[Letter to the editor]Teacher says column had inaccuraciesI am writing in response to Harold Piper’s article, “Help Koreans move on from victimhood” (Opinion, May 14). The focus of his article relates to the current controversy over “So Far from the Bamboo Grove”(1986) written by Yoko Kawashima Watkins. He mentions that his daughter attended a teachers’ conference that I helped to organize at the University of Washington in April 2007. I would like an opportunity to respond to his statements.
Piper, a former professor at Yonsei University, stated that I reported that the book was filled with inaccuracies and mistakes, but that I only provided the K-12 teachers with one such example: Watkins’ incorrect date for the second atomic bomb over Japan.
One of my paragraphs to the teachers in a post-conference e-mail contained this information from “So Far from the Bamboo Grove,” a book that has been on recommended reading lists for young people in schools all over the United States:
“The Koreans are depicted as people who rape little Japanese (approximately five references to this), kill Japanese children, ransack people’s homes and throw dead bodies off of cliffs. The book mentions that Koreans were drunk celebrating the Japanese defeat and the end of occupation and that they were ‘hunting Japanese maidens for their pleasure and whenever they found one they dragged her outside’ (page 87). On page 88 it reads ‘that a Korean man was on top of a girl. She was kicking wildly and screaming.’ ”
Watkins omits any reference to the thousands of Korean women who served as sex slaves to the Japanese army or perspective as to how Korean men might take revenge for the terrible exploitation of women.
If Watkins had made more of an effort to provide background on the experience of the Koreans during Japanese occupation, the book would be less upsetting to Koreans and the public at large. It was a Chinese parent who first spoke out at my school about the use of this book. His family had lived in Nanjing.
Piper mentioned that I am under the employ of the South Korean government. This is not true. I serve as president of the Korea Academy for Educators (www.KoreaAcademy.org), a non- profit organization, and in this capacity I have organized seminars and workshops offered at the Korean Cultural Center, Los Angeles. I have never been told to support any point of view or to speak out against “So Far from the Bamboo Grove.”
When Watkins wrote her book, there were few books about Korea for young people. Now there are many, and they are written with greater accuracy and sensitivity, and do not deny Koreans their humanity.
Mary Connor, president, Korea Academy for Educators