Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Warning to Adult English Teachers in Korea: Do Not Talk About Dokdo in Class

Unless your views are exactly in line with Koreans. If you don't agree, and decide to argue about it, well, even if you win, you lose, because your students will hate you. A guy named Gerry Bevers even lost his job for saying the wrong thing about Dokdo. (Also known as Takashima, or the Liancourt Rocks.)

Yeah. It's in the news again.
Seoul Slams Tokyo over Dokdo

A story:

During the World Cup, 2006, I was talking about the Korea/Japan rivalry with a mixed crowd of Korean and Western friends. I jokingly said, "Korea and Japan should play a soccer game, and the winner gets Dokdo!" My Western friends all laughed.

My Korean coworker looked at me with a sour, hairy eyeball, and emphatically answered: "But Dokdo is ours." Wasn't a single bit funny to her. In fact, it pissed her right off.

Koreans take this pretty seriously: if you're new in Korea, you will underestimate how seriously. Be warned. Eggshells, my Korean-adult-teaching friends. Eggshells.

From the Korea Herald's March 20th editorial:
"Recognition of the status quo of Dokdo should be the starting point of any new "partnership" between Korea and Japan."
Translation: "We're willing to let Dokdo become the pyre on which we immolate diplomatic relations with Japan. It's that important to us." (To English teachers: that means they're also willing to let it be the sticking point on which they decide to hate you. It's that incendiary an issue. Korea needs Japan more than they need you, dear conversation teacher friend, and they're ready to make a fuss there, too.)

Personally, I have only two things to say about Dokdo:

1. As with the recent American Beef fiasco, the question to ask is, "Who benefits if people behave as predicted?" -- with American beef, it was pretty easy to spot the Korean beef lobby and the left-wing anti-FTA hand in the media glove, and they aren't even hiding that any more. Roh Moo-hyun's old buddies are having a field day taking shots at Lee Myung-bak.

So. . .

When Korea gets upset about Dokdo, who benefits?

Nationalist Japanese politicians, who use video footage and reports of anti-Japanese demonstrations in Korea as evidence that "The whole world hates us. . . you need strong, nationalist leaders, like me, to protect Japan's interests!" That's who benefits. Nobody else wins.

That Korea responds so predictably, and emphatically, to the slightest provocation on this topic, means that Dokdo is now their go-to issue when they need to scare up some support. Think about it.

The fact Koreans look foolish internationally (and they do) when reports like this get on the news is just a bonus for them. This image was published on BBC's webpage in 2005, with the caption, "Protesters burn posters of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi during a rally against Japan's sovereignty claims over South Korea's Dokdo isles, in Seoul": the world is watching.Koreans are being manipulated, and the tin pot is so hot they don't notice that they're being played for fools by some cagey Japanese politicians.

2. I don't know enough about this situation to make any stance (and fear to do so, given Gary Bevers' experience), so instead, I'll say this:

Given Comfort Women (here and here), Goguryeo (here, here and here) and Dokdo/Takashima/Liancourt Rocks (here and here), the Nanjing Massacre (here and here), among other less-publicized things, it has become clear to me that China, Korea, and Japan all have startlingly different versions of the history of East-Asia. These conflicting histories are leading to controversies, and becoming politicized, rallying-points for unhealthy, ugly nationalism in each country (more pictures of protests). In the interest of finding a common ground and moving into the future, and to avoid further politically motivated distortions of history; in the hope of healthier intra-Asian relations, that are unhampered by historical grievances and disagreements, it is obvious that . . .

East Asia needs to form an international team of historians and scholars (no politicians), and write an apolitical history of East Asia. That's right. Get together a mixed group of Asia historians from China, Japan, Korea, as well as other countries, let each filter out the others' agendas, go back to the primary sources, and write an objective, non-politicized, (as) undistorted (as possible, given that historians are humans too) history of East Asia, and then agree together that all countries in question will hold to, and teach this propaganda-free history, and approach historical disagreements a little more rationally than has been happening so far.

That's my piece. I'm done on the topic, and frankly, tired of talking about it.

P.S.: Territorial disputes can be resolved peacefully. This territorial dispute between Ecuador and Peru was the cause of several wars, and still got resolved by diplomacy, in the end.


Anonymous said...

I remember making similar comments about Koreans playing into the hands of Japanese politicians back in 2005 and having a gyopo acquantaince of mine jump down my throat. But it really is true. I don't really care about the legitimacy of either country's claims to Dokdo, Korea has it now and the only way it could change hands is by force, which so obviously is just not going to happen.

I wish Korean people were aware of just how little awareness there is of the issue among ordinary Japanese people. My wife had never heard of it before coming to Korea and even today she still couldn't give two shits out of a syphilis-infested rat's arsehole about it. Over on this side of the East Sea it just does not matter to the vast majority of the population and people are happy to let Korea have it. If there is a territorial issue they care about it is the Sakhalin Islands.

Roboseyo said...

Speaking of the East Sea, I also believe it should be renamed "Reconciliation Sea," a name that favours neither Japan, nor Korea (East of what, you ask?) -- the other two suggested names each establish primacy of one country over the other. It's like the Beatles going "Let's credit the song Lennon-McCartney" "No! McCartney-Lennon, you credit-stealing fink!"

Sea of Reconciliation. Or Sea of Peace. Or "Impossible Is Nothing Sea Brought To You By Adidas" for all I care. Just stop fighting about it.

chiam said...

A textbook written by Korean and Japanese scholars was written (I really can't remember the source...but its out there). It simply wasn't picked up by either government.

There is a very good reason why these issues keep coming up. It makes it easy for politicians to deflect attention away from domestic issues. In my opinion, the issue over the rocks would not have come up recently if the beef issue hadn't boiled over. I was under the impression that LMB wanted to become closer with Japan. But as fate would have it...LMB got into some hot water and thought "hey, i'll bring up dokto and divert the nationalist fervor". I guess it didn't work.