The Myth of a Tragic Past

Andrei Lankov, debunks the myth that Korea has a monopoly over a tragic history;

“Well, let’s have a look at the Choson Dynasty period, from 1392 to 1910. The last four decades of these five centuries were turbulent indeed, but what about earlier times? Even a cursory look demonstrates that it was hardly a time of troubles. Throughout 1392-1865, Korea fought three wars against foreign invaders, not including some minor border skirmishes with nomads in the north, and Japanese pirates on the coasts. In one case, the war with Japan from 1592-1598, known as Hideyoshi’s invasion in the West, and as the Imjin War in Korea, was disastrous and the entire country was devastated. As you know, the medieval armies, all those knights in shining armor, were not too nice when they encountered the civilian population. The two other conflicts, of 1627 and of 1636, were of much smaller scale _ essentially, two blitzkriegs brilliantly executed by Manchu generals whose cavalry units broke through Korean defenses, approached Seoul, and forced the Korean government to agree to an unfavorable peace.

Let’s compare this with the fate of more or less every European country. Throughout the same period of 1392-1865, almost every country in Europe fought a much greater number of conflicts, and suffered much greater casualties. Let’s have a look at German history. The period under consideration is marked by at least four major military conflicts, each lasting for one or several decades, and resulting in mass death and destruction: the Reformation Wars, the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the Prussian campaigns of the mid-18th century and the Napoleonic wars. And these are only large-scale wars, each being as significant and bloody as Korea’s war with Japan in 1592-1598 (in all probability, all these conflicts were more destructive than the Hideyoshi invasion). Apart from these, there were a number of smaller conflicts, many of which were not small at all like the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714), or the chain of conflicts that accompanied German unification in the 1850s and 1860s. And, of course, there were countless quarrels between the mini-states which formed the Germany of the era, each such quarrel being a military conflict on its own right, far exceeding Korea’s occasional skirmishes with Japanese raiders.

Is Germany an exception? By no means. This is the fairly typical history of any European country, and against such a background Korean history appears rather quiet. Rather than being a country with a uniquely turbulent history, Korea actually was a country, which enjoyed stability undreamed of in most other parts of the world!”

Via Foreign Dispatches


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This page contains a single entry by Paul published on September 12, 2006 9:21 PM.

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