Educating US, European Mapmakers About Dokdo
U.S. President George W. Bush restored Korea's sovereignty over Dokdo in a dramatic way after a turbulent week in the United States last month. I admire the decision from the White House on this matter.
In July 2008, the U.S. Board on Geographic Names changed Dokdo from being Korean territory to a region of "undesignated sovereignty."
This decision disappointed me and those who believed in the Korean sovereignty of Dokdo. The U.S. State Department regrettably confirmed the Board's decision.
That was lamentable! The U.S. State Department's spokesman said, "The question of sovereignty of the islets is for Japan and Korea to resolve peacefully between themselves".
The question can never be resolved between them, because all the historical evidence shows that Dokdo is part of Korean territory. It is as if my cottage was empty and an intruder came along and put his nametag on it, claiming it was now his. Isn't this ridiculous?
Why should Korea yield to the intruder? Why should Korea negotiate with Japan on this cottage? This is just one easy analogy. Would the U.S. negotiate with an intruder who claimed the United States was his?
I don't think so. The U.S. position was once with Korea. Now, it seems ambivalent.
Why? Do the Defense Intelligence Agency maps and the Central Intelligence Agency maps label it Liancourt Rocks?
There was no consent by the Korean people. Liancourt Rocks were named after a French whale ship in the mid-19th century without knowing that the original name of the Rocks was Dokdo given some 1,300 years earlier.
Once the French people and European mapmakers knew its original name, they should have changed the name to Dokdo.
Alas! How could they maintain such a French name for so long? How did the American government and mapmakers go from Dokdo to Liancourt Rocks? The French people should take an initiative to return the island's name to Dokdo from a moral and ethical point of view.
Can you imagine changing Niagara Falls to Thundering Waters? Niagara is the name of a majestic waterfall given by native American Indians before the white Americans appeared.
The Americans had the good sense of preserving the original name of the waterfall. Who is going to change Hawaii into Paradise on Earth? The Polynesian native people in the Island named their island Hawaii. The Western explorers had a sense of justice when they conserved and preserved the original name.
To westerners, Liancourt Rocks is easy to pronounce and remember. But such a name is just as exotic to the Korean and Asian people. The western mentality of sticking to Liancourt Rocks is the same as the belief that Christopher Columbus discovered America. The American Indians came to the American Continent one thousand years before Christopher Columbus landed. Columbus was simply the first European sailor to reach the American continent.
There is a tendency for U.S. and European maps to use Liancourt Rocks over Dokdo. The most probable reason is that the French name is neutral to Japan and Korea. Most probably, the Japanese government is instigating a public relations campaign to get the name Dokdo removed from the maps for undersea resources and fisheries around Dokdo.
Dokdo was also known as Usando, Sambongdo, and Kajido in early history. Sambongdo means three-peak island. From one angle, I can see three peaks of Dokdo; from a different angle, I can see two peaks of Dokdo. Kajido means the island of seals.
There were many seals on the Dokdo Island. All these names demonstrated major characteristics of the Island.
American and European geographers and map makers should have spent more time on the Dokdo Island before they switched the name of Dokdo to Liancourt Rocks. Changing the island's name is not fair at all to the Korean people. Changing the island's name is breaking down a sense of justice. They just try to accommodate the Japanese unjust claims.
I am going to present my story concerning the National Geographic to the readers of The Korea Times. The National Geographic used to print Dokdo on maps, but then started to print a dual name of Dokdo with Takeshima. I protested the Dokdo/Takeshima name. Then, they explained that they were trying to be fair to Japan, as they had been with Korea. My friends and I had attempted to have them also place East Sea with the Sea of Japan for the sea between Japan and Korea. Now, the National Geographic justified the dual name of Dokdo and Takeshima by the same rationale of adopting the dual name of Sea of Japan with East Sea.
The National Geographic's fairness does not make sense at all.
More than several famed American geographers including H.J. De Blij printed East Sea alone or East Sea with the Sea of Japan long before the National Geographic adopted East Sea with Sea of Japan in their textbooks. Why? They believed in the legitimacy of East Sea over Sea of Japan. They saw the sad history of Japanese colonial rule over Korea in the first half of the 20th century. They believed that the East Sea had legitimacy over the Sea of Japan. Fairness should not hide the justice of historical facts and evidence. Fairness should not be compromised by the National Geographic, Defense Intelligence Agency and Central Intelligence Agency map makers. Fairness should be based on the grounds of intellectual history in this case.
Japan has become one of the superpower nations in the world after World War II. Japan's wealth and image today cannot hide past crimes against humanity before and during World War II. Many Japanese people thought that their war crimes were purified in the atomic bombing by the United States of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945. Their imperialist mentality is the same as their military expansionism during World War II. Japan made an alliance with the United States as it had an alliance with Adolf Hitler's Germany and Benito Mussolini's Italy during World War II. I thought the world had progressed since 1945, but it has not. This world is not yet civilized.
European powers should cleanse themselves of their crimes of colonizing American, African and Asian continents with the Bible in one hand and gun in the other in the 17th and 18th century. As long as they justify the use of Liancourt Rocks over Dokdo, I can see the old European power rearing its head. Their maps were made for the purpose of exploiting innocent people and their continents. Half a century has passed since the colonized nations were liberated. Making an alliance with Japan against Dokdo is a shame. They should criticize the Japanese motive to take the Korean island, and ostracize Japan from the international community.
Japan which was forced to open its doors under the threat of the gunboat diplomacy, modernized first among the Asian nations, then quickly colonized Korea with its modern weapons and controlled Korea for half a century in the most critical time of modern history.
In 1941, it started the Pacific War. The war scar is still seen in the face of the comfort women who served as sex slaves to the Japanese soldiers in the Southeast Asian jungle. The division of Korea was caused by Japan's colonial rule and by Japan's request of the Soviet Russia's intervention at the end of the Pacific War. But the Japanese people do not feel any shame of their past history with Korea. The U.S. Congress passed a resolution to condemn the Japanese government to cover up the comfort woman issue in 2008. Hon. Mike Honda, a Japanese-American, took a leadership role in the U.S. Congress. How admirable this was on the part of Mike Honda!
When I contributed my articles on this issue to the New York Times and the Washington Post, the editors sent me back a nice letter saying that my articles dealt with just one issue between Japan and Korea. What they are truly saying is: ``Dokdo is not our business.'' Yes, it can be.
Then, I asked them a question: ``Hey, why does the Holocaust Museum exist in Washington, D.C.?'' ``Did American people kill Jewish people?'' According to their logic, the Holocaust Museum should be constructed between Germany and Israel. But they were silent on my responses.
Why did the United States participate in the European War? The American people should watch Adolf Hitler's victory after victory. They could not. Why not? The human conscience. Isn't it?
Why did the U.S. participate in the Korean War? The U.S. could watch the North Korean invasion of South Korea and accept the unification of Korea under Kim Il-sung's communism in 1950. President Harry S. Truman could not just watch the war, and sent the troops to save South Korea. Many GIs were killed. Why? Human conscience and a sense of justice.
Justice can be served with human conscience. Now, American people and European people do not serve justice when they are standing neutral between Japan and Korea on the matter of Dokdo. As a matter of fact, they are disturbing the sense of justice.
I wish they could defend their stance on the following grounds:
We like to support Japan, because Japan is wealthier than Korea, and Japan is a nicer country to visit. Our diplomatic ties are stronger with Japan than Korea. So we support Liancourt Rocks over Dokdo.
Map makers in the United States and European nations seem to lack a sense of conscience. They have done many great things for the developing nations since the end of World War II. But they are losing popularity, because they are losing their human conscience, or sense of justice. That is why anti-American and anti-Europe sentiment is growing in the Third world. I don't think the issue of cultural clashes between the East and the West is critical. I think that Western civilization, based on the arrogance of power, is hurting the West.
That is the most critical issue.
Civilization should not be measured by how many atomic bombs the superpower nations have. Civilization should not be measured by the wealth of the nation or per capita income.
Civilization should be measured by how peaceful the nation is. The so-called superpower nations should show an example of a civilized world to the third world.
When I look at the Dokdo issue, I don't see the civilized world. The human history is regressively returning to the political wilderness. Dokdo is a lonely island. Dokdo island needs human compassion, not superpower politics. Groundless change of the Dokdo Island's name and its sovereignty will be recorded in the history of human kind as a savage move.
I admire President Bush's decision to confirm that Dokdo is part of Korean sovereignty. I hope his decision is final on the part of the U.S. government, and lead all mapmakers to restore the name of Dokdo in their future maps.
The writer received his doctorate degree in political science from Indiana University, and taught at the University of Wisconsin, Old Dominion University and the University of Seoul before his retirement in 2006. He was an assistant for environmental quality in the U.S. Office of the Secretary of Defense, 1981-1983.