[FOUNTAIN]Reports to the kingIn March 1591, two Joseon Dynasty delegates to Japan made conflicting reports about the Japanese leader, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, after they returned from a visit.
Reporting to King Seonjo, Hwang Yun-gil, who led the delegates, said, "Hideyoshi Toyotomi is short and small, and his face is dark. Although he did not even have informal schooling, he is of such piercing and extraordinary eyes that he will definitely invade Joseon."
By contrast, Kim Seong-il, who accompanied Mr. Hwang, told a totally different story to the king. "Hideyoshi Toyotomi is a narrow-minded and senseless man. So he is not a man who would dare to invade Joseon," he said.
King Seonjo chose to accept Mr. Kim's report, rejecting the one made by the leader of the delegation. Kim Seong-il belonged to the Dongin, or east faction, the governing group. The king might have felt it politically risky to accept a report made by the opposition Seoin, or west faction.
But the king's choice had a huge impact on the Joseon Dynasty's defensive position, and 200,000 Japanese troops invaded Joseon in April 1592, devastating the peninsula.
The royal court knew that Japan was preparing a war on Joseon. Not long after Kim Seong-il's no-war report to the king, the Japanese government ordered its trade representative officials in Joseon's southern port city of Busan to come back home. That was an obvious sign that signaled an imminent invasion from Japan.
The reason why the ruling Dongin faction neglected the possibility of a Japanese attack on Joseon was that the rival Seoin party had been strongly warning of a catastrophe. Dongin politicians feared that the moment they accepted the security awareness of their rivals, they would lose the king's trust and their power as the governing faction.
After Kim Seong-il was fired after the war broke out, he explained that he had made the false report to keep the people calm. But they were later being massacred by Japanese invaders.
On Monday, President-elect Roh Moo-hyun's delegates to the United States reported to the incoming president. According to media reports, Chyung Dai-chul, who led the delegates, and Representative Yoo Jay-kun, a member of the team, had different views about a pullout of U.S. troops from South Korea. I hope their observations were not affected by politics.
by Chun Young-gi
The writer is a deputy political news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.