Tour Through Time: Stop 15: War Memorial of Korea

A short 1 mile later and we arrive at a military museum known as the War Memorial of Korea. It was opened in 1994 on the site of army headquarters for the purpose of preventing war, exhibiting a vast array of memorabilia from Korea’s long military history.

One item on display is a full-sized replica of the famous Kobukson (turtle ship). It is commonly believed to be invented by Admiral Yi Soon-Sin, but he didn’t actually invent it, he merely improved on an earlier design. In 1592, after Yi Soon-Sin had been promoted to Commander of the Three Provinces by King Seonjo following the successful Battle of Okpo, Admiral Yi received reports from Admiral Won Gyun that Japanese ships had been sighted at Sacheon and sailed to meet them in would be his second battle. After surveying the area and spotting 12 large Japanese battleships near a cliff top where soldiers could shoot his ships from above he decided to instead lure the Japanese out to sea. The quick retreat by Yi Soon-Sin indeed caused the Japanese Commander to order part of his fleet to pursue. The Japanese began to catch up with them as the light began to fade, only for Admiral Yi to turn his fleet around, unleashing a hail of cannon balls and fire arrows which inflicted heavy damage on the Japanese. The Kobukson was a battleship with an iron spiked roof, a dragon head containing four canons at the front, and a further 26 canons spread all round the ship on all sides. It was a formidable ship that struck fear into the Japanese as it sailed through their fleet. Admiral Yi later wrote to King Seonjo “In this battle, the turtle ships carried out dramatically their mission as the vanguards when I faced the enemies. They were really successful”.

Another item found at the military museum is an exact replica of the Kwang-Gae-Toh Stele. The original Kwang-Gae-Toh Stele was built in 414AD by Kwang-Gae’s son, King Jangsu, and was discovered in 1875 by a Chinese Scholar in Manchuria. A stele is a tall stone slab erected for commemorative purposes, and is often inscribed with the names and a list of their deeds. This particular stele was inscribed with details of the reign of King Kwang-Gae, including a badly scratched passage which seems to imply that Japan conquered Baekje and Silla in 391AD, an implausible claim with no historical records to support it. This passage has been dismissed by Korean Scholars who believe it was intentionally defaced by the Imperial Japanese Army to give precedent for their occupation of Korea in the 20th century. King Kwang-Gae Toh Wang (a posthumous title roughly meaning “Very Greatest King, Broad Expander of Territory”) accomplished a great deal for the Kingdom of Goguryo in his 22 year reign, gaining a great deal of territory for Goguryo and making it a major power within the Three Kingdoms. He was one of only two Kings to have ever been given the addition title “the Great”; the other was King Se-Jong the Great of the Joseon Dynasty who invented the Korean alphabet.

We will be celebrating our arrival at the museum with a 1 minute wall sit, before continuing 2 miles east across the Han River to a memorial park in Seoul.

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