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Memory of Gen. MacArthur exposes S.Korea divide

September 15, 2005

By Choi Yoon-sang and Kim Kyung-hoon

INCHON, South Korea (Reuters) – Hundreds of people marched
peacefully through Inchon on Thursday to defend a statue of
U.S. General Douglas MacArthur commemorating an amphibious
assault 55 years ago that helped turn the tide of the Korean
War.

Last weekend, the scene in this western port city was less
calm. Those for and against the statue — and the campaign the
late general led — traded blows and tossed rocks and bottles.

The violence exposed a generational divide between South
Koreans who lived through the 1950-53 conflict and younger
people more critical of the United States.

The city erected the imposing bronze statue in a public
park in the late 1950s to honor a man whose bold landings
inserted fresh U.N. troops behind North Korean lines, repelled
the invading communist army and saved the South Korean state.

The statue, mounted on a stone base, shows MacArthur
holding a pair of binoculars and surveying the port. These days
it is under constant police guard.

On the anniversary of the September 15, 1950 assault, about
600 South Koreans marched through Inchon, west of Seoul on the
Yellow Sea, to show their support for MacArthur and their
appreciation for the U.S.-led United Nations forces who
defended their state.

These days, though, vocal groups want the statue pulled
down, saying Macarthur has Korean blood on his hands and the
statue represents South Korean subservience to Washington.

“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.

Some older South Koreans who lived through the war revere
Macarthur, who died in 1964. Some younger people see him as a
symbol of thwarted efforts to reunite the peninsula, split
since the war, and of an overbearing U.S. military. More than
30,000 American troops remain in South Korea today to deter any
communist aggression.

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 that about three in four South Koreans
favor keeping the statue where it is.

In June 1950, North Korean troops poured south across the
38th Parallel, the border between the rival states, and
occupied the entire peninsula except for an area in the
southeast around the port of Pusan.

MacArthur’s huge amphibious assault three months later at
Inchon, the closest port to communist-occupied Seoul, was a
pivotal moment in the conflict.

Landing at Inchon presented enormous difficulties because
of tides that can change water levels by as much as 30 feet (9
meters) and leave large areas as mud flats to trap navy
vessels.

MacArthur, who had argued that landing at Inchon would deal
a decisive blow to the enemy, was soon proved right. Within
weeks, North Korea’s military was in disarray and many units
had retreated back beyond the 38th Parallel.

MacArthur’s troops pursued the North Koreans toward the
Chinese border, prompting Beijing to enter the war to back the
North. The tide turned again before U.N. forces eventually
fought back and the sides battled to a standstill along a line
close to the old border, where the hugely fortified
Demilitarized Zone now stands.

The two Koreas are technically still at war today, having
never followed up the 1953 armistice with a peace treaty.

Chang Keum-suk, director of Inchon Solidarity for Peace and
Participation, one of the first groups to call for the statue
to go, said MacArthur had prolonged the war by taking the
battle to the Chinese border and had 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 leftist 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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