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History, or politics by other means

Posted By noja On 1/22/2006 @ 12:27 pm In General,Intellectual,Politics,Textbooks | 10 Comments

I would like to share my musings and solicit opinions on one issue I always was interested in – namely, to what degree the ways in which states attempt to rule over the past and use it for forming a suitable present, are effective, and on what factors their effectivity depends. To illustrate what I mean, let us just look what the “history” in the public realm meant in South Korea in Yusin time in the 1970s, and what sort of “history” is being mass-produced and encouraged currently. In the 1970s, in the official discourse on history the catchword was “국난 극복사” (“the history of the overcoming of national emergencies”) or “국방 사관” (“the national defence-centred view of history”), and the visible facade of “history”, namely the “historical monuments”, was shaped accordingly: children and students alike were regularly bussed to Admiral Yi Sunsin’s memorial complex “HyOnch’ungsa” (practically obligatory for all) or to the lesser, refurbished and renovated complexes on the Kanghwa Island (celebrating the firght against USA Navy in 1871 and the fight against the French in 1866), on the Cheju Island (celebrating the anti-Mongol resistance of SambyOlch’o crack troops, 1270-1273) and elsewhere. Old Japanese idea that Silla’s hwarangs were nothing but fearless fighters – in fact, some of the colonial Japanese hsitorians viewed them as one source of Japan’s celebrated bushido – was given new lease on life by Park Chong Hee’s cheif court historian Yi SOn’gUn, so that even in the army, soldiers were supposed to great each other shouting “ch’ungsOng” (loyalty!) and “hwarang”. All this was certainly very needed stuff indeed for a hardcore developmental state striving to mould its low-class citizens into militarly disciplined workers and prevent them from developing any independent class consciousness of their own. And today, we have “The Presidential Committee for the Inspection of Collaborations with the Japanese Imperialism” (http://www.pcic.go.kr:8088/pcic/index.jsp), headed by venerable left-nationalist historian Kang Man’gil, and new, popular school history textbooks like 2002 “살아 있는 한국사 교과서” ( http://www.aladdin.co.kr/shop/wproduct.aspx?ISBN=8958620226 , translated recently into English by the Academy of Korean Studies), which are largely based on “Kang Man’gilian” view of history. So far the modern history is concerned, this view accentuates the ethno-national unity with North Korea, thus providing rationals for current attempts of the Southern elite to incorporate gradually the Northern nomenklatura into the regional capitalist system, and narrows the issue of “collaboration with imperialism” to the Japanese imperialism before 1945, thus allowing the public to vent its rage onto somebody else than today’s major tycoons, who either collaborated with American imeprialism only (Hyundai and Hanjin, known for their profiteering during the Vietnam War) or very little with pre-war Japanese and mostly with Americans (Samsung’s Yi PyOngch’Ol – took loans from Shokusan Ginko in the late 1930s, produced wares for the Japanese army and subscribed to the war loans – but this hardly qualifies for real “collaboration” as defined by the recently adopted laws). My question is – to which degree this sort of “history” distributed from above, is really believed, retained by the individuals’ consciousness, and influences their behaviour? One probable answer is – this “historical” propaganda does work so far as the state appropriates the conclusion-making powers from its subjects and forces upon them some (ideological) conclusions, which, however, have some real, tangible connection with their daily experiences; but it ceases to work, when the state-approved/disseminated conclusions loose their connections to the individual life-worlds. For example, Yusin period’s “militaristic statism” could work as much as the developing state-controlled economy allowed even the poorer subjects some chances for personal vertical mobility – not least, through the army ranks. State and its army were distributing some “carrots” to the “human resources” they wielded their stick over – and were believed in this degree. Then, the army, apart from the chances to rise to the position of NCO and serve as a professional soldier further, could also provide a sense of psychological compensation – you were allowed, once 고참 enough, to bully around the people, who would not allow you to come close to them in the real life. Once the opportunities for social mobility in general became much lower in the 1990s, the “militaristic statism” started obviously to lose its grip over the population – and we need World Cups, Yi Sunsin dramas and other extra props to keep it afloat. As to the idea that donating fighter planes to the Japanese troops before 1945 is a crime of “collaboration”, but building military objects in Southern Vietnam before 1975 is not – well, it is certainly usable so far as American capital owns large portion of Korean “blue chips” and American market is still needed by the Korean exporters. As soon as the dollar will plunge down and Korea will fully get dependant on the Chinese market, this part of “history” will certainly get some edit on it, I guess?

Vladimir (Noja)


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