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Memory of Gen. MacArthur exposes divide in S.Korea

September 15, 2005

By Choi Yoon-sang and Kim Kyung-hoon

INCHON, South Korea (Reuters) – Hundreds of people marched
peacefully through this port city on Thursday to back U.S.
General Douglas MacArthur, whose statue commemorates an
amphibious assault that began 55 years ago and ultimately
helped turn the tide of the Korean War.

Last weekend, the scene was less calm. Those for and
against the statue — and the campaign the late general led —
had exchanged blows and tossed rocks and bottles at each other.

It exposed a divide between those who lived through the war
and younger people more critical of the United States.

The city erected the statue in the late 1950s to honor a
man whose supporters say repelled North Korean invaders and
saved South Korea in the 1950-1953 conflict.

On the anniversary of the start of the September 15, 1950
landing, about 600 South Koreans marched through Inchon, west
of Seoul on the Yellow Sea, to show their support for MacArthur
and offer appreciation for the U.N. troops who defended South
Korea.

Yet, these days, a few vocal groups want the statue to come
down, saying Korean blood is on MacArthur’s hands and the
statue is a symbol of South Korean subservience to the U.S.
military.

“The statue itself symbolizes the unequal relation between
South Korea and the United States,” said Kim Seung-kyo, a
member of Solidarity for Practice of the South-North Joint
Declaration, a group that wants the statue torn down.

MacArthur, who died in 1964, has become a generational
flashpoint among some in South.

Some older South Koreans who lived through the war revere
him. Some younger South Koreans see him as a symbol of thwarted
efforts to reunite the peninsula, split since the war, and of
an overbearing U.S. military. There are more than 30,000 U.S.
troops in South Korea to deter the communist North.

DECISIVE BLOW

“Many of the younger generation of South Koreans do not
know what exactly happened during the Korean War,” said Choi
Hong-jae, director of Liberty Union, a conservative group.
“Hasty action regarding the statue without full consideration
could hurt South Korea-U.S. relations.”

Recent surveys show about three in four South Koreans favor
keeping the statue as it is.

In 1950, North Korean troops occupied all of the peninsula
except for an area in the southeast around another port, Pusan.
MacArthur planned for a huge amphibious assault at Inchon, the
closest port to the capital, Seoul, then held by North Koreans.

Inchon presented enormous difficulties because of tides
that can change water levels by as much as 30 feet and leave
large areas as mud flats to trap navy vessels. MacArthur said
landing at Inchon would deal a decisive blow to the enemy.

He was proved right when, within weeks of his arrival in
Inchon, North Korea’s military was in disarray and many units
had retreated to their side of the peninsula.

MacArthur’s troops pursued North Korea toward the Chinese
border. China entered the war and the tide turned again before
U.N forces eventually fought back and the sides battled to a
standstill where the North-South border still runs.

The two Koreas are technically still at war because a peace
treaty has never been signed, only a truce.

Chang Keum-suk, director of Inchon Solidarity for Peace and
Participation, a civic group among the first to call for the
statue to go, said MacArthur had prolonged the war by taking
the battle to the Chinese border and cost more Koreans their
lives.

“We need to seriously consider and review the hero-worship
surrounding the general,” Chang said.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun, a progressive who is
supported by some leftists groups, said the statue must stay.

“Such illegal attempts to remove the statue are not only
negative for Korea-U.S. ties, but also go against our society’s
view of history,” Roh said in a statement on Monday.

(With additional reporting by Kim Yoo-chul)




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