[Viewpoint]Time to trade truthsIt is not an extraordinary fact that the memories of people who experience the same incident differ from person to person, according to the situation of each one. People call a love affair a romance when it happens to them, but they call it a scandal when it involves others. If the incident is not a romance, but a historic incident of great significance, then the difference can create serious problems.
Accounts of the nightmarish April 3, 1948 incident, and the violence that followed, which cost 30,000 innocent citizens on Jeju Island their lives, differ according to which group the people belonged to ― the police, the military, anti-communist youth organizations from northwestern Korea, armed leftist insurgents and ordinary residents of Jeju all tell different stories.
The police attributed the responsibility for the massacre to the military or to the anti-communist organization by saying, “We were actually under complete military control.”
The military, for its part, claimed that “the police were responsible for the massacre,” or “the real cause of the mass killing was the violence committed by the anti-communist organization.”
The anti-communist youth organization, which was composed of youngsters who had escaped from communist rule in North Korea, said that they were exploited by then-President Syngman Rhee.
Jeju residents who became insurgents after hiding in the mountains said, “Although we did not have any ideological convictions, the rest of the world treated us as if we did. We went to the mountains because there was no other alternative.”
Ordinary Jeju residents recalled that both the punitive forces and the leftist armed insurgents attacked them. There were no wrongdoers, only victims.
If peoples’ memories of the April 3 incident, which occurred relatively recently, differ so widely, it is no wonder that the gap in understanding between Korea, China and Japan regarding the blood-tainted modern history of East Asia from the later half of the 19th century until the middle of the 20th century is so huge. Hoping that Korea, China and Japan might share the same understanding is in itself too much. The meaning of Aug. 15, 1945 is interpreted in a different way by the three countries.
So, how do the middle and high school textbooks of the three countries describe Aug. 15, 1945?
At first, Korean textbooks emphasized the national liberation from Japanese colonial rule, but they later shifted focus to the independence movement and the struggle against Japanese rule.
They especially emphasize the “legitimacy of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai.”
After 2000, Korean textbooks began to include accounts of the armed struggle of the Korean independence army against Japanese rule in Manchuria and the activities of the Korean communist party.
However, Japanese textbooks explain the background of Japan’s surrender to the allied forces on Aug. 15, 1945 with descriptions of how Okinawa was turned into a battle field, the U.S. air-raids and subsequent evacuation of people from urban areas and the dropping of atomic bombs upon Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the description of such incidents, there lies the implication that the Japanese were victimized, too.
Chinese textbooks emphasize “the victory of the anti-Japanese struggle.” They faithfully reflect the guidelines of the Chinese education ministry that says, “In August 1945, imperial Japan declared its surrender to the allied forces. The people of China won the final victory in the war against Japan.”
The second-term joint history study committee, in which scholars from Korea and Japan participated, convened its first meeting in Seoul yesterday.
The joint history study project was launched in 2001 when a controversy over Japanese history textbooks created a row between the two countries.
The first-term joint study committee revealed a conspicuous gap of understanding regarding modern and contemporary history between scholars in the two countries.
On such issues as the evaluation of Japanese colonial rule, where the opinions of both sides differ greatly, the committee concluded the report by writing the claims of both sides next to each other.
The road ahead for the second-term committee will not be smooth, either. But I think the meeting is the more significant because the obstacles on the road are the bigger.
The differences in the understandings of history between Korea and Japan have been left unresolved because neither side could find a common approach due to the situation. The demand for an apology from Korea and the superficial expression of regret by Japanese leaders, which was later abrogated by the absurd remarks of politicians, have been repeated for decades. Then there was the Japanese prime minister’s visit to Yasukuni, where World War II war criminals were enshrined, and then, on top of all that, there is the comfort women issue.
Among Japanese people who claim to know Korea, there are even some who dare to offer a strange analysis of our psychology. For example, Katsuhiro Kuroda, the Seoul correspondent of the Sankei Shimbun, said this.
“Korean people actually do not want to solve problems related to past history, because they will lose the excuse to blame Japan for many of their problems. [By raising the past history issue] Koreans can get satisfaction and a good feeling because they can treat the Japanese as ethically inferior beings.”
I would like to have more hope about the prospects for the joint history committee meeting, which has now been resumed after a two-year adjournment. I don’t mean to make a political compromise. I sincerely hope that the meeting provides an occasion in which the memories of the two peoples are exchanged, sincerely, from both sides.
Last December, China and Japan also launched a China-Japan joint history committee.
At its first meeting, Japanese scholars admitted that Japan committed the Nanjing massacre.
At the second meeting, held in Tokyo last month, such topics as the Yasukuni shrine and Nanjing massacre were selected as subjects for research. I would like to propose that a committee is formed in which scholars from the three countries study history together. China is Korea’s largest trading partner, and the trade volume between Japan and China exceeded that between Japan and the United States last year, for the first time in history. Let’s not stop at trading commodities, but let’s actively exchange an understanding of past history with each other. And the basic principle of these exchanges should be putting ourselves in the shoes of others.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Noh Jae-hyun