During the Japanese Invasion in Korea in 1592, people were shocked when King Seonjo fled from his royal palace in the capital city. Detailed data have yet to be found, but his abscondence was the subject of criticism among many noblemen.
Then, what was the reputation of King Seonjo from his times? Oh Hee-moon, a nobleman from the Joseon Era, says: “Seonjo never made any big mistake and always worked so hard; how come such a hardship befell him?” Was he the only one having such an opinion about the king?
Afterwards, Seonjo announced a message to his people. One might assume that it must have been a message of showing remorse and seeking forgiveness, but that is not the case at all. He passes the buck to the masses. Of course, he does admit to some mistakes, but he reprimands louder than he apologizes, accusing them of running away from the enemies from foreign lands when they swept across their motherland.
As one can imagine, some cited the alienation of the public sentiment as reason for their fleeing. But Seonjo proposes his own logic – while the people had been angered and tired because of the laborious fortification projects and military drills, but it was inevitable to get ready for the war. Japan did invade as predicted; therefore, the government has done its job superbly by making a precise forecast. The shame is on the cowardice of the grassroots.
While it is only righteous to lend a sympathetic year to the people, there is no record left at all. What is known is the fact that there was no physical revolt or a massive shift of public sentiment during and after the invasion.
This makes your journalist wonder – is it a lack of conscience or knowledge? But when you think about it, things are not so different now. In South Korea, any debate on the Japanese Invasion of 1592 invariably leads to an irresponsible diagnosis presuming a comfortable, hypothetical reverse scenario or a blind witch hunting. Or they are often concluded with an emotional recourse that we were the stronger and the winners after all.
Perhaps, this is not the most ideal story to share for the new year, but one must overcome the mountains first to find a new land. I sincerely hope the year of 2022 will be a year when the vicious circle – the hubris of power, the irresponsible elites, the rabble-rousers, and the gullible mob - is severed at last.