[VIEWPOINT]History Wars Are Raging in Classrooms

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[VIEWPOINT]History Wars Are Raging in Classrooms

The recent controversy over Japanese history textbooks may turn into a long battle that could take years to resolve. None of Korea's available responses is really anything more than political maneuvering. Our anger is nothing more than cathartic, and diplomatic action to halt the dissemination of the distorted views is nothing more than a stop-gap measure.

But we can anchor our hope on the silent majority. Market principles can be applied to this issue if we direct our attention to the "consumers" of those textbooks. Civic organizations and intellectuals in Japan are raising their voices to stop the Japanese government from selecting the controversial textbooks for use in classrooms. It is time for Koreans to pour their energies into similar action.

We need to turn our focus, increasingly fixed on the fields of science and technology, back to history and the humanities. The Japanese will not respect a country where humanities and cultural studies are ignored and the study of national history is abandoned - a country that only looks forward, never back.

History was once referred to as the record of the strong. The only way to survive is to win the battle. We should seek a way to become strong rather than expressing the anger of the weak. We are living in a time that requires international alliances and creative strategies.

The history war is not confined to Japan. The Japanese government and Japanese companies have been carrying out a sustained, combined attack on history classrooms in the United States for more than 20 years. Japan is pouring money into schools in the United States. It views classrooms as a farm where it can grow its future and is concentrating its efforts on attracting young students from kindergarten to high school to Japanese studies and a Japanese perspective. Last year Korea invited only 19 American teachers to visit Korea. Japan invited 1,000.

But an important breakthrough has happened. Classroom material created by a Korean received this year's Franklin M. Buchanan Prize in the United States. This happened at the same time Japanese textbooks were stirring controversy. The Franklin M. Buchanan Prize recognizes the best instructional materials on Asia developed for elementary, secondary or adult education. The Association for Asia Studies awards the prize. This year's award-winning teaching materials on Korea was prepared by Kim Yong-jin, a researcher at the Korea Society, and funded by Samsung Electronics.

The evaluation committee praised the three-volume kit for its clarity, original approach and its attractiveness to young readers. It employs an innovative method to depict Korean society under Japanese colonial rule. It encourages American students to imagine for themselves the realities of living under the rule of imperialist Japan. The books asked American students what they would do if they were prohibited from using English and were forced to use a foreign language in their everyday lives. It asked readers what they would do if their names were suddenly changed into foreign ones and what they would pray for if they were forced to worship at Japanese temples.

Imaginative fiction attracts more interest and a wider readership than factual books that list the injustices done to a country by another. Although there are only two novels written in English about the Japanese colonial period, their influence on American readers has been significant.

Some American teachers feel awkward that Japan's educational lobbying activities have succeeded in bringing them closer to a revisionist perspective in which the wrongdoer in history transforms itself into a victim.

While we do nothing but get upset, Japan silently throws history education in other countries into confusion to benefit itself. We must pay attention to this process.


The writer is a political commentator based in the United States.

by Choi Kyu-jang

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