Nationalism and History Textbooks

Posted by christinejaylee
2017.04.25 16:58 EDITORIAL/사회 :: Current Issues

(courtesy of

While pop-culture depictions of historical events are powerful in instilling a sense of nationalism in the masses, history textbooks are much more credible and reliable sources of knowledge and should be prioritized by the government. Pop-culture tools such as the media (music, television, internet, social media, and even holidays) and general sentiments among the public influence citizens to hold sentiments against a certain group without solid ground. These general sentiments held among the masses are, however, very powerful as these public beliefs may be instilled within an individual starting at a very young age.

For example, the comfort women issue dominates popular culture. The internet has tons of articles and posts dedicated to keeping updates on justice served, or the lack thereof, for these women. Reporters write on this issue constantly and the issue is well known to young citizens. I remember reading a comic book of Korean history when I was little which included a page that illustrated comfort women being taken away in large vehicles, being torn away from their families. There are movements in regard to this issue and a day designated to fighting for the comfort women. These are all highly publicized through various media outlets. In the Korean narrative of the comfort women—which include grandmothers fighting for justice at the very end of their lives—the Japanese appear ruthless and evil, unwilling to admit war crimes through all these years. Various popular culture beliefs and media portrayal about Japan stir negative sentiments of the country and its people. There are common slangs used against the Japanese and furthermore issues such as the Dokdo Island (Takeshima) are also emphasized with songs, high media coverage, etc., which target people of all ages, including elementary school students.

However, empirical evidence and real historical facts are strong enough to trump beliefs that are acquired through general social beliefs and sentiments. This comes with the realization that governments and peoples aim to control people’s views and beliefs through manipulation and influence of popular culture. Therefore, textbooks are crucial in giving people beliefs untampered by subjectivity and grounded in fact. Students rely on historical textbooks for knowledge to learn what really happened in the past so they can form less biased opinions or opinions that are strong due to solid, proven background knowledge. However, the problem with current textbooks is that they are also manipulated to instill nationalism or limit certain knowledge from citizens. In the case of the comfort women mentioned previously, excerpts from textbooks show that while both the Korean and Japanese textbooks mention the issue in their books, the Japanese dedicate one sentence to the issue of comfort women while the Korean books include multiple paragraphs. The Japanese textbook lacks details on this matter, not even defining the comfort women while the Korean textbook uses most of its space explaining the hard lives of the women. In the Korean textbook there is only a narrative of the harshness of comfort women life along with subjective diction and even metaphors to describe the comfort women. There is no analysis or reflection of the way the issue is treated by the nation. Japan’s textbook lacks this as well.

A strong textbook must present all the data they can while not leaning too much to one side. Both Japan’s incompleteness and Korea’s subjectivity in historical texts make them less credible sources to evaluate and understand history. A strong fighter for the comfort women must be informed even in the neglect of the comfort women by the Korean government and its people for decades. Strong and justified nationalism can only emerge with complete and balanced knowledge. Only then will their nationalism and their view on certain matters, such as the comfort women issue, earn respect from the international community. Incomplete understanding and strong subjectivity will only give others the opportunity to “poke holes” in the beliefs of the Korean or Japanese people.

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