History has no political affiliation
The controversial proposal to revive state authority in the writing of history textbooks has, not surprisingly, developed into a political showdown between the conservative ruling and liberal opposition parties. The Saenuri Party held an emergency conference and approved support for the government’s plan to regain control over history textbooks. Its members also accused left-leaning textbooks of spreading pro-North Korean ideology.
The main opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy (NPAD), meanwhile, has been staging street rallies, lambasting the government move as a “coup on history.” It threatened to boycott next year’s budget bill as well as the labor reform deal. It is also considering filing a lawsuit against the government.
This is a worrying development and the results could be catastrophic. State affairs will come to an abrupt halt if the main opposition party chooses to boycott legislative activities, further polarizing society.
We should be discussing how to teach history to young impressionable children in a proper manner so they can build a healthy and fair perspective on their country and the world. History must be free of ideological disputes and should not be used to divide a nation.
The opposition is worried that textbooks could be used as a way to glorify conservative and pro-American views, as they were under the Park Chung Hee regime. But no government can write history textbooks in its favor in a modern democratic society. The idea of state authority over history books has been revived because the current textbooks provided by for-profit publishers have all been too strict on South Korea’s trajectory - and overly tolerant of North Korea’s direction. The Saneuri should also stop attaching a “pro-North Korea” stigma to any and all liberal views. Instead, it should attempt to rationalize to the public why state interference would be better in ensuring objectivity and balance. The heart of the debate should concern the production of better textbooks.
We should also discuss how we can develop history education to provide our children with a more open-minded perspective. Politicians must not use this controversy for political gain. The aim should be to turn out textbooks in a balanced fashion - regardless of which party has a ruling majority. Civilian oversight must be strengthened so that the concerns of the opposition are not realized.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 16, Page 34