The Shadow of ‘America’s Caesar’ Haunts Korean Military Exercises

Most travelers recognize Incheon for its international airport, the gleaming gateway to Seoul stuffed with boutiques offering “Korean Wave” music videos, skin-whitening cosmetics and all flavors of chewing gum. Outside, the wide bay fronting the Yellow Sea is lined by neat industrial parks, snug resorts and small eateries where engineers and salesmen moan about unaffordable living costs while downing mugs of the local brew. 

Few of the younger generation can imagine the drab fishing villages that once dotted the shore where, on an autumn day 60 years ago ,hundreds of landing craft disgorged American soldiers and marines deep behind enemy lines. Punching the North Korean invaders where they least expected, the amphibious assault resulted in the Allied retaking of Seoul and crossing the 38th Parallel to storm Pyongyang. The American-led UN force was commanded by a living legend, General Douglas MacArthur, conqueror of militarist Japan in World War II.

His decisive attack by sea echoes down to the most recent joint exercise of American and South Korean forces, involving the super-carrier George Washington, only days after the artillery shootout at Yeonpyong island.

MacArthur’s legacy can be discerned in this snapshot from an AP report. “Along scenic Mallipo Beach on the west coast, about 50 South Korean soldiers were laying down an aluminum road to prepare for an amphibious landing.  Barbed wire and metal staves ran the length of the beach for about 2 miles (3 kilometers). Military ships hovered in the distance.”

Enemies outside and within

Incheon was the prelude for the total destruction of Pyongyang under  relentless US artillery fire and aerial bombing. The leveling of Korea’s traditional capital, more than anything else, accounts for the North’s drive for nuclear deterrence capability.

For the “American Caesar” as he is called in one biography, the rout of North Korean forces was not the campaign’s end but only the beginning of a final drive to the Yalu River, the border of China. MacArthur was convinced that Beijing was the primary enemy and bulwark holding up the regime of Kim Il-sung in Pyongyang. That same assertion about Beijing’s aid for Kim Jong-il is repeated today in the Western media

Since a poverty-stricken and war-exhausted China did not yet possess the atomic bomb, the sole obstacle to an all-out war in Asia came from the foreign policy of President Harry Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson, who supported containment and coexistence rather than confrontation with China. 

“I am concerned for the security of our great nation; not so much because of any threat from without, but because of the insidious forces working from within,” the general wrote to his congressional supporters.

His belief in a purely military solution is the seed of the widening division over East Asia policy between Obama administration hawks led by the Hillary Clinton and Kurt Campbell along with their allies in the Pentagon versus.the “panda-huggers” aligned with assistant state  secretary James Steinberg and National Security Council staffer Jeff Bader.

Cheerleaders for the Military

As the Army’s first-ever press officer in his early career, the general later cultivated a celebrity image with his ramrod posture, wire-rim sunglasses and corncob pipe, which to his Japanese, Korean and Chinese foes signified absolute American power with its demand for unconditional surrender. He posed as being magnanimous as a victor to gain the loyalty and obedience of the survivors among former enemies. More important toward his aims, MacArthur deployed the media to keep his domestic opponents at bay and on the defensive. 

“One cannot wage war under present conditions without the support of public opinion, which is tremendously molded by the press and other forms of propaganda,” he  noted. 

Manipulation of public perceptions has since advanced along the learning curve from MacArthur to the Pentagon’s “MacWar” bureaucracy. On Yeonpyeong Island, for instance, South Korean gunners positioned their self-propelled howitzers not in an open field but behind a ridge, causing the North Koreans to hit the village on the facing slope. The Western press could then lead the world to believe that Pyongyang had targeted innocent civilians. The media chorus accusing Pyongyang of “provocation” ignores the fact that the South Korean side had initiated the gunfire.

These deceptions are in line with the criticism of China for its “lack of transparency” in new defense spending. Meanwhile, Seoul’s crash programs to build new Seljung-class destroyers and assemble German-designed Dolphin submarines don’t make a ripple in the press. Nor is the spotlight ever cast on the secrecy behind US military stationing of nuclear weapons on Japanese soil in defiance of that country’s non-nuclear principles. One underground nuclear storage site, according to a retired naval intelligence source and confirmed in a book by a Marine officer, was hidden below Atsugi US naval air station near Tokyo. Among the guards inside that atomic bunker was a Marine corporal named Lee Harvey Oswald.

MacArthur was therefore right to assume that the mass media is an auxiliary of the military-industrial complex: “Our country is now geared to an arms economy bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and an incessant propaganda of fear.”

Salvation for European civilization

Only total war can achieve lasting peace, MacArthur often argued to like-minded Congressmen. “If we lose the war to communism in Asia, the fall of Europe is inevitable. Win it and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom. There is no substitute for victory.”

A similar argument binding Europe’s future to the rising threat from China, Iran and North Korea is now being presented in NATO’s globalized “New Strategic Concept.” Identical assumptions are behind the Pentagon’s insistence in sending the super-carrier George Washington into the Yellow Sea, which to Beijing is as important as Chesapeake Bay to the US capital.

By late autumn 1950, the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved MacArthur’s plan to drop nuclear bombs on Chinese airfields on either side of the Yellow Sea. Harry Truman, who had previously authorized the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, balked this time around and then relieved the legendary general of his command. 

It is a historical irony that he got out in time. Chinese volunteers, ill-equipped and underfed, poured across the border in desperate defense of their homeland. In the next three years, American servicemen suffered horrific casualties across a devastated landscape identified only by names like Pork Chop Hill. By the armistice that restored a divided Korea, some 36,000 Americans lay dead alongside more than 300,000 Chinese and upwards of 2 .5 million Koreans. A young child in a grim Yokohama, which still had many bombed-out buildings, I saw the silent lines of white-clad Japanese nurses filing into military hospitals to tend to wounded and dying American GIs.

The Hungarian critic Georg Lukacs asserted that great events create great men, and not the other way around. The titanic battles of the Philippines, ruthless combat in the Pacific and an apocalyptic Korean War forged the steely character of the toughest commander of the 20th century. A Second Korean War will surely raise another American Caesar to finish the job that MacArthur left undone and who then, like Rome’s first emperor, might cross his Rubicon to put an end to a troublesome democracy at home.

Today, young Americans, South Korean draftees and North Korean teenagers take nervous aim at each other, knowing that a single gunshot could trigger a nuclear conflagration that will annihilate every city in the Northern Hemisphere. In the twilight of the Sunshine Policy with its faded hopes for peaceful reunification, a shadow rises in the fog, whispering to these soldiers “I shall return.”

Mr. Yoichi Shimatsu who was former Editor of Japan Times Weekly is Senior Advisor to the 4th Media, a commentator to BON TV in Beijing. 

One Reply to “The Shadow of ‘America’s Caesar’ Haunts Korean Military Exercises”

  1. Zgadzam sie z przedmowca
    Zainspirowal mnie tekst do interesujacego wpisu, ktory zobaczycie niebawem na świeży sok.

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