- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 15, 2005

INCHON, South Korea — The old soldier may have died in 1964, but in South Korea he has not faded away: A statue of Gen. Douglas MacArthur gazing over the site of his most dramatic victory has become a flash point in a national debate on reinterpreting the Korean War and Korea-U.S. relations.

“This is not just a statue of a general; this is a symbol of all U.N. forces and thousands of dead,” said a former government minister yesterday to a roar of approval from about 3,000 Korean ex-marines gathered before the statue in Inchon’s Freedom Park. “It is disgraceful that the young generation have forgotten the war.”

The ex-marines and other South Korean veterans were gathered to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the Inchon landing — a daring gamble that turned the tide of the Korean War in 1950. But they and conservative politicians also were there “to defend to the death” the 16-foot-tall MacArthur statue, which is being criticized by leftists, who consider it a monument to a war criminal.

The veterans’ fearsome appearance — most were in uniform, and some carried gas pistols and combat knives — and the words on their banners, such as “Leftists Beware: Marines Vow to Defend Mac- Arthur,” sent a message.

On Sunday, about 4,000 leftists — including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union and Hanchongryon, a banned pro-North Korea student organization — rallied in the park to demand removal of the statue, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the region and reunification of the Korean Peninsula. They were resisted by a nearly equal number of riot police and about 1,000 conservative demonstrators. Yesterday, it was announced that police officer Moon Jeong-hyeon, 21, lost his left eye in the Sunday violence.

Anti-U.S. groups call Gen. MacArthur a war criminal, citing killings of Korean civilians, like the machine-gunning of refugees who had been infiltrated by North Korean guerrillas in the village of Nogun-ri in 1950. Gen. MacArthur was the supreme commander of forces of the United Nations during the Korean War.

The groups, which are mainly young — half of South Korea’s population is under 34 — have intellectual support from liberal professors and use Web sites to mobilize. Some call Kim Il-sung’s 1950 invasion a move for unification that was foiled by Gen. MacArthur’s Inchon landing. A recent poll commissioned by Chang Young-dal, a representative from the governing Uri Party, found that 53 percent of Koreans hold Washington responsible for the Peninsula’s continuing division.

Folk singer Park Seong-hwan, who penned an anti-American anthem during 2002 protests over the killing of two schoolgirls by a U.S. military vehicle, has written a song calling for the destruction of the MacArthur statue. But this time the leftists have not won mass support.

Mr. Park’s Web site was knocked out of commission by furious “netizens,” or Internet users, this week; a full company of riot police guards Inchon’s Freedom Park 24 hours a day; and politicians have weighed in.

“Removing the statue … could wound the pride and worsen the view of Korea of not just the U.S. government but the American people,” President Roh Moo-hyun said last month after demonstrations at the park.

At a ceremony yesterday, Inchon Mayor Ahn Sang-soo argued against the statue’s removal from the thriving port city of 2.5 million.

In 1950, when U.N. forces were under siege in the Pusan Perimeter on the east coast 250 miles from Inchon, Gen. MacArthur was a lone voice calling for a risky landing on the country’s west coast.

After telling subordinates that communism had made “its play for global conquest in Asia,” he switched on the oratory: “I can almost hear the ticking of the second hand of destiny,” he said. “We must act now, or we will die. I shall land at Inchon, and I shall crush them.” His commanders were swayed.

The Inchon assault on Sept. 15 and 16, 1950, succeeded with fewer than 200 Allied casualties. After a savage battle for nearby Seoul, North Korean forces were routed 10 days after the landings.

“I expected it to be our bloodiest battle,” rally participant Koh Kwang-soo, 78, a retired brigadier general who was a marine platoon leader at Inchon in 1950, said yesterday. “But the enemy ran.”

Regarding young South Koreans who favor removing the MacArthur statue, Yu yong-pong, 73, a medic who landed at Inchon with U.S. troops and lost two brothers in the war, said: “If MacArthur had not landed, they would not be alive — their grandfathers would have been killed.” Yesterday, Mr. Yu wore a banner reading: “If you love North Korea so much, emigrate.”

After the Inchon landing, U.N. forces advanced to the Korea-China border, and China entered the war. In April 1951, Gen. MacArthur was dismissed by President Harry Truman, who feared his strategy risked a wider war with China.

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