Still Poles Apart
Korea, Japan Should Keep Narrowing Historical Perception Gap
History always favors winners. It is welcome in this regard that Korean and Japanese historians have agreed to officially scrap a theory on Japan's occupation of ancient Korean kingdoms. Regretfully, however, it was almost the only fruit of their joint endeavors to narrow the gap of their historical views for nearly a decade.
This means the joint committee of historians, which was set up in 2002 and has just wrapped up its second-phase activities, has a very long way to go before reaching even a semblance of common concepts on their shared history.
When it comes to more modern parts of their history, especially with respect to Japan's colonization process, the views of scholars from the two countries were poles apart that one could hardly think they were talking about the same subject. On the centennial of losing sovereignty, Koreans are finding it particularly frustrating to hear some Japanese historians' quibble that King Gojong actually led the annexation and that the Japanese used few elements of enforcement to mobilize Koreans for war.
The 17 historians from each country didn't even try to touch the most sensitive issues of former comfort women or dispute over Dokdo, drawing a clear line on what they could handle. In another example showing the limitation of this committee, launched by the agreement between former President Kim Dae-jung and his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, it can't force textbook authors of their countries to reflect any of the agreements on future volumes.
All these shortcomings, however, are the reasons the two countries must continue the joint research, instead of hesitating whether to extend its activities to the third phase, as its Japanese participants reportedly are doing. It is also not difficult to understand why Tokyo is less than willing to continue this kind of research, which is certain to reveal an increasing number of shameful facts concerning the conqueror than the conquered.
Japan's treatment of Korea and Koreans is said to be one of the harshest in the world's history of colonization. While Great Britain sent 6,000 Britons to rule gigantic India and France dispatched 30,000 Frenchmen to Vietnam, no fewer than 600,000 Japanese people came to Korea to exploit not just the latter's materials and properties but dominate its minds and language, which is why many historians still say Korea might have been obliterated from the world map had World War II not occurred.
All this also explains why the top leaders of the two countries should agree on extending the committee's activities or rather turning it into a permanent body, armed with the authority to reinforce their agreements on their textbooks.
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is advised to suit his actions to his words, as he vowed to face up to history and create an East Asian community. Even more worrisome is his Korean counterpart, President Lee Myung-bak, who astonished his own people by saying, ``Now that we have forgiven pro-Japanese collaborators, why not do the same for Japan?" His ideological support base of the ``New Rightist" group also believes Korea's modernization is thanks to Japan's colonization.
They say let's bury the past and move toward the future. But that is impossible without genuine historical settlement, as shown by Germany and France, which managed to write a common textbook after seven decades of hard struggle.