[Editorial] History Distortion

Seoul Should Brace for Claims by Neighboring Countries

Korean history has come under serious threats. The nation now faces a daunting challenge of defending its national history from encroachment by two neighboring giants. Japan has persistently tried to rationalize its colonial rule of Korea, and is even intensifying territorial disputes over Tokto, a group of islets between the two countries. And the increasingly powerful and nationalistic China is attempting to incorporate the most important part of Korea¡¯s ancient history, the Koguryo Kingdom, into its own. The Japanese education ministry is now examining the latest revision of a ``new¡¯¡¯ history textbook for middle school students. The textbook contains more contents to gloss over Japan¡¯s wartime atrocities and justify its colonization of Asian neighbors. Its 2001 version was adopted by less than 0.1 percent of middle schools thanks to the opposition by conscientious Japanese intellectuals and civic groups. Korea recalled its ambassador, froze private-sector exchanges and put off the cultural market opening at the time.

This year, Japan¡¯s ultra-rightists appear determined to raise the adoption ratio to 10 percent, with the support of some politicians. These politicians are advised to exercise self-restraint. We also hope the Japanese government will make bold corrections of descriptions that might deepen its neighbors¡¯ pains. The promoters of the new textbook call for overcoming ``masochistic¡¯¡¯ historical views but for most other Asian countries, Tokyo¡¯s official position is still closer to ``sadistic.¡¯¡¯

Japan¡¯s denial of dark historical memories not only hurts the East Asian cooperation but also hinders its own growth as a regional leader. Some Japanese ask why they should keep apologizing: the answer is they have not apologized genuinely even once. In contrast, Germany has made heartfelt apologies and sufficient compensation to their former victims, obtained their forgiveness and played a central role in Europe¡¯s integration. Japan, which copied the German state model in the past, should follow this as well.

More seriously, Tokyo is now spreading its diplomatic propaganda across the world, with considerable success. In a latest instance, France¡¯s ARTE TV marked Tokto with the Japanese name of Takeshima and called it a territory of Japan. The number of Internet Web sites that describe the islets in both names has increased from 600 last July to 2,000. In another example of historical distortion, Yahoo, the largest U.S. portal site, describes Pyongyang as a colony of China for 2,000 years.

Something should be done quite urgently, or Korea will be regarded as a tributary of China for thousands of years that was modernized thanks to the Japanese colonialists. The government should act now to rectify widespread historical distortions and international prejudices against the nation. It ought to conduct more active propagation of our history and culture to the world. At home, it needs to revive the national history as a compulsory subject at schools and include it in all state exams.

(Korea Times 2005-3-6)