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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 4)

All Headlines 09:29 November 04, 2017

Another history war?
New museum director stirs controversy

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism named Chu Chin-oh, a modern Korean history professor at Sangmyung University, as director of the National Museum of Korean Contemporary History in central Seoul, Wednesday.

The opposition parties are making an issue out of the appointment due to Chu's allegedly biased view of history reflected in his past activities. The minor opposition Bareun Party claimed his appointment is the start of a history war by the Moon Jae-in administration. The main opposition Liberty Korea Party called for a withdrawal of the appointment.

Chu was one of the writers of a high school history textbook published in 2013 that allegedly contained some left-leaning descriptions of Korea after liberation from Japanese rule in 1945. The textbook stirred controversy because of some of its content regarding the founding of separate governments in 1948 on the Korean Peninsula.

On May 10, 1948, general elections took place and Syngman Rhee was inaugurated as the first president of the Republic of Korea (ROK) on Aug. 15 of the same year. In September 1948, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea was proclaimed with Kim Il-sung as its leader.

Even though the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948 recognized ROK as the sole legitimate government on the Korean Peninsula, the textbook seemingly backs the legitimacy of the founding of the North Korean regime by stating that the South Korean government was recognized only in the territory south of the 38th parallel. This goes against education ministry guidelines for writing history textbooks, which urges writers to keep in line with the U.N. 's recognition. It also goes against the common thinking of many Koreans. The textbook includes some problematic contents that could be interpreted as praising the North's land reform and glorifying its founding Juche ideology.

When the education ministry ordered a revision of some of the problematic parts, Chu and other writers refused to do so and filed a suit against the ministry to nullify the correction order.

It is regrettable that another appointment of a high-level post has become controversial. In a media interview this week, Chu said the museum will shed light on parts of history that have been overlooked, such as the activities of the interim government based in China during the 1910-1945 Japanese occupation of Korea. Historians are entitled to their own views. But as museum director, Chu should be mindful not to let his own historical views get in the way of balanced management of the museum.

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