중앙데일리

[OUTLOOK]Diehard Hawks Don't Dominate Japan

The bulk of Japan's society also sees nationalistic movements as an important social issue.

Apr 13,2001
The standoff in Seoul-Tokyo ties over the history textbook fray finally developed to the point that Seoul recalled its ambassador to Tokyo. Our latest response is comparable to declaring a temporary breakup with a neighbor for failing to keep his delinquent son on a firm leash. But is it proper to fly into an unqualified rage when the neighbor also finds his son a headache and tries his best to exert parental control?

There is no question that the recently approved history textbooks whitewashing Japan's war aggression should be criticized. Our indignation with the Japanese Ministry of Education is also not unreasonable, for it did not try to verify the ideology of the newly approved textbooks, even after going into the effort of instructing the publishers to make 137 revisions. Japanese officials claim that one cannot verify the ideology of historians. But verification means making use of the state power system. As long as the Japanese government decided to intervene in the textbook issue by using state power, it should have used that power more extensively.

The Korean press kept reporting that the Japanese Education Ministry's failure to intervene more effectively was deliberate. But wouldn't the Japanese government officials want to protest if we give them no credit for the efforts they made and accuse them of being accomplices to the right-wing's distortion of history? Wouldn't they resent it if we refuse to even listen to their explanation that descriptions of the so-called "comfort women," with which we took the greatest issue, are included in virtually every history textbook used in Japanese high schools?

The current stalemate in bilateral relations stemmed from our tendency of equating Japan's right-wing to Japan itself. But we saw countless Japanese teachers, scientists, civilians and groups from various sectors of the society, and even those who had directly participated in World War II, protest against the controversial textbooks. We also heard that Japanese teachers and civic groups attempted to stop moves by the rightists and members of the Liberal Democratic Party to adopt the textbooks. Are they not a part of Japan?

Even before we began to lodge our protests, Japan saw the nationalistic movements by its right-wing forces as a serious problem. It, too, criticized the movements. The Korean press claims that the forces critical of rightist movements are too weak and that the right-wing is the mainstream in Japan. But this is not true. It was because their influence on the public was weakening that Japan's rightists decided to write textbooks glorifying the nation's past. Only about 10,000 out of the 100 million Japanese actively support such rightist movements.

Korea emphasizes that hundreds of thousands of the books written by right-wing organizations were sold in Japan. We should realize, however, that many of these books were bought and distributed by the rightists themselves. It cannot be denied, of course, that the books influenced some younger Japanese.

Rashly condemning every Japanese as Korea's enemy because Japanese intellectuals are not yet attaining visible results in reeducating the young Japanese, however, only makes the situation more complex. There are teachers and other people in Japanese society who are another face of the Japan that we condemn. These people are far more mature than we believe them to be. These people claim that they can prevent the controversial history textbooks from being adopted for use at schools, making their actual adoption perhaps not a perfect zero but close to zero anyway. We have to trust that these people are the majority in Japan and watch their hard fight. While criticism is necessary, taking such extreme actions as burning effigies of Japanese leaders and writing protests in blood only end up building greater barriers in the hearts of the two peoples.

The so-called "right-wing" will never vanish in any country as long as a state system exists. Are there not neo-Nazis in Germany today? We must recognize that rightists will never disappear. In short, we should not vent our anger at the existence of the right-wing itself, but respond calmly based on the premise that rightists will exist forever.

We have to prevent diehard conservatives in both countries from continuously wrecking the hard-won bilateral friendship. We must not allow bilateral relations to be repeatedly sacrificed by politicians who claim to represent the people but are actually more interested in fortifying their political bases. It is peace that is important, as well as building relations that lead to peace.

This is not just because practical gains and losses are at stake, such as our economic ties with Japan and bilateral cooperation over North Korea issues. A relationship is a fragile thing that can easily break up because of a tiny crack. Much effort is needed from both parties. Conflicts easily take place but peace is difficult to achieve. It is time for both Korea and Japan to find the wisdom necessary to go about achieving this difficult task.


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The writer is a professor of Japanese literature at Sejong University.


by Park Yu-ha




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