[OUTLOOK]Appealing to rationality winsWhen anti-Japanese sentiment reached its peak four years ago due to Japan’s distortion of its history textbooks, I received a call from a Japanese acquaintance. He was a typical liberal intellectual of the post-war generation. He said that he had no intention of teaching his daughter with the wrong textbooks made by the right-wing forces and that this sentiment would be shared by ordinary Japanese people who have common sense.
He asked me whether the response of the Korean people, which was shown on television there, wasn’t too violent. He said Japan built a plural democratic society after World War II and anyone had the freedom to make textbooks. Just as there are left-leaning textbooks, now right-leaning textbooks are published, and the final judgment on these textbooks will depend on students’ parents and teachers in the long run.
The actual adoption rate of the right-wing textbook was a mere 0.04 percent of all Japanese history textbooks. This was the choice of the sound civic society in Japan, rather than the result of our strong anti-Japanese campaign.
Upon closer examination, the reason right-wing Japanese published biased history textbooks was to reach the ordinary Japanese of the post-war generations. Since the 1990s, the Japanese economy has lost its vitality and Japanese society has become stagnant as well, for which the pre-war rightist politicians blamed the absence of proper history education.
Unlike today’s young people, who have no views of the country or ambitious spirit, young people of the pre-war generations joined the kamikaze fighter pilot squads and died heroic deaths for their country. The rightists’ intention is to restore the post-war generations’ lofty view of the country and revitalize the stagnant Japanese society by beautifying the past through history education and emphasizing a sense of Japanese superiority.
The reason behind the right-wing’s raising of the territorial issue, including the Tokto islands, also lies in the fact that it is an issue that appeals to the Japanese sense of patriotism. I cannot help but pity the Japanese rightists’ efforts to appeal to the hearts of the younger generations, going so far as to distort history without considering their neighboring countries.
How was our response? I think we considered the Japanese as one and targeted all Japanese people for criticism. We stopped Japanese-language broadcasting on the Saemaul express train and even banned young Japanese students from taking school excursions to Korea. Tearing down the building that formerly housed the Japanese colonial government, setting fire to the Japanese national flag and cutting fingers cannot solve the historical problems and territorial disputes.
Considering the national sentiment against Japan, the Koreans’ emotional reaction is understandable, but we should also think how our response will be perceived by ordinary Japanese people, particularly those of the post-war generations. Our reactions may have been what the Japanese rightists intended.
Despite the ultra-nationalists’ maneuvering, the way to resolve the history problems is to help ordinary Japanese people properly perceive their nation’s past problems according to universal human values based on a mature and plural democracy.
We should then be able to convince them based on very rational and reasonable logic. We should win ordinary Japanese people over to our side by separating them from ultra-nationalists.
In fact, it was a Japanese novelist’s tenacity that ascertained the assassination of Queen Min, the last empress of the Joseon dynasty, by Japanese samurais, and it was also a Japanese civic group, not ours, that raised the issue of sex slaves for Japanese soldiers during the nation’s colonial rule. Moreover, the material that is often quoted in media reports nowadays as decisive historical evidence that proves Tokto is our land was discovered by a Japanese professor at Kyoto University.
Let’s be aware of the fact that despite its weakened strength, Japan has a sound civic society that is capable of rational judgements, not swayed by the right-wing logic. In resolving the problems of history and territory, now we need to have healthy, close ties between Korean and Japanese civic groups, among others.
Hanryu, or the Korean culture wave, is an important channel that enables ordinary Japanese people to listen to our story. We should solve the problem of historical disputes while maintaining the Korea boom.
Shimane prefecture’s declaration of “Takeshima Day” enraged our people. Our government announced a new doctrine for our diplomatic policy toward Japan. The doctrine took the form of a hard-line policy but did not lose its flexibility.
If domestic political factors dominate both governments’ reactions, the situation will become uncontrollable. Let’s trust the government. A crisis is always a chance. I will give the post-war generation Japanese people an opportunity to judge whether the Japanese rightists are right or whether we are right. Now is the time for a hard-line but levelheaded and reasonable approach.
* The writer is a professor at the Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Yoon Duk-min