[VIEWPOINT]A Common Front With Japanese Friends

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[VIEWPOINT]A Common Front With Japanese Friends

Recently, the South Korean government delivered a written demand to Tokyo for additional changes to the controversial history textbook developed by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, a group of Japanese conservatives.

In a personal response to the statement, Haruki Wada, professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo, wrote "As a member of the Japanese people, I appreciate most heartily that the Korean government has listened to its people and sent a written opinion on the textbook." Reading his writing, I was surprised - and ashamed.

Maybe I felt this way because a public expression of appreciation from a Japanese person was something I had never expected. Until now, the Japanese have turned a deaf ear to all Korean arguments, from the prime minister to the press.

As a progressive scholar specializing in Asian history and in particular the modern Choson period, Mr. Wada led the campaign in Japan against the history textbook. In February, he organized a 889-signature petition asking the Japanese Ministry of Education not to approve the textbook. One of the signatories was Masao Hamabayashi, professor emeritus of Hitotsubashi University. After the textbook passed the government screening, he and fellow historians, including Shinichi Arai, Mikio Sumiya, Soji Takasaki and Naoki Mizuno, pointed out 51 glaring distortions.

Mr. Wada has long been a person of conscience. In the 1960s, the United States Army started transporting soldiers to Vietnam through an airport near where he lived. In response, he led a civic movement protesting the Vietnam War and gave deserting U.S. soldiers protection. After the kidnapping of the then Korean opposition leader Kim Dae-jung in the mid-1970s, he actively participated in the movement to save Mr. Kim's life. His interest in the Korean democracy movement grew and he began to focus his studies on Korea.

He began studying Kim Il-sung, who led resistance to the Japanese occupation of Korea, to challenge the Japanese perception that Koreans did not protest the occupation and were therefore entitled to no compensation. He strongly believes that any research should be confined to the data of experience, and his works are famous for their positivism.

But Mr. Wada's actions have not always met Korean approval. He established the Asian Women's Fund to open a way for the "comfort women" to receive compensation from non-governmental organizations. Koreans largely rejected the fund, insisting on official compensation directly from the Japanese government. Mr. Wada says his initiative was still worthwhile, because it publicized the issue in Japan.

It must at times be difficult for Mr. Wada to campaign against prevailing beliefs in his society and encourage self-scrutiny in a nation particularly loathe to inspect its own record. But Mr. Wada is not giving up. At the end of this month, when the first copy of the textbook is issued, he hopes to lead an even bigger contingent of historians in protest.

I feel Korea has failed to provide its Japanese allies with support and encouragement. The mood in Korea is predominantly one of anger and reproach. There is no sense of solidarity with these conscientious Japanese people.

The matter of the textbook, in fact, concerns the way Japan wishes to educate its children. The Japanese protest against the book must be fueled in part by their concern for their own. Our argument is that for a bright future in this region, the past must be understood accurately. Considering that this notion holds the unity of the region as its prize, clearly these brave Japanese campaigners are one of our brightest hopes.

The time is not yet too late. We can write letters to encourage Mr. Wada and his fellow fighters to let them know they are no longer fighting a lonely fight. Let us cheer them on.


The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Hong Eun-hee

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