Money can’t change history
When National Assembly Speaker Chung Ui-hwa was visiting the United States on March 4, he met with a group of U.S. Congressmen who are friendly towards Korea.
Rep. Mike Honda said he was against Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s possible address in U.S. Congress and informed him that the Japanese government had started a $500 million campaign to change history, including in U.S. textbooks. Honda emphasized that it was wrong to deny history and spend money on changing how it is recorded. In 2007, he spearheaded the resolution on “comfort women” - the euphemistic phrase often used to describe women and girls, often Koreans, forced into sexual slavery by Japan during World War II - in the House of Representatives.
Honda is not the only person to confirm that Japan’s government is lobbying to change history. According to Reuters, Tokyo has budgeted more than $15 million to fund Japanese studies in nine overseas universities, including Georgetown and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The program “coincides with efforts by conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to correct perceived biases in accounts of the wartime past - moves critics say are an attempt to whitewash history,” Reuters wrote. MIT and Georgetown University will receive $5 million each while the Japan Foundation, a government-run cultural promotion institute, is funding six overseas universities with $200,000.
In the United States, some say lobbyist groups in Washington, D.C., are excited by the project. Kim Dong-seok, director of grass-roots organization Korean American Civic Empowerment, said lobbyists who have been contacting Japan are eager to win the contract upon learning about the funding.
Japan has every right to allocate a budget for public diplomacy to the United States. There is no reason for a third party to criticize it for spending its own money to fund Japan studies and enhance its relationship with the United States. But it is a completely different story if the purpose is not to promote Japan but to whitewash wartime history, as Honda worries. The Japanese government is waging a “war of money” by bringing history disputes with Asian neighbors to the United States.
Above all, spending money to deny history will only remind people of the Pacific War. It would not be in Japan’s national interest if its denial of comfort women leads to highlighting its abuse of U.S. prisoners of war.
A country needs to focus on promoting the merits for public diplomacy, and covering up the flaws will only lead to controversies. The Japanese government must understand that the nation has been recognized by the international community as a leader in Asia because of its present, not because it has camouflaged its past.
*The author is the Washington correspondent for the JoongAng Ilbo. JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 16, Page 29
by CHAE BYUNG-GUN