It was June 1997. I was on my first visit to Korea
One of the instructors matter-of-factly pointed out that his high school students were happy upon hearing of the death of over 5,000 people during the Kobe earthquake in 1995
Earlier this month I was having dinner and drinks at a Japanese restaurant in Manhattan's East Village with a Korean friend. Upon entering the bathroom, I was surprised to find graffiti scribbled all over the wall in Korean with English translations, screaming, "Dokdo is Korea!" and some other anti-Japanese stuff that I do not care to reproduce here.
several of my students recently asked me about how much damage could be inflicted on Japan, if North Korea were to "nuke" it. Rather shocked, I responded, "Lots." To that I heard, "Yeah, but how many people would die." I then told them that the problem with a nuclear bomb is that people can die from it even 50 or 60 years later. I specifically pointed out that there are people dying in Hiroshima and Nagasaki today as a result of the bombing half a century ago. To this, one student responded, "Good."oh my newsPublished on 2006-05-28
Tony Andriotis is a lawyer who lives and works in New York City.
Stop Teaching Prejudice
I have been an English teacher in the same public high school in Korea for almost four years now. Every year, when the new first-year students arrive, I am filled with excitement and apprehension. The excitement is because I love the new students. They are full of energy and they have not been worn down by the onerous workload.
What I do not look forward to is dealing with a new crop of students brainwashed by their middle school teachers to harbor an unreasonable, and unjustifiable, hatred toward America and Americans. I blame the Korean history teacher for this. They seem to promote prejudice, and students being students, soak up what is said, never questioning their teachers. How unfortunate.
Twice in the same week I have had students tell me that learning English is being ``colonized’’ by America. Let me set the record straight. The English language is not the sole property of the United States. In fact, ``English’’ came from England. The United States was once a colony of England, as was a quarter of the world, at one time. So when teachers tell their students that learning English is the same as being colonized by the United States, well, that is simply ignorant.
Also, when Korean history teachers fail to explain the world situation at the time of the March 1st Independence Movement, the fact that the rest of the world had just ended World War I, that Europe and the United States were suffering from war fatigue, and that the Independence Movement people in Korea were asking the Allied Powers to fight against one of their allies, well, really.
What kind of a history teacher is that? Doesn’t anyone in Korea realize that Japan was one of the Allied Powers in World War I? So, let’s do a timeline here. The Treaty of Versailles was signed on Jan. 18, 1919. The Korean Independence Movement happened on March 1, 1919, a mere two and a half months after the official end of World War I.
And given this, Koreans of today are still extremely upset because the United States, as well as certain European countries, but mostly the United States, did not come running to Korea’s defense against a country that was instrumental in winning World War I. That level of ethnocentricity leaves me speechless. How can you Korean history teachers call yourselves ``teachers’’?
I am going to challenge the Korean history teacher of today. I challenge you to teach real, accurate, honest history. I challenge you to stop teaching prejudice. I challenge you to actually do your job, as a teacher, and as a human being, and stop perpetuating the racism that has permeated your country. I challenge you to stop lying and start telling the truth.
Kathryn R. McNeil
Naju, South Cholla Province
Koreans still find it
difficult to be good
sports about Japan
The World Cup soccer tournament jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan closed today without having noticeably eased the century-old animosity between the neighbors in Northeast Asia.
There were a few signs of goodwill, such as Japanese cheering for the Korean team after their own team had been eliminated. Underneath, the grudges, particularly among the Koreans, remained.
Indeed, it is no longer pertinent to write in an even-handed manner about the antipathy between Japan and Korea because most of the ill will is found in Korea.
This is a lopsided, asymmetrical relationship. The palpable Korean hatred for Japan is deep-seated, pervasive and obsessive. Koreans who are rational about everything else can become irrational when Japan comes into a conversation. In contrast, Japanese often ignore Koreans or are indifferent to them -- infuriating Koreans even more -- although some younger Japanese profess to be interested in Korea.
The conventional explanation for Korean antagonism is Japan's harsh colonial rule of 1905-1945. That, however, doesn't explain why Korean anger has lasted longer that the colonial period itself.
Something deeper and hard to discern is at work here. Trying to psychoanalyze an entire nation is undeniably risky but may be permissible when applied to Korea's tightly knit society.
Koreans have long had difficulty in dealing with outsiders, partly because of the geographic isolation of the Korean peninsula. It is, American GIs once said, tucked into the upper left-hand corner of the world.
More comes from having been overrun and subjugated for centuries by the Chinese, Mongols and Manchus, which led Koreans to draw back into the Hermit Kingdom and try to fend off foreigners. That lasted until the mid-19th century when Western nations demanded that Korea open up.
Then the Chinese, Russians and Japanese fought over Korea, with the Japanese winning out and seeking to absorb Korea into the Japanese empire. All of this seems to have bred xenophobia into Korean society, the Japanese being the latest target.
Korean antipathy showed up in myriad ways during the World Cup. Most Koreans resented having to share the spotlight as host with Japan and insisted that the tournament be called the Korea/Japan rather than the Japan/Korea World Cup. Korea's Web site and publicity largely ignored Japan. Japan was rarely mentioned in Korean TV coverage.
When Turkey defeated Japan to eliminate the Japanese, Koreans applauded. When Japanese cheered for Korea as the Korean team advanced, Koreans said: "They Japanese are faking their support for the Korean team."
There was evidence that the support was not faked. A professor in Japan asked over 100 of his students what they thought of the Korean performance in the tournament. About 70 percent gave positive replies, 22 percent were negative, and 8 percent said they weren't interested in Korea.
A Korean-American who lives and works in Seoul said privately: "Koreans are taught by their grandparents, parents and the educational system that the Japanese are evil. Hear this every day since birth and you have a running experiment of a Brave New World."
He said he had found an "enormous insecurity/inferiority complex" among Koreans. "They do not like the fact that their economic and political status in the world is inferior to that of Japan and the United States. They do not like the fact that nobody in the world really pays attention to them. They do not like the fact that they are not a power in the world."
"Korea," he concluded, "is still a nation learning to deal with its economic, political and cultural development."
Some weeks ago, at a gathering of Korean, Japanese and American strategic thinkers at the Pacific Forum, a research center in Honolulu, the discussion anticipated the World Cup. The Koreans berated the Japanese, the Japanese sought to defend themselves as not being anti-Korean, and the Americans deplored the hostility between their two main allies in East Asia.
"Today," lamented an American experienced in Asia, "what ought to be a natural strategic relationship between two geographically proximate, liberal democracies with common allies remains problematic because of history.
"If ever there was a issue that cried out for decisive, assertive U.S. leadership," he concluded, "it is the issue of knitting together a sustainable virtual alliance among the U.S., Japan and Korea."
Richard Halloran is a former correspondent
for The New York Times in Asia and a former editorial
director of the Star-Bulletin. His column appears Sundays./Honolulu Star