Anti-Americanism Korean Education Korean History Korean War U.S. & Korea

Don’t Know Much About History

Just the latest example of historical myopia from the kids in South Korea.

As the university was announcing the plans, the Chosun Ilbo reported a Gallup poll in Korea that showed 62.9 percent of teens and 58.2 percent in their 20s did not know when the Korean War broke out. Also, only 43.9 percent of those surveyed said North Korea is to blame for starting the Korean War, with the figure among teenagers 38 percent and 36 percent for 20-somethings. Some 18 percent of teens and 25 percent of those in their 20s said both North and South Korea are responsible.

Until just a few years ago, some teachers who are members of the hardline Korean Teachers and Educational Workers Union have been teaching that the Korean War was a battle for liberation led by the North. During the Roh Moo-hyun administration, a state-run broadcaster aired a documentary on Memorial Day praising China’s Mao Zedong, who backed the North in the Korean War. [Chosun Ilbo]

One of the points I’ve made for years about the USFK is that it’s an impediment to South Korea’s progress toward political maturity, which is in turn impeded by its lack of a confident sense of self-sufficient nationhood. That may be the only thing North Korea has today that South Korea doesn’t, and you can see emotional hunger for this sense among certain demographics in South Korea, though no to the same extent as the North Koreans’ physical hunger for South Korean rice and ChocoPies. Somehow, I don’t think Koreans would be so prosaic about the genesis of their form of government if they had to mobilize to Israeli proportions to defend it.

4 Comments

  1. Those stats are pretty appalling, but then I realize just how many American kids don’t know when the American civil war started. Sigh, can we at least know all 50 states and where they are please?




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  2. Joshua,

    In my many conversations with ROK expatriates in the past several years, one consistent characteristic most shared, to the point I expect a pattern when I meet new ones (which is almost always repeated) is that these individuals whose ages range from mid-late 20s to late 30s are terribly informed when it comes to the history of their own country. They tend to hold a level of anti-Americanism (which is ironic since many of them, once here, pretend to settle permanently and wish not to return to the ROK for good) and also tend to be extremely defensive of the ROK point of view of history, including the point of view that Koreans have always been victims. When it comes to the Korean War, most will acknowledge the assistance provided by the United States, but they will also hold the United States responsible for the war breaking out.

    If this is what I face as a Korean-American dealing with my ethnic brethren who were born, raised, and educated in the ROK, I can only imagine what you faced when you lived and worked in the ROK.




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  3. I think this is common in many, if not most countries. I’ve corrected a few people who didn’t know that the Korean War started in 1950, not 1953 or 1955.




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  4. This is extremely sad since South Koreans have it much better than their fellow kin in the North. Anti-Americanism in the modern era is not quite unfounded because of the USA’s hypocritical foreign policy. Yet the people of the Republic of Korea owe the US and other countries much gratitude in helping them achieve freedom from a Stalinist dictatorship. While the ROK government was far from liberal democracy in the decades after the Korean War, it is finally much more free and democratic. It’s sad that the younger generations do not appreciate this fact and even buy into North Korean propaganda.




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