|09SEOUL708||2009-05-04 09:52:00||UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY||Embassy Seoul|
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UNCLAS SEOUL 000708
1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Starting from this spring, South Korean
high school students will learn their history from a revised
text of their familiar "A Modern and Contemporary History of
Korea." The movement to revise the history text kicked off
soon after the inauguration of President Lee Myung-bak,
spearheaded by the Ministry of Education, Science, and
Technology (MEST) in its official request to six publishing
companies. Amid noisy political debate, changes were made
late last year, in time for the March 2009 start of the
school year. The new textbooks feature a cumulative total of
206 revised passages, many now aligned with more moderate,
center-right historical views. The Allied victory over Japan
is no longer characterized as having been an "obstacle" to
Korean unification, for example, and a reference to the U.S.
Army as an "occupying force" has been removed. North Korea
is portrayed less sympathetically than before, with blame for
the DPRK's anemic economy and strained inter-peninsular and
international relations placed squarely on Pyongyang's
economic policies and weapons programs. National Assembly
opposition lawmakers, textbook authors, and history scholars
have criticized the revisions process as motivated by
politics rather than based on scholarship, guaranteeing that
this is not the last revision, just another chapter in the
continuing saga that is Korea history. End Summary.
2. (SBU) All Korean schools rely on government approved
textbooks, which is why the textbooks -- especially those for
history classes -- are mired in the politics and "political
correctness" of the day. In 2003, under the Roh Moo-hyun
Administration, the ROK Ministry of Education expanded the
number of approved publishers of the high school textbook,
"A Modern and Contemporary History of Korea," from one to
six. Enabling schools to choose from several versions of the
text, the move was ostensibly designed to promote diversity
in historical views. The new textbooks immediately drew
criticism from conservatives, however, and became a
flashpoint in the larger Korean debate over how to appraise
past leaders such as Syngman Rhee and Park Chung-hee and the
history of Korea's relationship with the United States.
3. (SBU) Conservatives argued that the textbooks were biased
toward a leftist view of Korean history, over-emphasizing its
darker chapters, such as collaboration with Japanese
colonialists, and exaggerating the nationalist elements of
North Korea. The texts inspired a "masochistic" view of the
ROK, belittled the role of the Allied forces in Korea's
liberation from Japan, ascribed imperialist motives to U.S.
involvement on the Korean Peninsula, and dwelled on the
faults of South Korean dictators while slighting their
achievements, according to South Korean conservatives. An
influential group of critics, the Textbook Forum, went so far
as to argue that the textbooks were teaching a patricidal
history, encouraging the view that the ROK as a country
should never have existed.
4. (SBU) President Lee Myung-bak's inauguration in February
2008 meant that the conservative critics were now in charge.
Following then-Education Minister Kim Doh-yeon's critical
remarks about the "left-leaning" texts in May 2008, Prime
Minister Han Seung-soo called for implementation of a
revision process with input from ROKG agencies other than the
Education Ministry. In response, the Ministry of National
Defense (MND) recommended that a depiction of the first ROK
president Syngman Rhee as one who "ruthlessly suppressed
dissent in the name of anti-Communism and exploited the North
Korean threat to shore up his dictatorial regime" be replaced
with "a president who contributed to the nation's
modernization." The Ministry of Unification (MOU) supported
the removal of language characterizing Kim Dae-jung's ascent
to the presidency as an ousting of the conservative
establishment and the installing of former dissidents to
positions of power; this would be replaced by a portrayal
emphasizing reconciliation and cooperation under Kim Dae-jung.
5. (SBU) It was thus with full support from President Lee's
conservative constituents as well as certain quarters of the
ROKG itself that -- following testy National Assembly
discussions on the topic in October 2008 -- MEST requested
the six publishers -- Kumsung Publishing, Doosan, Bubmunsa,
Joongang Institute for Better Education, Chunjae Education,
and Daehan -- make revisions to their respective versions of
"A Modern and Contemporary History of Korea." The MEST
revisions committee directed the publishers i to revise a
cumulative total of 53 passages in four of the six textbook
versions. Additional revisions initiated by the publishing
companies followed, as did another set of directions from the
committee in November. In the end, the total number of
revisions in all six texts grew to 206. Of these, the
publishers initiated 102 and the revisions committee
recommended 104. Of the 104 recommended by the committee, 47
were directed at a single publisher, Kumsung.
Allied Victory: Not so Bad for Reunification
6. (SBU) Publication of the revised textbooks for the new
school year beginning in March 2009 revealed changes of
emphasis more in line with a moderate, center-right view.
Whereas before the Kumsung text had portrayed the role of the
Allied victory over Japan and the subsequent liberation of
Korea as an "obstacle" to the building of the kind of new
nation "desired by our people," its new language attributes
the inability of Koreans of that period to "take the
initiative in building a unified nation" to the "failure to
defeat the Japanese on our own." Doosan likewise removed
from its text language characterizing the Allied victory as
the "reason" liberation "did not directly result in the
establishment of a unified independent state for our people."
7. (SBU) The shift rightward is also in evidence in accounts
of the post-Korean War period. Armed guerilla forces that
hid in the Jiri Mountains, for example, are no longer called
"pro-North Korea" by Kumsung; they are "leftist." While the
Kumsung text acknowledges that some U.S. agricultural
assistance was diverted to fund political activity under the
Syngman Rhee government, it no longer implies that Rhee
deliberately imported excess U.S. aid for such purposes. The
Daehan text, previously faulting the Chang Myeon
administration for not making "active efforts to engage in
dialogue with the North" in support of a UN-monitored
North-South general election, now neutrally states "dialogue
with the North did not take place."
U.S. Army an Occupying Force No More
8. (SBU) New neutral language extends to descriptions of past
U.S. involvement in Korea, too. A caption beneath a photo in
the Kumsung text of participants in a U.S.-USSR Joint
Commission on Korea meeting at Deoksugung Palace in Seoul
identified Lieutenant General John R. Hodge as "commander of
the U.S. occupying forces" before; now he is simply a
North Korea an Object neither of Sympathy nor Admiration
9. (SBU) Removed from the new texts or significantly altered
are a number of descriptions and features that cast the North
Korean regime in a somewhat sympathetic light. A photo of
Kim Il Sung was deleted from the Doosan text, for example.
Post-June 15, 2000 Inter-Korean Summit family reunion data
was also scrubbed from the Kumsung text. Doosan descriptions
of the North-South family reunions were replaced with
language on the activities of South Korean companies in the
Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), President Roh Moo-hyun's
October 2007 meeting with "National Defense Commission (NDC)
Chairman Kim Jong Il" in Pyongyang, and President Lee's new
North Korea policy. Previous Chunjae Education wording
suggesting that North Korea had maintained cultural
traditions more faithfully than the South has been modified
to emphasize the closed nature of North Korean society. A
humanizing, if fictional, portrayal of a North Korean student
in the Kumsung text was replaced with a factual description
of limited options open to North Korean youths upon
completion of compulsory schooling. A sentence linking the
lots of both North and South Korea ("At present, South and
North Korea face many military threats ... foreign
interference is likely.") was removed from the Joongang text.
10. (SBU) New language also shifts emphasis from North
Korea's humanitarian tragedies to the failed economic
policies that caused them. A new sentence added to the
Bubmunsa text, for example, states that despite the
introduction of new measures to boost economic activity in
2002, "North Korea's economic situation is presently getting
worse." "The North Korean economy, even of late, has not
seen any growth," affirms Doosan. Elsewhere, the Kumsung
text notes that the Tumen River Area Development Program
"has, in effect, been suspended due to lack of investment."
DPRK to Blame for Nuclear Tensions, Isolation
11. (SBU) In contrast to previous texts' references to
"suspicions raised in the international community" about
North Korea's nuclear weapons development, the new textbooks
describe the existence of DPRK nuclear and missile programs
in unambiguous terms, placing responsibility for North
Korea's strained inter-peninsular and international relations
squarely on Pyongyang. Before, the Doosan text noted
"suspicions" about North Korean WMD programs; now it states
matter-of-factly that "North Korea is developing weapons of
mass destruction, including biological and chemical weapons,
and is thus threatening the stability of the Korean Peninsula
and international peace." A new sentence added to the
Kumsung text states: "By announcing its withdrawal from the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and unilaterally
announcing its possession of nuclear weapons, North Korea
raised insecurity and tension on the Korean Peninsula and in
the international community." Both the Bubmunsa and Doosan
textbooks now attribute lack of improvement in U.S.-North
Korea relations to North Korean nuclear weapons development,
rather than mere "suspicions" about the DPRK program.
Furthermore, Doosan language suggesting normalization of
North Korea's relations with the U.S. and Japan would pave
the way to peace and reunification has been replaced with a
description of the Six-Party Talks as an effort "to resolve
the North Korea nuclear issue." On past North-South
tensions, the new Chunjae text states, "North Korea's
terrorist actions had fatal effects on inter-Korean
Resistance from National Assembly Opposition, Textbook Authors
12. (SBU) Implementation of textbook revision has not
occurred without controversy. The issue was the subject of
heated discussion during a National Assembly audit in October
2008, with opposition Democratic Party members arguing the
changes were driven by political motives rather than
scholarship. One publisher (Kumsung) complained of undue
pressure from MEST and initially balked at making some of the
Ministry-requested revisions, though it later backed down.
Holding out the longest were textbook authors, with support
from history teachers and scholars. The authors of five of
the six publishers' textbooks (all but Doosan's) issued a
joint statement in December 2008 asserting that "having a
publisher unilaterally change the contents of a book that
will have the name of the author printed on it ... violates
copyright law and undermines the author's honor." In
response to one of numerous legal actions taken by the
authors in an attempt to block publication of the new texts,
the Seoul Central District Court noted in January that both
the publishers and authors had "agreed to sincerely fulfill
the orders of the Education Minister when they applied for
government approval of the textbooks." The right-leaning
Korea Economic Daily noted that the textbook changes were
implemented in response to revisions that took place under
previous progressive administrations, including, for example,
accounts of democracy movement events in the 1980's;
progressive critics and academics lamented the politicization
of the issue.
13. (SBU) Of course, this is not the final word, because
nobody ever has the final word on what happened in history,
especially in Korea. This round the conservatives have won
because one of their own is in the Blue House. One
beneficiary of the latest revisions is the United States.
The characterization of the U.S. is less calculating and less
"imperial" than before. Undoubtedly, however, all of this
will be revised again when the political winds next shift.
Selected Textbook Passage Revisions
14. (U) The previous and revised text of selected passages
from the six publishers' respective versions of "A Modern and
Contemporary History of Korea" follows:
Previous: The fact that our independence was achieved by
means of the Allied victory proved to be an obstacle to
building a new state that was desired by our people.
Revised: The failure to defeat the Japanese on our own was
the cause for why we could not take the initiative in
building a unified nation-state.
Previous: As a result, there was almost no punishment of
those who had collaborated with the Japanese, and efforts to
start a new country that was founded on the national spirit
Revised: As a result, efforts to reestablish the national
spirit by punishing those who had collaborated with the
Japanese ended without any results.
Previous: Throughout South Korea, including the Jiri
Mountains, the activities of pro-North Korea armed guerilla
Revised: Throughout South Korea, including the Jiri
Mountains, the activities of leftist armed guerilla forces
Hopes of North Korean Youth
Character 4: "I am a student studying in the honors class at
a middle school in Hamheung. I want to enter Kim Il Sung
University and become a party or government official."
Revised: Deleted Character 4. Instead added the following
After graduating from middle school, students in North Korea
follow one of the three career paths: entering a university,
enlisting in the military or receiving a workplace
assignment. Most students enlist in the military or get
assigned a job, and only 10 percent of students enter the
university right after graduating. There are some students
who enter the university with recommendations from their
workplaces or the military. Workplaces are assigned
irrespective of the student's wishes.
Previous: In the early 1990s, suspicions were raised in the
international community that North Korea, which had been
burdened by huge military costs, was developing nuclear
Revised: Added supplementary paragraph:
North Korea's Development of Nuclear Weapons: By announcing
its withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty
(NPT) and unilaterally announcing its possession of nuclear
weapons, North Korea raised insecurity and tensions on the
Korean Peninsula and in the international community.
Previous: In order to supplement a deficient budget and
secure political funds, the Syngman Rhee government imported
more U.S. agricultural aid than was actually needed.
Revised: In order to supplement a deficient budget, the
Syngman Rhee government imported U.S. agricultural aid, some
of which was used as political funds.
Previous: As part of the Tumen River Area Development
Program (TRADP), North Korea designated the Rajin-Sonbong
area as a special economic trade zone. The Tumen River Area
Development Program (TRADP) was a large-scale development
project that aimed to connect Chungjin (North Korea), Yangji
and Hunchun (China), and Vladivostok (Russia), and included
the participation of related countries (North Korea, China
and Russia) and neighboring countries.
Revised: North Korea designated the Rajin-Sonbong area as a
special economic trade zone in 1991 as part of the Tumen
River Area Development Program (TRADP), which it was pursuing
with China and Russia. The plan was to construct this area
as a center for international trade, finance and tourism
between 1993 and 2010. As of 2008, however, the project has,
in effect, been suspended due to the lack of investment.
Deleted: Family reunion data.
Previous: U.S. economic aid to South Korea had the purpose
of making South Korea a bulwark against communism.
Revised: The important purpose of U.S. economic aid was to
make South Korea a bulwark against communism.
Caption for photo of participants talking before a U.S.-USSR
Joint Commission on Korea meeting at Deoksugung Palace:
Previous: "Commander of the U.S. occupying forces Lieutenant
Revised: "U.S. Commission member Lieutenant General Hodge"
Previous: On August 15, 1945, as a result of the continuous
struggle for independence, our people were finally able to
come out from Japan's colonial rule and achieve independence.
The August 15 Liberation, however, had also been achieved
through the Allied victory in World War II and Japan's
subsequent defeat. For this reason, the August 15 Liberation
did not directly result in the establishment of a unified
independent state for our people.
Revised: With the Allied victory in World War II, our people
achieved independence on August 15, 1945. The August 15
Liberation was also the result of our people's continuous
struggle for independence. The August 15 Liberation,
however, did not directly result in the establishment of a
unified independent state for our people.
Previous: There were even suspicions that North Korea was
developing weapons of mass destruction (WMD), including
nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
Revised: In addition, North Korea is developing weapons of
mass destruction (WMD), including biological and chemical
weapons, and is thus threatening the stability of the Korean
Peninsula and international peace.
Previous: The food shortage in North Korea is serious and
still persists despite humanitarian aid to the country from
international organizations during the past three years.
Furthermore, the North Korean economy has not seen any growth
for the past ten years and economic difficulties persist.
Revised: The food shortage in North Korea is serious and
still persists despite humanitarian aid to the country from
international organizations since 1995. Furthermore, the
North Korean economy, even of late, has not seen any growth
and economic difficulties persist.
Previous: One hundred separated family members that had
participated in past reunion events were selected
respectively from each side and took part in another round of
reunions in Seoul and Pyongyang. In December, the North and
South had also selected one hundred separated family members
from each side for another round of reunions for families
that had participated in past reunion events.
Revised: Recently, some South Korean companies have moved
into the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC) -- which North
Korea had established as a special economic zone )- and are
carrying out their production activities inside the complex.
In October 2007, President Roh Moo-hyun visited Pyongyang to
meet with National Defense Commission (NDC) Chairman Kim Jong
Il for the October 4 summit. The Lee Myung-bak
administration, which came into office in 2008, announced
that it would pursue a policy of "Mutual Benefits and Common
Prosperity" with North Korea.
Previous: Although North Korea and the U.S. are looking for
ways to improve relations, there has been poor progress due
to suspicions about North Korea's development of nuclear
weapons and the missile launch issue. Negotiations on
normalizing relations between North Korea and Japan have also
made no progress and the talks have been slow. If in the
future North Korea normalizes and improves its relations with
the U.S. and Japan, this will help establish peace on the
Korean Peninsula and form the basis for reunification.
Revised: Although North Korea and the U.S. are looking for
ways to improve relations, there has been poor progress due
to North Korea's development of nuclear weapons and the
missile launch issue. Efforts to resolve the North Korea
nuclear issue are being made at the Six Party Talks (South
Korea, North Korea, U.S., China, Japan, Russia), which
started in 2003 with the mediation of China. Recently, there
have been indications of improvement in North Korea-U.S.
relations with the North declaring its nuclear activities and
destroying the cooling tower at the reactor in Yongbyon.
Deleted: Photo of Kim Il-sung, p. 275.
Previous: The first difficulty that North Korean defectors
experience after resettling in South Korea is...
Revised: The first difficulty that defecting North Korean
residents experience after resettling in South Korea is...
Previous: Although the Chang Myeon administration had put
forth the policy of unifying the two Koreas by carrying out
United Nations-monitored South-North general elections, it
did not make active efforts to engage in dialogue with the
Revised: Although the Chang Myeon administration had put
forth the policy of unifying the two Koreas by carrying out
United Nations-monitored South-North general elections,
dialogue with the North did not take place.
Previous: Therefore, although North Korea has been
relatively better than South Korea at preserving traditional
culture, it has not been able to adopt culture and
civilization from the developed world.
Revised: Therefore, although it may appear that North Korea
has been relatively better than South Korea at preserving
traditional culture because it is not as open as South Korea,
it has not been able to adopt culture and civilization from
the developed advanced world.
Previous: Inter-Korean relations... had acted as a driving
Revised: North Korea's terrorist actions had fatal effects
on inter-Korean relations.
Previous: Inter-Korean relations cooled down again with the
sudden death of Kim Il Sung.
Revised: Inter-Korean relations cooled down again when the
inter-Korean summit was cancelled due to the sudden death of
Kim Il Sung.
Deleted: At present, South and North Korea face many
military threats... foreign interference is likely.
New addition: Afterwards, the North Korean government made
efforts to overcome the serious economic situation through
its July 1 economic measures in 2002. Despite these efforts,
however, North Korea's economic situation is presently
Previous: North Korea-U.S. relations, however, have not seen
much progress due to suspicions about North Korea's
development of nuclear weapons and the missile development
issue. There has been no significant progress in
negotiations to normalize relations between North Korea and
Revised: North Korea-U.S. relations, however, have not seen
much progress due to North Korea's development of nuclear
weapons and the missile development issue. There has been no
significant progress in negotiations to normalize relations
between North Korea and Japan.