18 September 2008

Revisionist History

As I was out and about in and around downtown Seoul, I came across another banner, courtesy of the Korean Railroad Workers' Union. It read: "Mad cow-tainted American beef threatens Korean families and farmers, and as such, the railroad workers refuse to transport it." Of course, this is a continuation of the American beef hysteria - and more importantly, the people's disapproval of Lee Myung-bak and his coddling of the US Republicans.

But that is not my biggest concern today - a bigger news item popped up on today's Joongang Ilbo (published as The Korea Daily in major US cities). As if naming 23 books as "subversive" (including designating patriotic American books as "anti-American") was not enough, South Korea's Ministry of National Defence now wants the nation's textbooks re-written, to stamp out what it calls the "leftist bias" in the public education system. (It also ties into Lee Myung-bak's plans to reveal the number of unionized teachers at each public school.) Some details of the proposed changes are as follows:
  • President Park Chung-hee, who collaborated with the Japanese colonial rulers under the name Masao Takaki, and who was the nation's unitary executive from 1961 to 1979, is currently described in textbooks as "a man above the Constitution," but the Ministry of National Defence wants him described as "the visionary who masterminded the nation's industrialization."
  • The inaugural President Syngman Rhee, an autocratic Korean-American who led South Korea during the war, is currently described as "a dictator who used the division and the war as excuses to consolidate his grip on power." It is generally well agreed among Koreans of all political stripes that Rhee didn't get much done during his 12 years in power. The proposed changes will describe him as "the founder of Korean democracy and a patriotic anticommunist fighter." No mentions whatsoever will be made of his war crimes.
  • President Chun Doo-hwan, a Reagan puppet who seized power in a 1979 coup and killed hundreds of pro-democracy protesters in 1980, and ruled until 1988, will be described in much more positive terms, including his winning the rights to host the 1988 Summer Olympics, overseeing an economic boom, and being the first South Korean President to peacefully step down at the end of his term. His negative aspects, including the coup, ties to Reagan, support of the Unification Church, and eventual death sentence for his coup (later commuted by a leftist regime), will be left out altogether.
  • Currently, North Korea is described as "an autocratic personality cult of Kim Il-sung, succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il." The proposed changes will change that to simply "an extraordinarily evil regime, even by communist standards."
South Korea is currently up in arms over Japan's own right-wing revisionist history books, which describe the Korean-administered island of Dokdo, or Liancourt Rocks, as the Japanese territory of Takeshima, as well as Japan's World War II-era war crimes as "liberation of the Asian peoples from Western powers," and even the Comfort Women as "voluntary sex workers." But given that South Korea wants to teach revisionist history of its own, the cries against Japanese revisionist history are starting to sound a lot more hollow - especially given that the very conservative forces that want the revisionist history taught in South Korea tend to be soft on Japan (to a point where they want to thank the Japanese colonizers for industrializing and modernizing Korea - never mind that Japan was really exploiting Korea instead).

I do believe that democratic traditions, which developed despite the decades of dictatorships, will triumph over the military in the end, here in South Korea. The children of South Korea need to learn facts, not propaganda. I strongly denounce the Lee Myung-bak government for putting its own selfish goals (including meddling in US politics) above the well-being of the South Korean people.

And in the wake of this news item, I have decided to strike the War Memorial, with its McCarthyist propaganda galore, off of my list of place to visit during my stay. I had wanted to go there to study military history, to pay homage to my 11th Century ancestor General Seo Hui (whose bust is at the memorial), and to look at some pro-peace artwork, but I cannot, in good conscience, support the South Korean military and its mentality anymore.