INCHEON (인천) is an important port and Korea’s third most populous city. It’s also home to the country’s main international airport, though few foreign travellers see anything of the city itself, with the overwhelming majority preferring to race straight to Seoul on a limousine bus. However, in view of its colourful recent history, it’s worth at least a day-trip from the capital. This was where Korea’s “Hermit Kingdom” finally crawled out of self-imposed isolation in the late nineteenth century and opened itself up to international trade, an event that was spurred on by the Japanese following similar events in their own country (the “Meiji Restoration”). The city was also the landing site for Douglas MacArthur and his troops in a manoeuvre that turned the tide of the Korean War. However, despite its obvious importance to Korea past and present, there’s a palpable absence of civic pride, possibly due to the fact that Incheon is inextricably connected to the huge Seoul metropolis – the buildings simply don’t stop on their long march from the capital. This may be about to change, however, as it has been chosen as the host of the 2014 Asian Games, and is busily setting about smartening itself up in preparation for the event.
Incheon’s various sights can easily be visited on a day-trip from Seoul, which is an hour away by subway. The most interesting part is Jung-gu, the country’s only official Chinatown, a small but appealing area where you can rub shoulders with the Russian sailors and Filipino merchants who – after the Chinese – make up most of Incheon’s sizeable foreign contingent. It sits below Jayu Park, where a statue of MacArthur gazes out over the sea. The only other area of note is Songdo New Town, an area being built on land reclaimed from the sea. At the time of writing this resembled a war zone (though with perfect roads, running buses and the odd hotel and apartment block), but by 2015 it should be more or less complete, and home to the 151 Incheon Tower, set to be the world’s second-tallest structure (a whopping 601m high) on completion.Read More
General MacArthur and the Incheon landings
General MacArthur and the Incheon landings
On the morning of September 15, 1950, the most daring move of the Korean War was made, an event that was to alter the course of the conflict entirely, and now seen as one of the greatest military manoeuvres in history. At this point the Allied forces had been pushed by the North Korean People’s Army into a small corner of the peninsula around Busan, but General Douglas MacArthur was convinced that a single decisive movement behind enemy lines could be enough to turn the tide.
MacArthur wanted to attempt an amphibious landing on the Incheon coast, but his plan was greeted with scepticism by many of his colleagues – both the South Korean and American armies were severely under-equipped (the latter only just recovering from the tolls of World War II), Incheon was heavily fortified, and its natural island-peppered defences and fast tides made it an even more dangerous choice.
The People’s Army had simply not anticipated an attack on this scale in this area, reasoning that if one were to happen, it would take place at a more sensible location further down the coast. However, the plan went ahead and the Allied forces performed successful landings at three Incheon beaches, during which time North Korean forces were shelled heavily to quell any counterattacks. The city was taken with relative ease. MacArthur had correctly deduced that a poor movement of supplies was his enemy’s Achilles heel – landing behind enemy lines gave Allied forces a chance to cut the supply line to KPA forces further south, and Seoul was duly retaken on 25 September.
Despite the Incheon victory and its consequences, MacArthur is not viewed by Koreans – or, indeed, the world in general – in an entirely positive light, feelings exacerbated by the continued American military presence in the country. While many in Korea venerate the General as a hero, repeated demonstrations have called for the tearing down of his statue in Jayu Park, denouncing him as a “war criminal who massacred civilians during the Korean War”, and whose statue “greatly injures the dignity of the Korean people”. Documents obtained after his eventual dismissal from the Army suggest that he would even have been willing to bring nuclear weapons into play – on December 24, 1950, he requested the shipment of 38 atomic bombs to Korea, intending to string them “across the neck of Manchuria”. Douglas MacArthur remains a controversial character, even in death.