History education must be improved
However, then-Minister of Defense Shin Sung-mo bragged in a press conference in January 1950, “We have all the preparation to recover the lost territory and are waiting for the order.” The annual report by the United States Military Advisory Group to the Republic of Korea had said that “the level of the ROK Army in June 1949 was similar to the U.S. Army at the time of the Civil War in 1775.”
Since liberation and independence movements were fast spreading around the globe at the time, leftist intellectuals in developed countries were not so friendly toward South Korea. L’Humanite, a newspaper published in Paris and the organ of the French Communist Party (PCF), reported on June 26, 1950: “A serious war broke out in Korea by the puppets of the United States. The military of the People’s Republic proudly responded to the invasion of the South Korean forces.”
In the meantime, Jean-Paul Sartre initially claimed a northward invasion by the South, and when it became clear that it was the North that started the war, he insisted that Pyongyang fell into the trap of the South, orchestrated by the United States, and committed an irreversible mistake.
Now, no one can deny that the 1950-53 Korean War was started by North Korea as a scheme with the Soviet Union and China. Not just China but also the Soviet Union, which sent its MiG-15 force of the 64th Fighter Corps to the war, took part in the battles.
But does the young generation understand the facts of the Korean War? Last week, President Park Geun-hye pointed out that about 70 percent of our students think that the Korean War was a northward invasion, igniting a debate on the need to strengthen our history education. But some argued that the students might have misunderstood a question on the survey and thought that “northern invasion” was an invasion of the North by the South. Saenuri Party lawmaker Lee Hak-jae requested the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education survey students with a more straightforward question. When asked, “Who started the Korean War?” A good 86.8 percent of the respondents said, “North Korea,” to our relief.
But in another survey by the Ministry of Security and Public Administration, 52.7 percent of the middle and high school students did not know the year that the Korean War broke out. While older generations may think that is pathetic, we need to pay attention to the trend that the Korean War is gradually becoming a part of history. I grew up hearing personal stories of the war. My mother had escaped from guerillas when she was taking refuge on Jeju Island. And my uncle is a war veteran and still receives pension benefits.
But the young generation must feel different toward the war than my generation. Experience and history have different gravity. As of 2010, among the 47.99 million South Koreans, 7.61 million are over 60 and lived through the Korean War, even as infants. Further, 40.38 million were born after the armistice agreement. The Korean War was an experience for 7 million while it is a part of history for 40 million. The gap will only grow bigger. The focus is already shifting from the “memories of the war” to the “war in history.” That’s why we need to pay more attention to history education.
* The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by NOH JAE-HYUN