I met Gen. Paik Sun-yup at an event over 10 years ago. After the event ended, people requested an impromptu lecture from Paik. I was a bit skeptical at first because of the countless experiences I had with well-known senior figures giving not-so-great impromptu lectures.
As per his discreet personality, Paik started his lecture with a slow voice and I was thinking to myself, “Here we go…” However, the next 30 minutes gave me quite a shock. The lessons we need to get from the Korean War – not something ideological or excessively moral, something that is specialized in the military setting but can be also universally applied – flowed appropriately yet movingly. Paik seemed to be a commander who analyzes situations quickly and makes appropriate and reasonable judgments. Reading his memoir later confirmed my first impression.
When the Korean War faced the second crisis with the involvement of the Communist Chinese army, Gen. Matthew Ridgway took command of the Eighth Army. The former 82d Airborne Division commander during World War II was a typical military figure of a stern and unbending character. Unlike more polite Gen. Walton Walker, Ridgway did not spare any straightforward criticism towards the South Korean military. Paik says he cannot accept everything. He believes that the South Korean military fought well considering its then-situation with extremely poor weapons and supplies compared to the U.S. and should be recognized for its strenuous efforts. Then, he says, “Turning away and retreating from the outpouring enemies should be examined objectively.”
The South Korean military’s performance of, say 100, under the conditions of 10 should be commended. However, if the enemy has the capability of 150, we should find a way to bring our forces’ capability to 200, rather than lamenting how unfair it is. It is a simple truth, but easier said than done. Paik has found such a way, transforming the South Korean military and impressing the U.S. Rest in peace, Gen. Paik Sun-yup.