I visited the Ilricheon battlefield a few days ago. The Ilricheon battle was the final war between Goryeo and Later Baekje. River Nakdong splits into two near the Gumi reservoir with stretches of fields spreading out on both sides. Many experts believe this is where the battle took place although the exact spot is unknown. The Later Three Kingdoms period is an interesting time, which is marked by unusual leaders such as Gung Ye, Gyeon Hwon and Taejo Wang Geon and great generals including Yoo Geum-pil. It also witnessed fascinating strategies deployed in battles as well as dramatic wars such as the Gongsanseong Fortress battle and Jomulseong Fortress battle.
However, it is also a time full of mysteries, having not many records probably because of turmoil. It is like a book that intrigues you with an interesting cover and then leaves you disappointed with so little to offer inside. Among the many mysteries is Gyeon Hwon’s failure. He was a war hero of the time and had the strongest military. However, he failed to control Silla it earned through a hard-fought war against Goryeo. Many areas in Silla surrendered to Taejo Wang Geon even though Gyeon Hwon defeated the king and his army.
Gyeon Hwon had a strong loyal military, meaning he had a strong support group. Nevertheless, he was overthrown by his own sons in a coup. It is believed to be the case of a war hero failing in politics, which is often seen throughout history. One of the reasons for such failure is heavy dependence on his or her military. The loyal military helps achieve victory in times of war, but being a ruler requires an ability to embrace everyone. There is black and white on a battlefield. You win or lose. It is us versus them. However, the same logic does not apply outside war. It is one of those things that everyone knows but is far easier said than done. Unlike on a battlefield, in politics, unusually high reliance on his or her military makes it difficult for the ruler to control even his military let alone other groups. This was how Yi Seong-gye was overthrown by his son and military 400 years later. He did not understand the difference between a king and a commander.