Korea's history: What text should high-schoolers read?
Conservatives want to revise high-school texts that they say are dominated by a leftist outlook.
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Mr. Armstrong, a signer of the statement, concedes that "it's probably true" that the books gloss over the Korean War, covering it only briefly and playing down the North Korean role.
The books in general focus on the democratization movement, giving the impression of a national struggle against foreign oppressors, including the country's American ally.
"There's room for debate about the Korean War," says Armstrong, "but foreign scholars are worried this has become a fait accompli."
Henry Em, a visiting professor at Korea University who also supported the statement to the government, says the debate over how history is presented focuses on the occupation of Korea by American troops for three years after the Japanese surrender in 1945.
Conservatives object to emphasis on the raising of "the Stars and Stripes" in place of the "Japanese imperial flag" over the central capitol building after the Japanese surrender – a portrayal, they say, that suggests one "occupation" power was replacing another. The ministry in particular disputes the inference that the Japanese surrender was "the starting point of the ordeal to achieve autonomy and independence."
The Education Ministry "finds it problematic that national division is talked about simply as a result of external pressure," says Mr. Em, rather than holding the North Korean Communists "primarily responsible."
Then there's the word "dictator," used to describe Mr. Rhee, who ruled from the founding of the government in 1948 until his ouster in April 1960. The term is also applied to Park, who seized power in May 1961 and ruled for more than 18 years.
"They would like to emphasize economic development and modernization in the context of the cold war," says Em. Conservatives argue that the books pay little heed to the realities of the cold war, the standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, or the hostility between the US and China, whose "volunteers" rescued North Korea from defeat by US and South Korean forces.
The fact is, Em observes, defending the tone of the books, that the Rhee, Park, and Chun regimes were "authoritarian."
Rather than come down in favor of one viewpoint or the other, however, Em sees the issue in terms of academic freedom. He argues that "there should be a choice" under which schools and teachers can select texts free of central directives, ideally offering a range of perspectives.