is sadly an incorrect
evaluation of the general.
South Korean Vet Salutes MacArthur on Sunday
Through his achievements in the Pacific
War, MacArthur not only contributed more than anyone to defeating imperial Japan, but also cemented the foundation upon which Japan has been able to develop as a democratic country.
In the Korean War, he successively executed the Incheon Landing. On the
other hand, excessive self-confidence and sheer willfulness led him to
commit errors, like greatly underestimating Chinese forces and misjudgments
like plans to bomb the Chinese mainland. [He proposed the use of nuclear
As a result, the American people deserted
him when he sought to be nominated as
a presidential candidate after he was discharged from active service.
But flawed as he was, MacArthur was a soldier who, convinced that totalitarianism
was wrong, endeavored to safeguard liberal democracy.
South Korean War Vet Parade on 55th Anniversary of MacArthur's
The essence of the drive to tear down
the MacArthur statue lies elsewhere. It is anti-Americanism and pro-North
Korean sentiment that attaches supreme importance to unification. This
notion, which sprouted in the 1980s and has gained force of late, says
that the Korean War was a war of national unification that would have ended
quickly with far less bloodshed but for U.S. intervention. Our perspective of MacArthur and the United
become distorted. It is either pro- or anti-American.
The French writer Frederic Beigbeder says
in his novel "Windows on the World" that anti-Americanism contains
both jealousy and disillusioned love. Doesn't our anti-Americanism, too,
contain the anger that arises from unrequited love? It cannot be denied
that in our attitude toward the U.S., either for or against, we spout only sentiments,
without a cool-headed analysis of America.
When we fail to understand MacArthur,
who was a complex man, and the U.S., a country of many facets, we experience the symptoms
of extreme jealousy or hatred. One such symptom is a violent attempt to
erase the group experience of the U.S. presence and the collective memory of MacArthur,
without exchanging them with reasonable thoughts.
Would it not now be better to evoke constructive
memories and present a fresh alternative? It might be more effective to
erect statues of Yeo Un-hyeong, a leftwing independence activist, and Chang
Ji-rak, the hero of our national ballad "Arirang," to compete
with images of the so-called conservative forces of Syngman Rhee, Park
Chung-hee and MacArthur. Wrecking a statue cannot make the collective memory
This column was contributed by Kang
Kyu-hyung, professor of Myongji University.
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