Scholars and bureaucrats here are debating modern Korean history
in a dispute that epitomizes differences between Korean leftists and
At stake is whether the government should order the authors of
textbooks used in secondary schools throughout the country to revise
them in line with the conservative outlook of President Lee Myung
Bak and his top aides as well as the Defense Ministry.
Foreign as well as Korean intellectuals have risen to the defense
of the textbook authors in a statement signed by more than 660
scholars, 112 from overseas.
"It is of grave concern," says the statement submitted to the
Ministry of Education, Science, and Technology, "that the current
attempt to revise history textbooks appears to be driven by a
specific political agenda to homogenize history textbooks, as
demanded by the 'New Right' and parts of the governing group."
The statement charges that the ministry would allow "only one
historical interpretation" - an approach that "leads to the
repression of academic freedom in research and publication."
Chu Chin O, author of one of a half-dozen disputed textbooks and
leader of a committee of textbook authors, says the government wants
to put a positive spin on the country's often controversial history.
"They want us to praise dictators," he charges, citing a request
from the defense ministry "to rewrite passages on Chun Doo Hwan,"
the general who seized power after the assassination of the long-
ruling Park Chung Hee in October 1979. Mr. Park was later convicted
for ordering the brutal suppression in May 1980 of a revolt in
Kwangju in which 200 young people died.
Ministry officials say the reason for revisions is that authors
distorted events after former President Kim Dae Jung, in 2003,
authorized privately written versions in place of official texts.
The ministry has ordered specific changes in a textbook entitled
"Modern - Contemporary History of Korea" - and is expected to
mandate revisions in several others.
Underlying the ministry's criticism is the sense that the books
are far too critical of the country's leadership after the time of
the Japanese surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.
Conservatives believe the books tend to overlook the economic
"miracle" of the nation's rise from the devastation of the Korean
War while focusing on the dictatorial excesses of a series of
leaders beginning with the country's first president, Rhee Syngman.
"Current textbooks lack positive evaluation of Korea's success in
economy and democracy," the ministry said in written response to
In view of the influence of textbooks on "the values of our
country," the response goes on, passages "that hurt the legitimacy
of the establishment of Korea will be corrected or amended."
Some academic figures see a desire on the part of the
conservative president, Mr. …