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[Opinion] A Hollow Autonomy?

Posted October. 02, 2006 07:02,   


The 8th U.S. Army was first activated in 1944 in the United States during World War II to command troops in the South Sea Islands. In August 1945, the 8th Army landed in Japan along with the 6th Army as occupation forces under the command of General Douglas MacArthur. Right after North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950, the 8th U.S. Army Command moved to Korea and established its headquarters at Daegu Middle School. Four days later, Lt. Gen. Walton H. Walker took over command and control of the army as its first commander and scored several victories against North Korean troops. After the armistice was signed in 1953, it relocated to Yongsan in Seoul, returned to Japan in 1954 and moved back to Yongsan in 1955.

In its early Yongsan period, the 8th Army wielded significant influence on Korean governments and the Korean military, because Korea was saved from falling into the hands of North Korea thanks to their sacrifice. It was almost customary that when the Korean First Army Commander, a four-star general, rides in a jeep with the head of Provisional Military Advisory Group to ROK (PMAG), a one-star general, the PMAG head sat on a seat for senior officers, which is the seat next to the driver’s seat. Even aid requirements were conveyed to the U.N. Headquarters through United Nations Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK), the 8th Army Command, the United Nations Command and the U.S. Department of State.

At first, the office of the 8th Army commander was held concurrently by the United Stated Forces Korea commander, a four-star general. In the 1990s, the command was downgraded to a lieutenant general who receives orders from the USFK commander. However, to Koreans, the 8th Army Command remains synonymous with the entire U.S. forces stationed in Korea and they are still calling it the “Yongsan 8th U.S. Army.” The 2nd Infantry Division, the 19th Sustainment Command, and the 35th Air Defense Artillery Brigade are under the umbrella of the 8th Army but it has no command and control over them. The 8th Army Commander also assumes responsibilities as chief of staff at the USFK, CFC, and the U.N. Command. Thus, it is safe to say that the 8th Army Command remains in name only.

Still, ever since USFK Commander B.B. Bell indicated the possibility of the 8th Army Command being dismantled by 2010 on September 29, concerns over the security are growing inside Korea. It is reported that U.S. Joint Forces Korea will be created to take over all missions of the 8th Army. But still, it is hard to shed worries. Isn’t a dismantlement of the 8th Army a signal of an all-out withdrawal of the 2nd Infantry Division, the main U.S. force stationed in Korea? Will 690,000 U.S. reinforcements come in a contingency? More and more Koreans are taking a dim view of the “hollow autonomy.”

Yook Jeong-su, Editorial Writer, sooya@donga.com