The heavy heat of history
The month of August, the Okpo location and the name Kim Jwa-jin are all very significant. The submarine was launched two days before the 68th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule. Okpo is the site where Admiral Lee Sun-shin led the first victory against Japanese forces back in May 7, 1592, about a month after the invasion. General Kim Jwa-jin (1889-1930), a hero of the armed independence movement in the nation’s modern history, has been resurrected as a submarine to defend Korea by sea. Kim led the independence fighters in the Cheongsanri Battle in Manchuria in 1920.
The independence fighters lacked weapons, so they armed themselves with guns and ammunition they obtained from the Czech Legion in Vladivostok, Russia. Many Czechs had been drafted by the Austro-Hungarian military during World War I, but wanting to gain independence for their country by fighting against the Central Powers, they often surrendered to Russian troops voluntarily. Eventually, the Czech Legion was formed in Russia.
When the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917, they fell out of favor and some 67,700 Czechs crossed the country to Vladivostok in an attempt to travel to the Western Front the long way, by boat. By the time they arrived in 1919, the war had already ended. Understanding the pain of losing a nation, they sold their weapons to Korean independence fighters. In 2011, the Czech ambassador to Korea exhibited the historical materials in Seoul.
When the Czech soldiers returned to their newly founded Czechoslovakia, they brought back Korean silver hairpins and gold rings. Seeing the old accessories, I became emotional, as they reminded me of the nameless women who offered up their jewelry to help the independence movement. The Battle of Cheongsanri was a victory of the country’s will and contributions of countless Koreans, from country housewives to visionary leaders.
On the day of the launch of the Kim Jwa-jin, a memorial service for Lee Yong-nyeo was held at the comfort woman statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. The 87-year-old had been forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II when she was 16. The memorial service illustrated the suffering citizens must endure when they fail to defend their nation.
For students currently in ninth grade, Korean history will be a required subject on the college admission exam. It’s fortunate that students will learn about the Battle of Cheongsanri and Japan’s forced sexual slavery. The justification to make Korean history a mandatory subject is obvious. The day before Lee passed away, the Japanese prime minister voiced his desire to revise the country’s pacifist constitution.
Things can really get hot in August.
*The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
by CHAE IN-TAEK