Books and the military

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Books and the military

The Ministry of National Defense has failed to move beyond its anachronistic ideas.

It has prohibited soldiers from taking certain best-selling books into camp, labeling them ideologically unhealthy.

It has also suggested alterations, that include whitewashing the Chun Doo Hwan regime, on high school textbooks. The ministry has since withdrawn its proposal for textbook revisions due to vehement opposition, but the incident once again confirmed what a serious problem it has in its perception of reality.

Some existing textbooks distort history, challenging the legitimacy of the Republic of Korea and applauding North Korea. They downplay the South’s economic growth and skim over the North’s responsibility in triggering the Korean War.

With such content, it is no wonder that the Defense Ministry has proposed changes. The ministry’s view that the Syngman Rhee administration contributed to stopping the spread of communism is valid.

But the ministry went too far by denying the true nature of the Chun administration and praising it for stopping pro-North activities. The Chun administration was an anti-democratic, violent regime. It destroyed the hierarchy of the military, used force and committed the 1980 massacre in Gwangju. It shut down the press and merged media companies. It was corrupt.

Rather than stopping the activities of pro-North leftists, it fostered them. The ministry is taking such a friendly view toward the Chun administration that we wonder if they’re missing their good old days.

The ministry’s evaluation of the Park Chung Hee administration should also be reconsidered. It proposed changing the textbooks’ labeling of Park as “a president who existed above the constitution” to “a president who contributed to the modernization of Korea.” Most would probably agree that both descriptions fit Park, so replacing one with the other is inappropriate.

Since the launch of the Lee Myung-bak administration, right-wingers have argued that the left-leaning view of history must be revised.

But what really matters are objective truth and balanced views. Rightist views, such as the argument that the Japanese colonial period has modernized Korea, must not be used either. The ministry’s proposals contained biases based on a right-leaning viewpoint. The Defense Ministry must give more thought to historical accuracy and the tide of time.

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