He stands about 15 feet high, trademark corncob pipe held across his chest, thoughtful gaze looking north, toward the enemy. Since 1957, the statue of General of the Army Douglas MacArthur has stood in Freedom Park in Inchon, South Korea, a tribute from the grateful citizens of the Republic of Korea to the liberator who saved them from the fate of their fellow Koreans stuck in the horrid “workers and peasants paradise” of their northern neighbors. It was MacArthur’s audacity and bold vision, exercised on this very field, the unlikely battleground harbor of Inchon, which was singularly responsible for turning the tide of the Korean War. Now, North Korean spies and ungrateful South Koreans wish him to be toppled.
Upwards of 4,000 demonstrators armed with iron pipes, rocks, eggs, and the requisite signage (“f---ing U.S.”; “Yankee go home”) recently gathered to protest the existence of the statue and demand its removal. The protestors were composed according to Chung Ki-hwan of the Joongang Ilbo, of the usual suspects: “Progressives” including “members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union, members of Hanchogryon [an ultra-Left, banned student organization], and the Democratic Labor Party,” along with the usual street thugs hired for such occasions. The DLP is a splinter leftist group of politicians who favor a soft line, if not a merger with – read surrender to – Kim Jong Il’s regime, as well as immediate expulsion of American military forces from the peninsula.
Removal of the statue according to demonstrator Kim Su-nam would rectify “the vestiges of colonialism and our distorted history must begin with removing the MacArthur statue, which is a symbol of imperialism.” North Korean authorities agreed, calling the general an “unrivaled war enthusiast” and “a nuclear extremist” who wanted to “use atomic bombs to exterminate the Korean people.” Keeping the general’s image in South Korea according to Pyongyang is “a shame to the Korean people.”
If by that they mean that the bullies leading the North Korean military, including its deified head, Kim il-Sung, were completely humiliated and soundly defeated by General MacArthur’s brilliant tactics and unparalleled strategic vision, then they have a case. Even his own staff had serious reservations about an amphibious landing at Inchon with tidal flows almost equal to the Bay of Fundy. The American Joint Chiefs of Staff were in a terrible tizzy about the possibility of stranding troops on the beach, unable to reinforce or evacuate.
Through it all, the general was sanguine in his judgment, confident in the ability of his Marines and Army units to take the ground and his Navy units to put the troops on the beach in spite of the vicious environmental conditions. The operation proved a great victory, threw the North Korean army into panic, and began a retreat up the peninsula that would have liberated even North Korea had it not been for Chinese and Soviet intervention. Despite poor estimates about the capabilities and intentions of the Chinese, it is indisputable that the southern half of Korea is free today because of MacArthur’s leadership.
As Heritage Foundation fellow Peter Brookes noted, “MacArthur liberated Korea twice – the first time at the end of WWII…and, then, from…Communist aggression during the Korean War.” Ironically, the very right of the protestors to demand his statue’s removal was a right won for them by MacArthur and the soldiers of 16 nations – primarily America – who fought and bled for freedom in South Korea. Upwards of 56,000 American soldiers died in combat and related incidents in the Korean War, almost as many losses in three years as we suffered in more than a decade of fighting in Vietnam.
Myongji University professor Kang Kyu-hyung, a different breed from most leftist faculty members, said “the true believers on the far Left…have not thought it through: the very freedom to sout an angry opinion about MacArthur that is different…is a freedom they would not possess had MacArthur failed or just never been around.”
As importantly, Kang notes that an “activist” who lead the protests was arrested as a North Korean spy. Also named Kang (no relation) the activist “has been arrested for espionage again,” Professor Kang notes, and was “co-chairman of a group that led efforts to topple the statue.”
The blatant ingratitude of the anti-American demonstrators combined with a lackadaisical attitude on the part of the government provoked an unusual personal letter from the U.S. House Committee on International Relations to President Roh, demanding that the South Korean government at a minimum officially distance itself from both the demonstrators and their overheated rhetoric. Rejecting the protestors’ charges that MacArthur was “a war criminal who massacred numerous civilians,” the letter insists that “the American people would never subscribe to such a description” and that “our critical alliance was forged in the crucible of Inchon.” Further, the letter concludes dryly, “we presume that the Government of the Republic of Korea shares this view.”
Pete Brookes is properly indignant about the statue, arguing that if the South Koreans don’t have sufficient gratitude and appreciation that we ought to “bring him home where he’ll be appreciated.” There would be a proper home for MacArthur at the Korean War Memorial on the Mall, Brookes argues. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary.
While Korean police now guard the statue 24/7, a large group of local Korean War veterans, patriotic Korean groups, and ordinary citizens have protested vehemently against leftist demands. The leader of the pro-MacArthur demonstrators, Lee Chul-seung said, “if it hadn’t been for the Inchon landings [we] would have become a Communist society.” Angered by the neutral attitude taken by the present South Korean government, Lee said “President Roh Moo-hyun, who has been watching with arms folded as those forces call for the toppling of the statue, is about to encounter the resistance of the entire nation.”
Lee may be right. Despite the noisy presence of the anti-American demonstrators there is growing evidence that the larger percentage of South Koreans – its own “Silent Majority” – are upset. “Taking down the statue, which was built with the citizens’ agreement,” the Chosun Ilbo quotes a pro-statue South Korean, “would rupture Korea-U.S. ties and would be a victory for Kim Jong-il’s unification propaganda strategy.”
A group called the Hwanghae Province Residents Association is spearheading the drive to keep the statue intact. So far, more than 10,000 have rallied to its side including a Korean Marine veterans group, many of who were participants in the landing itself. “The country would not be thriving as it is today,” the group stated, if not for MacArthur. “We will never permit the monument to be moved.” Many of the group, along with ordinary citizens, have joined police as volunteers to protect the statue.
Perhaps after almost a decade of leftist governments who appease North Korea – and deny its aggression, brutality, and human rights abuses – the people of South Korea may be pre presented with a catalyst issue that makes them ready to exert themselves. “We cannot remain silent on calls for removal of the MacArthur statue. Now Marine Corps veterans have to step forward,” said spokesman Kim Sung-eun. “The reality is indeed so upsetting that it impels us to hold such a rally.”
If indeed the general is responsible through his image of inspiring yet another move toward freedom and democracy, then his legacy indeed continues unabated. It is up to the Korean people to see if the traditional virtues of loyalty, fealty, gratitude, and strength of character in adversity remain active. The initiative is theirs. Meanwhile Douglas MacArthur still stands stalwart in Freedom Park, an inspiration to continuing generations of Americans and Koreans alike.
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