[Letter to the editor]Objection to depiction of historyThe book “So Far From the Bamboo Grove,” written by Japanese-American novelist Yoko Kawashima-Watkins, came into the Korean media spotlight recently. This book is the story of a 12-year-old Japanese girl surviving the horrors of the Second World War.
Some Koreans argue that Koreans should not criticize the book with overly emotional nationalism and oversensitive feelings for having been victimized by imperial Japan in the past. They say Koreans should deal with it calmly and maturely. However, I think they are overlooking three important points in this controversy: place, readers and contents.
First, students in the United States, not in Korea, will read the book. Second, readers are not Korean adults, but young U.S. students who do not know about the Japanese colonial rule over Korea from 1910 until 1945. It would not be a big problem if Korean adults who know history very well read this book. Because U.S. students, including second- or third-generation ethnic Koreans, will get the wrong perception from reading the book, Korean children will face the consequences in the future. Third, though some parts of the book are based on historical facts, young U.S. children will have false ideas of “poor Japanese, bad Koreans” after reading the book.
I met with the chairperson of the [House of Representatives] education committee in Washington to express the Korean stance carefully. I said we only want children to learn historical truth and facts about Korea-Japan relations. I said we are not devaluing the Japanese-American writer who has the right to express [herself], and not criticizing Japan. Imagine if this kind of book was written by a German girl after the Nazi defeat in the Second World War, or by an English girl who left America after the U.S. achieved independence from Great Britain. I wonder which school in the U.S. would recommend it because the book is very moving.
What is worse, 300 million Americans do not know about Japan’s harsh colonial rule of Korea. Most world history textbooks with more than 900 pages describe Japanese colonial rule over Korea in three or four sentences. There are no questions about human rights regarding “comfort women” who were sexually enslaved for the imperial Japanese army, or the Nanjing massacre in China. U.S. history teachers also do not know of Japan’s colonial rule over Korea, the Japanese government’s denial of atrocities imperial Japan committed against Koreans and other Asians and sensitivity about history in Korea-Japan relations. Therefore, U.S. schools could recommend the book to their students because it is impressive literature.
I know how difficult it is to make foreigners understand our history. The Korean Embassy and Korean communities in the United States have asked schools in the U.S. to drop the book from their curricula because we want U.S. people to know a more accurate history of Korea-Japan relations, not because we want to find fault with the book.
Kwon Tae-myeon, South Korean Consul General in Washington
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