Deadly fallout from false reports

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Deadly fallout from false reports


During the First Opium War, the commanding general of the Qing Dynasty’s army reported to the emperor on March 17, 1841, that he had achieved a great victory over the British army. It was a lie. The very next day, the Port of Guangzhou, where the general was stationed, fell to the British.

The commanding general’s successor committed the same act of deceit only two months later. On May 26, he reported to the emperor that the Qing army had won a brilliant victory against the British, burning and sinking their fleet of ships. But on the same day he sent the report, he signed a convention without the approval of the emperor that reopened trade with the British and paid an indemnity of $6 million to the enemy country.

The fallout from these falsehoods were grave: The Qing Dynasty ultimately lost the Opium War due to poor decisions based on fabricated intelligence.

Korea has seen its own share of devastating military defeats based on false intelligence. During the Japanese invasion of Korea in the late 16th century, fraudulent reports were rampant.

The most destructive of these came from Yukinaga Konishi, a Japanese military commander. Konishi offered the Joseon Dynasty intelligence on a future Japanese naval attack because he hated Kiyomasa Kato, the Japanese commander who was leading the attack.

The courtiers of the Joseon Dynasty were eager to believe Konishi and urged naval leader Adm. Yi Sun-sin to prepare his men. But Admiral Yi saw through Konishi’s lies and refused to deploy the Joseon Navy.

Seeing another chance to undermine the Joseon leadership, Konishi decried Admiral Yi’s judgement, saying that the delay meant that Kato’s ships had been able to land on the Joseon shore.

Boiling with anger at Admiral Yi’s blunder, King Sunjo sent an official to the shoreline to verify Konishi’s intelligence. While there were no Japanese ships to be seen, the official still reported to the king that he had seen Kato’s forces and that the country’s defences had been compromised.

Based on such lies, Joseon’s most brilliant naval leader, Admiral Yi, was imprisoned. The Joseon navy faltered without his leadership and was defeated to the point of near annihilation.

The Board of Audit and Inspection revealed last week that military authorities made false and incomplete reports during the Cheonan crisis. According to the investigation, they fabricated a report on an unidentified object suspected to be a North Korean semi-submersible as if it were a flock of birds. They also falsified the record on the time of the incident, omitted important videos and concealed reports that soldiers on guard heard the sound of an explosion. How many of our young men have to die before we learn the danger of such false military reports?

*The writer is a city news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

By Koo Hui-lyung
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