Seoul is caught, defenses down
The fortresses, though, were not destroyed. The storm of war always bypassed the countryside and hits the town, where the army resided. Therefore, cities were surrounded and protected by fortresses from the beginning.
For thousands of years, the fortress was the city itself. Catapults and ladders were used to destroy or jump over the wall, and after the invention of gunpowder, there were canons. To guard against attack, the fortresses made their walls thicker.
In an age when war was all about bringing down the fortress, the walls were the only defense mechanism the towns had. If the fortress fell, so did the people inside the walls.
In the 19th century, the military utility of the fortresses was drastically reduced as explosive weapons became drastically advanced. When airplanes began to strike in the 20th century, the purpose of fortresses and walls disappeared completely. Cities preserved the fortresses and citadels as tourist attractions while preparing new defense systems.
After being crushed in the Battle of Midway in June 1942, Japan lost the island of Saipan in July 1944. And the Allied forces were closing in. It was only a matter of time before the U.S. forces would strike the mainland. Japan prepared for a showdown, pledging “100 million deaths” to defend the empire. In Joseon, the Japanese Government General started blackout drills in case of a strike, and bomb shelters were installed all over the city. They even created a recording of their planes to help distinguish Japanese planes from those of the U.S. Air Force.
After liberation, North Korea attempted an attack on the Blue House, and a year later, on Jan. 7, 1969, the government made a plan to turn Seoul into a giant fortress. But there were few facilities that could double as bomb shelters aside from the basements in civilian residences. Namsan Tunnel, which opened in 1970, was designed for this purpose. But the high-rise apartments built since 1980 are not designed to protect against aerial raids and it is uncertain if subway stations would prove reliable cover if Seoul were attacked.
On the day Yeonpyeong Island was attacked, the alarms did not sound. But it wouldn’t have been much different had they been activated. At the moment, Seoul is almost defenseless.
*The writer is a research professor at the Seoul National University Hospital.
By Jeon Woo-yong