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2008/03/25 15:19 KST
(News Focus) Right-wing book sparks controversy with new look at modern history

   By Kim Hyun
SEOUL, March 25 (Yonhap) -- A right-wing textbook on modern Korean history hit bookstores Tuesday, sparking controversy with its somewhat positive view of the Japanese colonial era and military rule in South Korea as well as its condemnation of North Korea's human rights record.

   A dozen economists and political scientists wrote "Alternative Textbook: Korean Modern History," in which they called mainstream historians "leftists." The book was immediately condemned by many historians who claimed it glosses over wrongdoing and ignores common sense with rightist ideology.

   "Current textbooks have distorted or concealed too many historical facts. Sensitive issues that can hurt national pride have intentionally been left untouched," the scholars said in a joint statement.
Taking a fresh look at the 1910-1945 Japanese occupation of Korea, the book describes "unintended results" of the dark times. Western civilization was brought to Korea via Japan, and the market economy grew with the support of Japanese capital while Korean entrepreneurs took root, it says.

   The writers said current schoolbooks oversimplify Korean history, excessively emphasizing the sufferings of the Korean people and their resistance movements.

   "It's needless to say the colonial rule was suppressive and exploitative," Rhee Young-hoon, an economics professor at Seoul National University, said in a press conference.

   "But under that suppression, the Korean people made painful efforts to make themselves modern. We shouldn't call this view 'glorifying colonization,'" Lee said, noting that 30,000 Koreans went to Japan in the 1940s to receive modern education.

   Another controversy involves South Korea's turbulent progress after the colonial era ended in 1945. The writers say historians have overemphasized democracy movements while overlooking the heroes of the country's meteoric economic growth. The new book describes South Korea's first president, Rhee Syngman, as the primary achiever in South Korean modern history, while many historians say his corrupt government founded in 1948 alienated independence fighters and solidified the division of the Korean Peninsula with support from the U.S .government.

   "The current textbooks have two pages describing Rhee Syngman, who held power for 12 years, but eight pages on the April 19 democracy movement (that ousted Rhee in 1960). That is against common sense and a biased interpretation," said Kim Il-young, political science professor at Sungkyunkwan University who co-wrote the new book.

   Also, the book compliments former President Park Chung-hee, who gained power through a military coup in 1961 and held power until he was assassinated in 1979. His coup was "the starting point of Korean modernization" that blossomed until 1987, the year when another general-turned president, Chun Doo-hwan, stepped down.

   The modernization process is painful in any part of the world, like South Korea where pro-democracy activists were tortured and killed, but historians should not neglect the good aspects of the bad times, the writers noted.

   Concerning North Korea, the book harshly criticizes the communist regime that "starved 3 million people to death."
"The current textbooks on North Korean modern history are preoccupied with the issue of reunification and lack critical views on the North Korean system that is suppressing freedom and human rights," the group said in a statement.

   Historians say the book is not suitable to serve as a school textbook, comparing it to Japanese right-wing textbooks that gloss over Japan's past wrongdoing.

   "For history textbooks, there are already a variety of books by conservative and progressive historians, but none of those historians participated in this book," Han Hong-koo, a Korean history professor at Sungkonghoe University, said.

   "In the colonial times, the railroads were built and the electricity was brought to the country -- who can deny it? But nobody can say those times were good," he said, "In that way, Hitler can be reinterpreted."