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    As petitions against the road construction continued, King Sejong issued a response.

    – There are those who oppose the road construction currently being undertaken by the court.

    They claim that the roads in their own regions are sufficient for the transport of goods and people, and thus the construction is unnecessary, urging for its cessation.

    However, this perspective is akin to that of the frog in the well, narrow-minded and deeply saddening.

    Considering the current state of Joseon, the roads are narrow and treacherous, making it difficult for the produce of one region to reach the neighboring ones, and people have grown accustomed to abandoning long journeys.

    Thus, the people of Joseon remain unaware of the vastness of the world, confined within narrow limits, becoming increasingly isolated—a truly sorrowful state.

    The road construction was initiated to address this issue. By widening and improving the roads, we aim to ease the movement of many people, enlightening them to the vastness of the world. It is essential for the prosperity of Joseon that its people understand their place in the world and their duties.

    Secondly, the concern that the customs of the regions may become chaotic is valid. To prevent this, additional soldiers will be deployed, so the people should not worry and focus on their livelihoods.

    Lastly, the claim that well-maintained roads pose a problem for national defense is the epitome of folly.

    It is argued that well-maintained roads would facilitate enemy movement and thus are undesirable. However, isn’t it also true that such roads would allow our Joseon soldiers to move more swiftly?

    And why do you not trust our Joseon soldiers? They who conquered Tsushima years ago and continue to bravely defend against the barbarians in the north are the soldiers of Joseon.

    Is it the soldiers of Joseon you do not trust, or is it me?

    The final sentence of King Sejong’s proclamation silenced the protesting scholars, reducing them to submission.

    Questioning the national defense was equated to doubting the king, leading to accusations of disloyalty.

    “Foolish honesty could lead one to disaster!”

    Realizing the gravity of the situation, the local scholars hastily put away their petitions.

    *       *       *

    Meanwhile, Hyang, upon reading King Sejong’s proclamation, burst into laughter.

    “These noblemen… Do none among their kin serve in the military? Or perhaps… is it fortunate that they do not? Had they heard the complaints about national defense, their heads might have been cracked open.”

    Such was the state of Joseon’s strengthened military that not a single court official or military officer could deny Hyang’s significant contribution.

    The first creations of ‘Area 51,’ which Hyang had persuaded King Sejong to establish, were gunpowder weapons and armor.

    “Though I was called a jack of all trades, my true passion lay in military affairs! With me around, such nonsense cannot stand! Besides, I am the crown prince! Who would dare obstruct the future king’s focus on national defense? Do they have a solid insurance plan in place?”

    Hyang, making full use of his political background, consistently produced weapons.

    The weapons created by Hyang were recognized for their performance and were mass-produced and deployed.

    “It does cost quite a bit to manufacture them.”

    “However, the performance is worth several times the investment. And with His Majesty’s approval, what other choice do we have?”

    The Ministry of Taxation, responsible for budget execution, grumbled, but Sejong pushed forward vigorously.

    The military was an area of great interest to Sejong as well. With his dream of northern expansion, Sejong deemed the weapons created by Hyang absolutely necessary.

    Thus, amidst the supply of weapons with unmatched performance, unable to be followed even by Japan or Ming, Hyang persuaded Sejong.

    “Numbers on a ledger are just that, numbers! We must cultivate proper soldiers and military officers!”

    Joseon operated a conscription system. According to the system implemented since the era of King Taejo, Joseon could theoretically muster an army of 300,000 in times of emergency.

    ‘Theoretically.’

    However, due to the irrationality of Joseon’s taxation system and the contradictions within the conscription system itself, there were many who avoided military service.

    As a result, during the Tsushima campaign in the first year of Sejong’s reign, everyone from scholars living in the southern provinces to the commoners had to be conscripted by force.

    The only exception was the slaves. Slaves were considered people and yet not people.

    “As long as I have started this! I will ensure that the portrayal of Joseon’s army as mere cannon fodder in dramas ceases to exist!”

    Determined, Hyang overhauled the military conscription system completely, involving not only military officers but also officials from the Ministry of Personnel and the Ministry of Taxation.

    Through such birthing pains, a complete transformation of the Joseon army was achieved.

    That’s why Hyang laughed at the scholars who submitted petitions after reading Sejong’s proclamation.

    *       *       *

    “There are still many who are unaware of how the world works.”

    “Such people should be dealt with decisively and drafted into the army…”

    Military officers who read Sejong’s proclamation shared a reaction similar to Hyang’s. Among the military officers who scoffed at the scholars, one named Kang Kyung-in suddenly grabbed his colleague.

    “Listen, what did you just say?”

    “Huh? What do you mean?”

    “Didn’t you say we should drag them into the army and put them to work?”

    “Yes, I did… Why?”

    Unlike his bewildered colleague, Kang Kyung-in spoke with a serious expression.

    “Aren’t there areas where we’re lacking, even with a military academy? Like administration or logistics.”

    “That’s true.”

    Kang Kyung-in’s point made his colleague nod in agreement.

    With Sejong’s ascension, military officers were also expected to have scholarly knowledge, raising their academic standards. However, as military officers, their promotions were most influenced by martial skills and specializations. As a result, the support units at the rear always lacked personnel.

    “So, let’s pull in those who submitted the petitions and assign them tasks.”

    Kang Kyung-in’s suggestion made his colleague shake his head.

    “Would they do it? They’re nobles, after all.”

    “If they rage about the country’s concerns but refuse when actually asked to contribute, they’re hypocrites! They’ve made their stance known, so they should take responsibility, right?”

    “Indeed?”

    Intrigued by Kang Kyung-in’s argument, his colleague appeared persuaded. He wasn’t the only one; the military officers who overheard the conversation seemed to share the sentiment.

    “Why not flesh out this plan in more detail?”

    “Should we?”

    The spontaneously devised plan was quickly formalized into a document and submitted to Jo Mal-saeng.

    “Not bad. Let’s see a well-developed plan.”

    “Yes!”

    As the enthusiastic military officers retreated, the Minister of Military Affairs asked with concern.

    “Your Excellency, is this really alright?”

    To the Minister’s worry, Jo Mal-saeng responded nonchalantly.

    “If they are nobles and gentlemen, they should follow through. They wouldn’t want to be labeled as ‘hypocrites who go back on their word.'”

    “Isn’t the problem that most of those who talk big can’t actually deliver?”

    “We know from experience, right? Once put to the task, they’ll manage. If not, we’ll hold them accountable for recklessly advising the king, and dump them in the Royal Archives. There’s been complaints about shortages there anyway. Works out well.”

    While explaining the solution to the Minister, Jo Mal-saeng suddenly paused and stroked his beard. After pondering for a moment, he smirked wickedly.

    “Hmm… actually, this could work out well. We could filter out the competent ones for the Minister of Military Affairs, send the mediocre ones to the northern frontier—General Choi and Minister Hwang Hui have been complaining about shortages—and dump the utterly incompetent ones in the Royal Archives… Perfect. Couldn’t be better, right?”

    To Jo Mal-saeng’s rhetorical question, the Minister of Military Affairs nodded. The initial worry on his face was replaced by a cunning smile.

    As the reform progressed, a ‘common enemy’ emerged for the ministers and officials of the court.

    This ‘common enemy’ was the local nobility. Each time petitions from the local nobles arrived, the court officials would unleash a torrent of curses.

    “Damn it! As if we weren’t busy enough already!”

    “If they’re so great, why don’t they come forward and do the work themselves!”

    The orders and tasks from Sejong were challenging but fulfilling. It was clear to them that Joseon was steadily advancing towards becoming a wealthy and powerful nation.

    However, the local nobles were seen as ‘worthless fellows who could be cursed for three days and nights without issue’.

    “Presuming to advise without proper understanding!”

    This was the common sentiment among the central government officials.

    Ironically, the most hostile reactions to the local nobles’ petitions came from the officials of the Office of Censorship and the Office of Inspector-General. This was because the petitions invariably included criticisms of these two bodies.

    -It is the fault of the Office of Censorship and the Office of Inspector-General that they did not prevent His Majesty from making a misjudgment! Therefore, they should be severely punished!

    Each time such a sentence appeared, Sejong would smile and hand the petition to the Chief Royal Secretary and the Chief Inspector.

    “What do you think?”

    “This insolent person must be severely punished!”

    “Indeed!”

    If the petitioner had been present, the Chief Royal Secretary and the Chief Inspector would have erupted in fury, as if they were about to beat them to death.

    The other ministers felt the same. It was human nature to dislike sharing power once one had it.

    However, as the reform progressed and the ministers became exhausted from overwork, they unanimously criticized the petitions whenever they came.

    “Let them try doing it themselves for once!”

    “Do they even understand the field?”

    “Who are they, and where do they live? Find out! Shake them down!”

    ***

    Eventually, the plan devised by the officials of the Minister of Military Affairs and the military department was presented to Jo Mal-saeng.

    “Good! I will submit it as it is!”

    Taking the plan, Jo Mal-saeng rushed to Sejong to present it.

    After carefully reading the plan submitted by Jo Mal-saeng, Sejong ordered the Chief State Councillor.

    “Summon all the Ministers and the heads of the various departments.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    Soon after, the Ministers and heads gathered at the Geunjeongjeon Hall. Once everyone was assembled, Sejong handed the Minister of Military Affairs’s plan to the senior officials.

    “Read this and let’s discuss.”

    “Yes, Your Majesty.”

    The Ministers and heads took turns reading the plan in detail.

    “Huh…”

    After reading the plan, one of the officials, Lee Jik, exhaled in astonishment.

    “In all my years…”

    Lee Jik trailed off, but his expression as he looked at Jo Mal-saeng said everything that needed to be said.

    The faces of the other ministers who read the plan mirrored Lee Jik’s reaction.

    “What do you all think?”

    At Sejong’s question, the chief ministers and ministers looked towards him. After a moment, Maeng Sa-seong spoke up.

    “It’s indeed a wicked plan, one that a true gentleman should not lightly entertain. However, it seems to be the perfect scheme to acquaint those ignorant of reality with the harsh truths of life.”

    “Even though it’s wicked?”

    “Is not reality often harsher?”

    At Maeng Sa-seong’s response, Sejong smiled slyly.

    “The Left State Councillor is correct. The plan proposed by the Minister of Military Affairs is indeed malevolent. But, given the harshness of reality, let’s use this opportunity to broaden the horizons of those frogs in the well.”

    Thus, the ‘Talent Acquisition Plan’ proposed by the Minister of Military Affairs was unanimously approved.

    The historian who recorded this event added the following note:

    -…Thus, with the unanimous consent of the ministers, His Majesty approved the execution of the Minister of Military Affairs’s plan.

    The historian remarks:

    Looking at the current court, it seems all the gentlemen who debate morality have vanished.

    Even in the plan proposed by the Minister of Military Affairs, there’s not a trace of moral principle to be found, no matter how hard one looks. It is filled with deceit.

    Yet, even I, the historian, find myself in favor of the Minister of Military Affairs’s plan, which is truly disheartening.

    I cannot be the only one to perish.

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