Friday, March 19, 2021

A Hero of Two Koreas

 



Not every man has what it takes to defeat an armada with 13 ships. But then again, not every man is Admiral Yi Sun-Shin. 

 

Today, the 16th-century admiral is one of the most-revered military figures in both Koreas—if not the most-revered. From his early days in the army of Joseon Korea, he has stood a cut above the rest. 

 

At 37, he was able to lead his troops to success against the invading Jurchens, even capturing the Jurchen chief. But instead of rejoicing at his conquest, superior officers grew insecure in their own positions, which culminated in a plot to frame Yi for desertion. Yi was arrested and tortured for his alleged crime. 

Demoted to foot soldier after his release, Yi gradually worked his way back up the ranks with his own capabilities. At 45, he was promoted to admiral in the Joseon navy despite having no prior naval experience. He fended off many attacks by the Japanese, becoming one of the Japanese military’s greatest adversaries. 

 

To get around Yi, the Japanese sent a spy into the Joseon court to leak bits of false intel to the Koreans. This spy told the Joseon military that the Japanese were planning an attack and that Admiral Yi should prepare an ambush in a certain spot. 

 

But the admiral correctly identified this advice as a trap. He refused to follow the misguided order, which got him jailed and tortured yet a second time and also sentenced to death. His supporters managed to persuade the king to change his mind, but Yi had to become a foot soldier once again. 

 

The admiral’s successor was not as brilliant as he was and soon whittled down the Korean fleet to 13 ships after a series of naval losses. Yi was quickly reinstated as admiral to turn the situation around.

 

With just 13 ships, he defeated a Japanese fleet of 333 at the Battle of Myeongnyang and left the battle with all 13 ships intact. This move thoroughly crippled the Japanese effort to take Korea, and Japan eventually brokered peace after the Battle of Noryang. It was the admiral’s last battle, and he was tragically killed in action.

 

Not wanting to unnerve his troops, some of his last words were “We are about to win the war! Do not announce my death!” 

 

Admiral Yi’s posthumous name reflects the impact of his legacy on the Korean nation: Chungmu, meaning “loyal warrior.” 

 

There could hardly be a better name for a man who could still fight for a nation whose leaders had twice betrayed him—and hardly a worthier man to be included in the annals of war heroes. 


The Epoch Times

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