[Viewpoint] The challenge of revisionism“In the republic system, there is no official history. History should not be written by law, but by historians,” said French President Jacques Chirac, who served from 1995 to 2007.
The remarks show a clear contrast to the Chinese government’s position on Vice President Xi Jinping’s Oct. 25 statement.
Xi described the Korean War as “a just war to defend peace against aggression from the United States.” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said Xi made the remarks on behalf of the Chinese government and his position is the official position of China.
Whether there is an official history or not, countries around the world are currently suffering from the trend of historical revisionism. In 2009, the Russian government established a presidential committee to counter any attempts at home and abroad to rewrite history that would go against the country’s interest. The Russian government has reevaluated Joseph Stalin’s achievements including the victory of World War II, while actively rebutting some scholars’ arguments that Stalin is partially responsible for the start of World War II along with Adolf Hitler.
The Soviet-era had a joke that “Russia is the only country in the world that cannot predict its past.” Scholars from around the world are now paying attention to how Russia’s historical revisionism will unfold.
China is also a subject of attention. During the future political development, China will inevitably rewrite its history. The world is highly interested in how China will depict the sacrifices made during the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution.
Rewriting history is not just an issue for Russia and China. Western European countries and the United States have done their own revisionism. For instance, the identity of the French Revolution, which has been acknowledged as having been started by the bourgeois class, has become unclear just like the Middle Ages, which some now no longer see as a dark period.
In the United States, the history dispute appears to be expanding into a national split. Early last month, for example, the Texas Board of Education approved a social studies curriculum that will put a conservative stamp on textbooks, creating controversy. It was an expression of displeasure toward academia and the education community’s apparent left-leaning tendency.
In the U.S. educational community, centrist and liberal voices had been predominant, while the conservative stamp has hardly been seen for many years.
The conservatives now worry that history textbooks at public schools are filled with anti-Christian and pro-Islamic views. The conservatives were particularly bothered by the depiction in the U.S. of Thanksgiving. According to the description, Thanksgiving came about because of the settlers appreciation of the Native Americans who had helped them to go through winter safely, rather than anything to do with God.
One of the standards that differentiates advanced countries from others is pluralism in writing history. In advanced countries, the diversity in history writing guarantees that what emerges is right. Debate about homosexual relationships and physical punishment are part of the struggle for an emerging country as it enters the stage of an advanced nation.
Korea has already experienced historical revisionism. Both the right and the left have raised the issue. The idea that it is not important who fired the first shot in the Korean War or that the Japanese colonization of Korea had some positive effects on the country are two arguments that have stirred debate in this country.
Just like the recent court ruling to retry the case of Jo Bong-am, a leftist leader who was sentenced to death on charges of espionage and treason, there will be increasing demands for historical reinterpretation in the future.
Although it is possible that disputes over historical interpretation will worsen at home and abroad, it is difficult to find a good example for Korea to follow. Historical revisionism is a result of tension in the world. Korea has now become an emerging power, and it is time for the country to find a history writing model to complement its status.
While minimizing the tension of historical revisionism, Korea must find a way to use its history as a stepping stone to strengthen the country and to defend the nation’s interests.
*The writer is an editor of the JoongAng Sunday.
By Kim Whan-yung