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.
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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