Monday, January 14, 2008

From 2003. . . and right tragic.

In 2003 a land-claim dispute between Korea and Japan started heating up. There are a couple of islands called Dokdo in Korea, and Takashima in Japan. I won't get into the whole story, but when Japan made a claim on Dokdo, Koreans responded with all the rage and resentment stored up from memories of decades of Japanese colonization, back before World War II.

Now I'm not saying Japan is in the right here; they did a lot of things that are nasty and ugly and disgusting and dehumanizing during the colonial times -- I've talked about the Comfort Women (see the posts about moral authority from November), and that whole episode is so totally reprehensible and tragic. . .

but responding with this kind of hatred puts Korea in the wrong, too: these are pictures drawn by elementary school kids, and put up in a subway station. Maybe the teachers were intending to show a little rah-rah-nationalism, but encouraging kids to draw this kind of poisonous stuff ought to lead to a day of serious reckoning for the teacher's union, abusing their influence over elementary school kids.

My old coworker once got an essay that read like this: "When I grow up I want to be a soldier so I can fight the Japan and kill many Japanese for Korea," and kids don't hate like that, unless they're taught to do so by someone they trust.

Not that there's anything wrong with nationalism, if it's a source of identity and belonging. That's totally positive. However, if it becomes a means to attack, marginalize, disparage or scapegoat another country or another people, well, that's ugly and wrong and sometimes dangerous. Korea's not the only country guilty of it -- right now the nationalist rhetoric is at a fevered and dangerous pitch in the good old USA, too, but it's just tragic when it comes to these kinds of displays.

The longer you go through these pictures, the sadder it gets.

This is where ideology goes wrong. . . I love Korea, but this kind of thing diminishes us all.

I hope most of the schoolteachers in Korea were sober-minded and responsible, and this was just the work of a few, ignorant, renegade ideologues. . . I hope. . . but this is all it takes to give a country a black eye: a few angry people who stop using their heads. These pictures made it into the news in Japan and they (along with other dokdo, comfort women, and assorted nationalist anti-Japanese rhetoric and protests) led to a drop in Japan's friendly attitude toward Korea from 69% of survey respondents in 2002 to 36%.

Sure, Japan did some bad stuff. . . but I feel like when humans do ugly things to each other, we should respond with grief, not with hate, and CERTAINLY not by teaching children to hate.

This makes me sad.

My next post will be positive, I promise.

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