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Lessons from the past (KOR)

Mar 13,2020
HAN AE-RAN
The author is the head of the financial team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

At the beginning of the Japanese invasion of Korea in 1592, Lee Il, a high-raking military officer, stayed in Sangju, North Gyeongsang, and organized the forces. One evening, a person from a nearby village came and informed him that the enemies were very close. Lee wanted to behead him for “deceiving the public with a lie.” But the person asked to be killed if enemies didn’t arrive by the next morning. The next day, Lee beheaded him as “there is not even a shadow of an enemy.” But soon after, there was an attack — and Lee fled.

When King Seonjo (1552-1608) was in exile in Pyongyang, South Pyongan, villages were empty as people had fled after rumors spread that the king would also abandon the second largest city in Joseon. The king had one of the princes announce that he would defend Pyongyang. The people did not believe him. So next day, the king went out to the first gate of the Pyongyang fortress and ordered an official to announce that Pyongyang would be defended. Then, people came out of hiding and returned to the villages inside the fortress. Enemies were appearing along the Daedong River. But ministers had already advised him to leave the city. A few days later, King Seonjo left Pyongyang and headed to Yeongbyeon in the north.

After a source told me that he felt a lot from then prime minister Ryu Seong-ryong’s “Jingbirok,” I read it myself. The first half of the book on the early days of the war made me frustrated.

It could be unreasonable to compare our current situation to a devastating war 500 years ago. But I know what the source wanted to say. I thought of the Moon Jae-in administration’s response to the Covid-19 virus outbreak, especially the problem with communication. Any negative outlook is branded as “fake news fanning unrest” and promises that cannot be kept were made to reassure people.

There is another similarity. Politicians used a national crisis as a chance to attack the opponents rather than fight the real enemy.

As I read Jingbirok, I was angry at the beginning and became moved in the middle. In addition to Adm. Yi Sun-sin’s feat in the war, mentions of volunteer soldiers in one or two sentences made me cry. I was reminded of the medical staff and volunteers on the front line of the fight against Covid-19, pharmacists enduring face mask shortages and the delivery people who deliver necessities.