Click into the Hermit Kingdom (83); Neglect of Self-Defense Invites Foreign Invasions

Korea Times (Seoul, Korea), October 18, 1999 | Go to article overview

Click into the Hermit Kingdom (83); Neglect of Self-Defense Invites Foreign Invasions


Chief investigators from Korea and the United States are scheduled to hold their first meeting this week to discuss for a joint probe into the Nogun-ri massacre.

The investigation into the massacre of civilian refugees by U.S. troops during the 1950-53 Korean War may reveal how and why hundreds of Koreans were killed upon orders from U.S. Army commanders.

Whatever the outcome of the joint investigation, the Nogun-ri massacre would not have happened if the nation had been prepared for possible attacks from North Korea.

A similar logic can be applied to the military preparedness of Choson Kingdom which suffered numerous invasions from hostile neighboring countries.

The general perception is that Choson did not pay much attention to the military buildup, which led to the Japanese Invasion of 1592 and the Manchu Invasion of 1636.

But according to annals articles, the nation did make great efforts to defend itself against foreign invasions in the earlier period.

For instance, the Choson court was eager to learn techniques to manufacture swords and spears from Japan in the 15th century.

At the time, the Japanese sharpened their edge when it came to battle- oriented swords and spears.

Occasionally, Japanese diplomats visiting Korea presented refined swords to the Choson government as gifts in a show of their advanced technology.

On June 1 of 1430, King Sejong awarded Sim Ul, a naval officer who crossed the East Sea to Japan and acquired skills necessary to produce a Japanese sword.

Impressed by the high-quality sword made by Sim Ul, King Sejong gave clothes and food to him, while exempting the naval officer from his military duty.

In September of 1628, the Ministry of Military Affairs filed an appeal to King Injo over the declining military power: ``In every battle, fighting with swords is the key to securing the final victory. King Sonjo knew the principle and that's why he ordered every military official to practice swordsmanship. But nowadays military officials do not practice with swords, which is deeply regrettable.''

Certainly, the Choson kings and officials tried to beef up military readiness in the 15th century. As a result, the nation enjoyed an extended period of peace and stability.

In the following period, officials began to ignore military issues, taking the hard-earned peace for granted.

Moreover, today's historians point out King Sejo's coup as a key factor that undercut the overall military policy of Choson.

King Sejo staged a military coup and took over the throne of his nephew, King Tanjong, by force. Therefore, King Sejo understood the tremendous ramification of the military power better than anyone else. …

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