Drafting American school children in a diplomatic war
I am for healthy debates in the classroom, because debating has strict rules for conduct and arguments. Usually, two opposing groups are tasked with researching a given topic and they are then instructed to prepare arguments either for or against the subject. Often, in true debates, you are assigned to one side or the other (regardless of the fact that you might have to argue the opposite of what you believe). At the end of the assignment, both groups would understand how to research the topic; how to form an argument; and how to state them in a way as to try to sway the opinions of the other group.
But most issues that are debated will not always succeed because there will always be some individuals that want to believe that their answer is alone, is the one "true" answer.
And then there is what happened recently in Virginia, after a Korean-American father disagreed with the material his son was taught in public school. Specifically, the father found out that the internationally accepted (read as "correct term") for the body of water that lies between Japan and the Korean Peninsula is called the "Sea of Japan." This father claimed that the name reminded him of Japanese colonialism and instead of simply teaching his son that South Koreans call it "The East Sea," he decided to petition both the Federal and Local governments to change the textbooks.
Following his argument, all naming conventions should be used when there is a disagreement about the proper way to refer to a disputed item, area, or territory. Furthermore, as North Korea also refers to this same body of water as "East Sea of Korea," shouldn't all three names need to be mentioned in the textbook to be "correct" for all parties?
The "Sea of Japan" became internationally accepted in 1929 by what is today called the International Hydrographic Organization or IHO. South Korea's argument stems from the fact Korea didn't exist in 1929, as they were part of the Empire of Japan, and couldn't voice their objection. However, after the Pacific War ended and Korea regained its independence, South Korea was admitted into the IHO in 1957, where they've officially challenged the "Sea of Japan" four separate times in 1992, 1998, 2002 and 2007. South Korea's latest blow came in 2012 when the IHO working group decided would delay making a decision on the "Sea of Japan" until 2017 – simply put, the current naming convention remains.
However, in the interim, it appears as if South Korea did not want to wait. The Honorable Sung Kim, Ambassador of South Korea to the United States, met with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and played a supporting role in lobbying for a textbook change.
Worrisome legal precedent
In response, Japan hired a lobbying firm attempting to defend against this South Korean pressure. However, with 82,000 Korean-American voters against 19,000 Japanese-American voters; as well as Mark Keam, a member of the Virginia House of Delegates (D) and a Korean-American, speaking on behalf of the bill, international norms have been challenged with a passage of the bill 81 to 15 on February 6, 2014.
This "victory" by South Korea is actually an utter failure for the American educational system, as it creates an extremely worrisome legal precedent: now everyone can petition a textbook change if they disagree with what their child is being taught – even an internationally accepted norm.
Once Governor McAuliffe signs the legislation into law, which he has stated he intends to do, Virginia must also start accepting petitions such as calling for the teaching of the "West Philippine Sea" which is what the Filipinos call the "South China Sea." And why stop there?
From a British perspective, George Washington should be identified as an "insurgent" and "traitor" because he was a paid member of the British Army when he rebelled; or from a Japanese perspective, they might want to change the phrasing of "Japanese Militarism in Asia" as Japan's attempt to "liberate Asia from the Western tyrants;" or what about "Operation Iraqi Freedom" being referred to as the "Illegal American Invasion," as not everyone agreed with the United States' actions in the Middle East.
And what about the disputed history regarding Christopher Columbus and his "discovery" of the Americas? There's an innumerable amount of revisions that could (or should) be made once this change becomes law. Our once 300-page length textbooks will no doubt bloom to 600-plus pages to encompass every single dispute spanning several different topics.
Or, like the rational society we claim to be, we could continue to use the acceptable practices of using international norms, letting countries debate international disputes in international forums, and supplement our children's learning by talking with them and suggesting books for them to read, to promote self-learning.
Allowing our children to become the hostages, while our education system becomes the battleground for these disputes is definitely not the answer.
We should instead be teaching them to read, research, debate, and let them develop their own opinions. We need to stop Alice's fall down the rabbit hole before it is too late – as she is already falling.
Just last week, New York and New Jersey have followed Virginia's lead of bowing to their large Korean American constituents and introduced similar bills to change their textbooks. We need to tell our local governments to focus on our own domestic issues and stop becoming involved in the domestic issues of other nations. We have more important things to worry about. - Rappler.com
United States Air Force Major (Special Agent) Christopher K. Kuchma is a military professor at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, a Northeast Asia-Japan Foreign Area Officer, and a Japan Area Specialist-Special Agent with Air Force's Office of Special Investigations with more than 9 years in-country experience in Japan. The views expressed in this article are his alone. Follow him on twitter @BlueEyedRonin.