Thursday, September 15, 2005

MacArthur

ADDED LINK:
The English-language Chosun Ilbo ran this piece by Myongji University professor Kang Kyu-hyung, which seems to dovetail nicely with some of my points below.



UPDATE (August 2010):
It seems the chinboistas I referred to below may really have been directed by Pyongyang to launch the effort five years ago to remove the MacArthur statue.

ORIGINAL POST:
Today marks the fifty-fifth anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur's brilliantly strategized Inchon landing, which eventually cut the invading North Korean forces in half, opened up a road to Seoul, and turned the tide of the war.

For decades, MacArthur the Savior has been revered as a national hero in the Republic of Korea, a country that, it is no exaggeration, still exists because of his military genius.

To many, he is still a great hero, especially those who were around during the Korean War or who grew up in Korea's ruins during the aftermath. For most of the rest, he is still a great man, some might even say flawed, but still a person who helped save Korea.

Of course, there are others, the chinbo ("progressive") groups, who are now using the MacArthur statue in Inchon's Freedom Park [자유공원] as a focal point of their anti-American protests. If they had their way, the statue would be toppled in the same way that Saddam Hussein's statue was toppled when Baghdad was "liberated."

The conservative opposition
Hannara Party (GNP, or Grand National Party) is seething with anger over this effort. They make no bones about labeling the chinbo groups as pro-Pyongyang agitators who must not be allowed to succeed. President Roh Moohyun, who is usually found left of center, has said the statue should not be removed, especially because it would upset the sensibilities of the US government and Americans at a time of already strained relations (he is silent on other reasons).

In contrast, the extreme left-wing
Democratic Labor Party [민주노동당], which touts a pro-Pyongyang line to go along with their communist-sounding Korean name, is reportedly in favor of removing the statue.

Most people seem to be in favor of leaving the statue there, and it is under 24-hour guard. But one has to wonder how this became an issue in the first place.

A left-of-center newsradio host I do some work with put it this way: the problem is that there has simply been no debate about MacArthur. He was always a great hero to Korea, a view practically shoved down the throats of every Korean schoolkid throughout the military dictatorship period and beyond. Thus, to the leftists, MacArthur is indelibly associated with military rule at a time when Truth Commission-type groups are trying to shed light on whose forebears gained from collaboration with Japanese military authorities prior to 1945 or were in cahoots with home-grown military regimes after that.

But does MacArthur deserve this treatment? I guess it's wise to call into question a historical assertion that has never been closely analyzed, but this should be done in a fair and honest way. I simply don't believe that the chinbo groups have that in mind. As part of their treatise against MacArthur, some are accusing him of things he had nothing to do with, such as the actual division of the Japan-occupied Korean peninsula (intended to be temporary, though the chinbo groups often don't acknowledge this) at the end of World War II.

My own take on MacArthur has never been a gushing one. I grew up in Orange County, where
our airport was named after a movie cowboy/soldier and is located on MacArthur Boulevard, but I quickly learned that even in his own time, he was a controversial man whom President Truman felt he had to remove.

"
The Hidden History of the Korean War," by left-wing journalist I.F. Stone, in some way informed my view of MacArthur as a military genius who failed in the end to hold onto the unified Korea he fought for in the autum of 1950 because of his own hubris and passionate despisal of communism, which clouded his otherwise good judgement (Stone made the case that the US-led UN forces unnecessarily retreated in the face of what was, at first, a phantom menace trumped up by MacArthur as a pretext for expanding the war to remove the communists from China as well; I'm not saying I subscribe to that belief, however).

Ultimately, though, he deserved credit for saving South Korea. Then and now, the Chinese, not MacArthur, bear responsibility for the continued existence of the murderous Pyongyang regime.

That's what I told my left-leaning radio journalist friend (along with something about MacArthur being a main figure in defeating the Imperial Japanese during World War II and his efforts to instill modern Japan with democratic institutions helping to keep the Japanese from remilitarizing).


She nodded in agreement. Despite her criticisms of USFK (directed at their behavior here, not their presence) and her disdain toward President George Bush, she agrees that MacArthur deserves a place of honor in Korea.
But therein lies the difference between my left-leaning friend and the true believers on the far left: she values her freedom, and they don't. Or perhaps they have not thought it through: the very freedom to spout an angry opinion about MacArthur that is different from the government's is a freedom they would not possess had MacArthur failed or just never been around.

But many of them don't care. The classical true believer feels that today's South Koreans would have been better off unified but under communist rule than living free but in a divided nation. National unity under communism beats freedom. At least, for those who are thinking about it.

Maybe some of them aren't thinking about it. To me, opposition to MacArthur's actions in Korea is a statement that Korea would be better off red. It's no coincidence that some of the people who say this think that the Great Leader Kim Ilsung or his Dear Leader son Kim Jong-il are heroes. All I can say is "thank goodness that they are a tiny, tiny minority." Loud, well-organized, and somewhat media-savvy, but nonetheless tiny.

The true believers are the people who live to bash the United States, Japan, the government, and corporate Korea. While I don't think that any of those four groups are beyond reproach, the true believers are often driven by a blinding hate that makes them oblivious to anything but the negative.

They go to school and study Marx, Bruce Cumings with his revisionist histories that make them believe that the U.S. and South Korea were the real culprits in the Korean War, and "alternative news" sources that downplay or ignore rampant human rights abuses in North Korea. The only way to ever change their minds would be to send them north to live. But that would be too cruel.

When I worked for a certain Jesuit-run university here in Seoul, I encountered a Catholic monk who was very adamant about how the U.S. was railroading North Korea. Upon questioning him further, I found that he firmly believed that what "we" are told in South Korea about the North is mostly lies, or that the U.S. or South Korea were to blame. I was dumbfounded that anyone could think like that, especially a religious figure.

"You're a Catholic monk," I said to him. "Do you have any idea what they do to people like you up there?" He told me he didn't think those stories were typical of what really happened in North Korea, what the Vatican had to say about it notwithstanding.

I knew students who thought like that, even ten years ago. I became fond of telling them that if they had grown up in North Korea, they would be about fifteen centimeters shorter and have very bad teeth. The famine that killed millions later provided horrific evidence of my point.

I guess it's inevitable that, after years and years of unquestioned fawning over MacArthur, there would be some backlash as the pendulum swings toward greater openness and democratic expression. But we cannot tolerate lies in this discussion.

I am no blindly pro-military cheerleader. But I do see that the role the U.S. military and government have both played in Korea in the post-war period has been overwhelmingly positive (though it can always be improved). MacArthur is front and center where that begins and how it is defined.
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14 comments:

  1. Nice post!

    A couple of quibbles:

    1. Re: IF Stone on MacArthur. I always thought Stone was a great journalist because he really liked to question the conventional wisdom and dig a little, make that a lot, deeper into things. The animus that drove him to do so obviously was his leftist convictions, but he generally didn't let them interfere with the facts and he was always very clear anyway about where the line was between fact and his editorial line.

    I think he missed the boat on the nature of MacArthur's bungling in Korea, though.

    MacArthur clearly did want to widen the Korean conflict to China, not just to bomb NORK rally points and logistics centers across the borders, but to provoke a war with China itself that he hoped in the end would enable the nationalists to take back the mainland.

    But the idea that the Chinese build-up and offensive of December 1950 was a phantom and the ensuing headlong retreat of UNFOR from the Yalu was a charade, all stage managed by Mac Arhtur in order to win approval to go all out against the Chinese is just nonsense.

    At the onset of the Chinese offensive there were more than 300,000 Chinese troops in Korea, with another 300,000 just across the border and ready to follow up the gains anticipated to be made by the strike force. Of the 300,000 in country, 180K in the bush in the northwest in front of 8th Army and supporting ROKA elements, and 120K similarly hidden in the hills in the east ready to pounce on X Corps and the First Marines, 150K had been in Korea at least since the middle of October. And the havoc they wrecked on the utterly unprepared and overconfident and overextended allied forces was no charade. Jusr ask a 1st Marine or 7th Cav. survivor of the retreat from the Chosin Reservoir.

    The problem with MacArthur and the yes men he had working for him, like Ned Almond and his chief intelligence officer, Willoughby, is that they didn't believe the Chinese would intervene, let alone that they were amassing a huge army in Korea in the fall and winter of 1950, even though there was abundant evidence from field intelligence units that the Chinese were going to intervene and do so heavily and that thier in-country build-up was well underway.

    MacArthur's failure to see or admit this cost a lot of lives, and did result in the allied loss of the north. The first point is the basis of the controversy that has been growing lately in the US about MacArthur's legacy and has pretty much displaced the earlier controvery about his alleged Caesarist ambitions. The second is the basis for some Korean rightwing unhappiness with MacArthur that generally mirrors the more pronounced Korean rightwing unhappiness with Truman for removing MacArthur, who likley would have supported Rhee, and otherwise blocking every effort by Rhee to take the war north again.

    Back to Stone, if Mac Arthur had wanted to have a card to play with the JCS and Truman to cajole them into going against China, he should have accepted and emphasized the fact of the Chinese build-up. He wouldn't and didn't, I think, because his initial or interim goal was just to get them on board with the plan to take the North when NORK resistance collapsed in the wake of Operation Chromite's success at Incheon. If he had been honest about the likelihood of Chinese intervention, JCS and Truman likely would not have let him go to Pyongyang or even much past whatever point north of Kaesong would have afforded a topographically effective defensive position.

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  2. Here's the second quibble, after taking some time out to help my daughter practice her writing:

    2. I agree that a significant % of Koreans have an appreciation of the overwhelmingly positive contribution that America has made to Korea in the last 60 years. The fact remains that a very significant %, probably a minority, but a sizeable one, doesn't and, even more importantly, that minority not only has disproportionate influence in the Korean school system but it currently has its hands on the controls - a position that it obtained because a portion of the supporters of the alliance fell for the soft version of OOP's anti-American line at the last pres. election.

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  3. I don't have time to get into this right now, but I'm increasingly skeptical that so many people voted for Roh because of his apparent anti-American stance, anymore than, say, Koizumi's party won a landslide because of his pandering to right-wing issues that have upset Korea and China.

    I'm skeptical, though that doesn't mean I'm convinced that this "conventional wisdom" about Roh's electoral victory being due to his anti-American stance is wrong.

    But sometimes I think it may be just as true that he was able to garner enough votes because he made reassuring comments that he wasn't against the ROK-US alliance; otherwise a number of fence-sitters would have gone with the personally unpopular but known quantity, Lee Hoi-chang.

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  4. A very well-put, thoughtful post. Good job.

    You do make a good point that hadn't occurred to me, that perhaps the wholesale rejection of MacArthur's legacy by some people is due to a kneejerk rejection of anything associated in their minds with what they were taught growing up under previous regimes, in the face of an absence of real discourse on his legacy in Korea.

    Anyhow, regardless of whatever criticisms may be directed towards him over his personality, disagreements with Truman, whatever (I haven't read the biographies or thought much about it, so am in position to comment), the point is that he executed the Incheon landing, without which who knows how things would have turned out?

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  5. "...so am in no position to comment..."

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  6. Post Korean War didn't see freedom in the South. This is a relatively new phenomenon. Coming from a literary point of view, many of the authors I have met and studied had no right to say what they wanted until 김영삼 became president.
    My view on MacArthur is this. He was behind one of the greatest seabourne landings (D Day not included) in the 인천 landing. He is widely admired for it. What he did after doesn't make any difference to me. That is enough for him to have a statue.

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  7. San Nakji wrote:
    Post Korean War didn't see freedom in the South. This is a relatively new phenomenon. Coming from a literary point of view, many of the authors I have met and studied had no right to say what they wanted until 김영삼 became president.

    You make a valid point that must be addressed: The Republic of Korea showed only glimmers of democracy up until 1987 or 1992, depending on your outlook (I count it from 1987, when Roh Tae-woo was democratically elected by legitimate means in a race that was not a rigged, foregone conclusion; the fact that he was a former general—just like Eisenhower, Grant, or Taylor in the US—or that the opposition couldn't field a single candidate or that the majority of the people who wanted direct election were still very nervous about the North Korean threat, does not mean it wasn't a democratic election in 1987).

    But this lack of democracy for nearly forty years was not the design of MacArthur or the United States. From Rhee on up to Park and Chun, there were constant pushes to get ROK leaders to fulfill their democratic promises.

    In no small way, North Korea is much to blame for the lack of democracy during that period, since its frequent agitations during what still is an official state of war were easily cause for curtailing freedoms. Even in the United States, a bastion of democracy, the so-called "War on Terror" is being seen as a reason to curtail civil liberties on a large scale. I'm not saying I agree with that, but it's not at all hard to see the connection.

    At the very least, however, one has to acknowledge that the Republic of Korea was put on a democracy track, and it finally arrived in the 1990s. The DRPK is on no such track, and there's no reason to expect a different outcome had Pyongyang succeeded in forcibly unifying the entire country. Koreans south of the 38th Parallel would be nowhere near where they are today had MacArthur failed.

    And let's not forget that democracy is not the only form of freedom there is. For most of the post-war period, South Koreans have enjoyed far more personal freedom than North Koreans have. Even without democracy there was greater freedom to act in economic, social, and, to some degree, even political affairs.

    An absence of democracy prior to 1987 was not an absence of freedom. Even today, most citizens in our two communist neighbors, the PRC and the DPRK, have two very different degrees of freedom, even though neither is democratic.

    My view on MacArthur is this. He was behind one of the greatest seabourne landings (D Day not included) in the 인천 landing. He is widely admired for it. What he did after doesn't make any difference to me. That is enough for him to have a statue.

    No argument there.

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  8. I am no blindly pro-military cheerleader. But I do see that the role the U.S. military and government have both played in Korea in the post-war period has been overwhelmingly positive (though it can always be improved).

    As the Germans would say, "Jawohl!"

    otherwise a number of fence-sitters would have gone with the personally unpopular but known quantity, Lee Hoi-chang.

    I don't recall anymore, but does anyone else remember the finally tally in that election? What was the margin?

    And let's not forget that democracy is not the only form of freedom there is. For most of the post-war period, South Koreans have enjoyed far more personal freedom than North Koreans have. Even without democracy there was greater freedom to act in economic, social, and, to some degree, even political affairs.

    An absence of democracy prior to 1987 was not an absence of freedom. Even today, most citizens in our two communist neighbors, the PRC and the DPRK, have two very different degrees of freedom, even though neither is democratic.


    I was going to respond in a similar fashion until I saw the previous comment. You're on with me on this issue!

    Even in the United States, a bastion of democracy, the so-called "War on Terror" is being seen as a reason to curtail civil liberties on a large scale.

    Uh... It was just too good to be true. That didn't last long.

    Who exactly -- among the political mainstream, including conservative Republicans -- is seeing the "War on Terror" as a reason to "curtail civil liberties on a large scale" in the United States?

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  9. San Nakji wrote:
    Coming from a literary point of view, many of the authors I have met and studied had no right to say what they wanted until 김영삼 became president.

    I suppose I should have brought this up just before, but I'm not even sure if this is true, at least in practice, to some degree.

    The National Security Law has long been used to eliminate pro-Pyongyang activities, and prior to 1990, many materials (including I.F. Stone's "Hidden History" and "Revolution" by the Beatles) were outright banned.

    But radical students met and read and discussed these works and others, and plotted demonstrations, with the full knowledge of the ruling authorities (who often had spies). In other words, there was this intricate dance of saving face while allowing something that would make you lose face: the students were allowed to meet so long as they confined their activities to the campus and they didn't get too uppity.

    Can you imagine something like that in North Korea in the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s? How about now?

    Many of my Yonsei professors were college students during those decades (one of them was in the 1960 demonstrations that toppled Rhee), and they tell a story of restricted freedom with clear parameters.

    The demonstrating students were often seen as the conscience of the nation, and if the government came down too hard on them, or if the demonstrators struck the right chord or hit the right nerve with the public (as in 1987 when Chun reneged on direct elections), then the non-student citizenry would have something to say.

    Nothing like that is imaginable in North Korea. In South Korea, however, demonstrators helped topple the government or loosen the ruling party's grip in 1960 and in 1987.

    Of course, there are obvious regressions of anti-democratic violence, like in Kwangju in 1980, but they do not necessarily contradict my paradigm of a non-democratic government tolerating limited dissent because, in the mindset of the ruling powers (and this is NOT my opinion), those were pro-communist groups not acting as a public conscience but seeking to disrupt national security.

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  10. Good point, but curbs on freedom are curbs on freedom.

    I do agree that North Korea caused the governments of South Korea, although it certainly was in the best interests of the US and Japan. For me, real freedom began for the Koreans with the lifting of bans of literature and music which occurred with 김영삼, not 로태우.

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  11. San Nakji wrote:
    I do agree that North Korea caused the governments of South Korea, although it certainly was in the best interests of the US and Japan. For me, real freedom began for the Koreans with the lifting of bans of literature and music which occurred with 김영삼, not 로태우.

    Fair enough. I think you're definition of freedom is highly subjective, but at least you're consistent. By the same measure, when did democracy come to the United States? The 1960s?

    Democratic rule rarely comes fully formed. The United States didn't allow democracy of all its adult citizens (over 21) until the 1920s, almost 140 years after the Constitution was ratified. It came in fits and starts, even in the United States. That doesn't mean that the freedom before women got the vote, or Black men, etc., was meaningless.

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  12. Good point, but curbs on freedom are curbs on freedom.

    Well, in life, as in war, the choice is often not that between a good one and a bad one, but rather that between a bad one and an even worse one.

    I grew up in ROK. Clearly, I'd rather be an American than a Korean national. But given the choice between ROK and North Korea in any era, I'd choose the former.

    We can talk of possibilities and ideals all we want, but must select from the available reality.

    That is NOT to say that the US needed to blindly support past authoritarian governments in ROK (my view on that issue is summed up to some extent in this article).

    The US has made many mistakes in ROK, but on the whole, did rather well in the larger scheme of things (perhaps bit too well in some respects).

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  13. I am no blindly pro-military cheerleader. But I do see that the role the U.S. military and government have both played in Korea in the post-war period has been overwhelmingly positive (though it can always be improved).

    As the Germans would say, "Jawohl!"


    It's funny when people on the left say that, but it's scary when people on the right do. ;)

    otherwise a number of fence-sitters would have gone with the personally unpopular but known quantity, Lee Hoi-chang.

    I don't recall anymore, but does anyone else remember the finally tally in that election? What was the margin?


    From memory, it was a difference of one or two percent, I think. Hold on... This site says it was 49.0 to 46.5.

    And let's not forget that democracy is not the only form of freedom there is. For most of the post-war period, South Koreans have enjoyed far more personal freedom than North Koreans have. Even without democracy there was greater freedom to act in economic, social, and, to some degree, even political affairs.

    An absence of democracy prior to 1987 was not an absence of freedom. Even today, most citizens in our two communist neighbors, the PRC and the DPRK, have two very different degrees of freedom, even though neither is democratic.


    I was going to respond in a similar fashion until I saw the previous comment. You're on with me on this issue!


    Well, you can be right sometimes. ;)

    Even in the United States, a bastion of democracy, the so-called "War on Terror" is being seen as a reason to curtail civil liberties on a large scale.

    Uh... It was just too good to be true. That didn't last long.

    Who exactly -- among the political mainstream, including conservative Republicans -- is seeing the "War on Terror" as a reason to "curtail civil liberties on a large scale" in the United States?


    I have two brothers who are lawyers, and one of them has clients whom he has never met because of the nature of the accusations made against them. The Patriot Act has curtailed civil liberties in ways a lot of people don't realize.

    It's from that point of view that I made that statement. But to be fair, what if I were to alter that statement to: "the so-called 'War on Terror' is being seen as a reason to curtail personal freedoms on a large scale"?

    Certainly not on the scale of the Rhee Syngman or Park Chunghee regimes, but my point is not to suggest that freedom in America has deteriorated to the level of 1953-1987 Korea. I'm just making the point that even in a democracy, the perception of a real, looming threat in wartime is commonly seen as reason to curtail freedom.

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  14. "I am no blindly pro-military cheerleader. But I do see that the role the U.S. military and government have both played in Korea in the post-war period has been overwhelmingly positive (though it can always be improved)."

    Yes, and we're always watching ;)

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