Remarks by Richard C. Holbrooke, Asia Society Chairman
October 30, 2003
I am profoundly honored to be part of today’s ceremonies. What you are launching today will grow and resonate throughout Korea, throughout Asia, and throughout the world. I am confident that decades from now, people will come to New Songdo City and marvel. At Songdo, they will see the true genius and strength of the Korean people.
How fitting, therefore, that this extraordinary project will develop on the very same land where one of the most important military events of the last century unfolded – one that set the stage, although no one could have known it then, for the great project we celebrate today.
The Incheon landing on September 15, 1950, was an event of great daring and imagination. For weeks before the landing, the American Joint Chiefs of Staff had told General MacArthur that the operation was too dangerous. In July 1950, the Chiefs even traveled to Tokyo – a most unusual event – to tell MacArthur that he should land further south, where the tides were not so high and the risks far lower. MacArthur, of course was adamant. “We shall land at Incheon,” he said in typical MacArthur fashion, to the reluctant American Chiefs, “and I shall crush them!” Two months later, even as MacArthur assembled his forces, Washington still had not given him permission for the landing. Furious, MacArthur demanded approval, thundering back in a telegram, “It represents the only hope of wresting the initiative from the enemy and thereby presenting an opportunity for a decisive blow. To do otherwise is to commit us to a war of infinite duration, gradual attrition, and doubtful results…..” Finally, reluctantly, Washington gave him the green light.
At 6:25 a.m. on September 15, 1950, the forces of nine nations, under the flag of the United Nations, began the assault. Thousands of Republic of Korea Marines and Koreans directly under American command participated. Twenty-two minutes after landing, the forces took Cemetery Hill, which protected the causeway leading to Wolmi Do. A few hours later they took Observatory Hill which overlooked the city of Incheon. Less than two weeks later, the UN forces were in Seoul, and the North Koreans were in retreat. While the war would go on for more than two more years, the course of Korean history was forever altered.
Why do I begin by recalling this story, so familiar, I hope, to all of you?
For a very simple reason: We would not be standing here today, beginning this project, if it were not for the daring, skill, and sacrifice that took place in Incheon in 1950. Indeed, what we celebrate today may one day be called the Second Incheon Landing. It may one day be celebrated as something fully as remarkable, in its own way, as the first landing.
Both events have several things in common. Great daring. Vision and imagination. A determination to prevail over heavy odds. And an unbreakable Korean-American partnership.
But this has been the story of Korea for the last fifty years. No nation in the world – I mean this literally – has made as much progress in the last half-century as the Republic of Korea. Korea in 1953 was a physically destroyed, divided and very poor nation. Today it is the twelfth largest economy in the world.