Family History

In South Korea, hackles are being raised over President Park Geun-hye forcing public schools to adopt government-written history textbooks.  People are rightfully upset:

“After complaining that textbooks used in middle and high schools have leftist biases, Park ordered the Ministry of Education to ‘normalize’ history education. The ministry announced Oct. 12 that history textbooks for middle and high schools will be developed and published by the state, with the new books provided to schools starting in 2017.

The conservative ruling party largely supports the change, but liberal opposition lawmakers said Park was trying to glorify her late father, calling him a collaborator with the Japanese colonial government and a dictator.

In the speech, Park made clear that she has no intention of backtracking on the plan.

Many historians said they want to have nothing to do with state-penned textbooks, and public sentiment is deteriorating, according to opinion polls.'”

Some context: President Park is the daughter of former Korean President Park Chung-hee, who was assassinated in 1979.  His legacy is mixed, to say the least — to some Koreans (say, in and around lovely ultra-conservative Daegu) he’s a hero who fought back the North Korean menace and, more objectively, laid the groundwork for the economic “Miracle on the Han.”  To others, he was a ruthless dictator and a puppet of the former Japanese colonizers.  (As a young solider Park Chung-hee fought for the Japanese in Manchuria, arguably against pro-Independence Koreans.)

From my (admittedly limited) perspective, it’s a laughably ham-fisted maneuver.  To be honest, the liberal party isn’t all that popular in South Korea these days.  Why not just wait for the next (probably conservative) president to come along and make the change then?

A healthy democracy should have debates over history, no doubt.  (Lord knows my home country of the United States does, all the time.)  But what’s really depressing about this is President Park and her supporters seem to have so little faith in the cognitive abilities of younger South Koreans to understand the complexities of a man who a) greatly improved the country’s economy and b) did many questionable things, first and foremost staging a coup against his own elected government.

As much as you can separate this controversy from politics, people feel as if their intelligence is being actively insulted.

It is.

This entry was posted in Books, History, Japan, Korea, North Korea, Politics, South Korea. Bookmark the permalink.

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