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Cablegate: The Enduring Legacy of Admiral Yi

VZCZCXYZ0001
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHUL #1230 1170902
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 270902Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY SEOUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 4161
INFO RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 2429
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO 2538
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J5 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA J2 SEOUL KOR
RHMFISS/COMUSKOREA SCJS SEOUL KOR
RHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC//OSD/ISA/EAP//

UNCLAS SEOUL 001230

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: JA KS PGOV PHUM PREL
SUBJECT: THE ENDURING LEGACY OF ADMIRAL YI


1. (U) Koreans on April 28 will celebrate the 262nd
anniversary of Admiral Yi Sun-shin's birthday. Admiral Yi is
remembered for inventing the "turtle ship" -- which was the
world's first metal-armored warship -- his brilliance as a
strategist and, most of all, for his 16th century victories
against the Japanese navy. According to popular history, Yi
won 23 major battles and sunk hundreds of Japanese warships,
transports, and supply ships. His biggest achievement was
the 1597 Battle of Myeongnyang, where Yi defeated 333
Japanese ships with only 13 of his own. Yi, struck down by a
Japanese bullet, died in battle in 1598.

2. (U) South Koreans routinely pick Admiral Yi as their most
admired historical figure. He has been the subject of two
major motion pictures, several television dramas and
countless books. His statue has pride of place in central
Seoul. Resplendent in full battle armor, Admiral Yi stands
day-after-day grasping his sword and scowling at oncoming
traffic.

3. (U) To commemorate this year's anniversary,
schoolchildren drew a huge mural which now hangs along
Seoul's Chongyechon Stream, one of the main venues for this
weekend's "Hi Seoul Festival." The crayon-on-cloth
illustration of sinking ships and drowning sailors stretches
for over two city blocks. Although the doomed ships are
mostly obscured by flames of Torch Red and Sunset Orange, the
rising sun of the Japanese flag is clearly visible on each
vessel and the drowning men all have the drawn-back hair of
cartoon samurai. The carnage takes place in front of Admiral
Yi's flotilla of turtle ships, which in the mural float
triumphantly in halos of cannonfire. In addition to this
display of artwork, Admiral Yi will be remembered throughout
town with traditional music, turtle ship floats on parade,
and recitals of poem and song.

4. (SBU) COMMENT: The enduring popularity of Admiral Yi is
telling. He demonstrated to generations of Koreans that
through innovation and determination, Korea is able to
overcome a more powerful Japan. Whether it is through
competition in the marketplace or brinkmanship in the East
Sea (Sea of Japan), one can still see modern South Korea
trying to reclaim Admiral Yi's glory. Japan has for
centuries been Korea's rival and, at the same time, a model
of what it would like to become. That Korean children so
readily draw the slaughter of thousands of Japanese sailors
-- and that Seoul chooses to display this chilling work in
such a prominent location during its showcase festival -- is
another indicator that this rivalry will last a long time, at
least for South Koreans. END COMMENT.
STANTON

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