January 18, 2007 07:50
Korean parents and students in America are angry over a novel used in U.S. schools that contains distorted and erroneous facts about the way Koreans treated Japanese women as they fled Korea at the end of World War Two.
Written by Japanese-American Yoko Kawashima Watkins, "So Far from the Bamboo Grove" depicts the time when the Japanese colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula ended in 1945 from the perspective of 11-year old Yoko, who has to flee Korea with her family.
In the story, reportedly based on the real-life experiences of the writer, young Yoko witnesses Koreans’ ruthless attacks and rape of the fleeing Japanese and the ensuing hunger, agony and death while she escapes from Namam in today’s North Korea through Seoul and Busan to Japan. When U.S. planes bomb their train, the family is forced to finish their dangerous journey on foot.
But while critics have commended the author for her courageous tale of survival, a number of historical inaccuracies have been discovered in the story. Among them is the erroneous claim that Japan’s military occupation of Korea was justified by the Taft-Katsura Agreement of 1905.
The bombing of the train by U.S. planes is also suspect, as the American military did not bomb any part of North Korea during the time frame of the story. Further, the claims of daylight rapes of Japanese women seem unbelievable, as occupying Japanese troops were not disarmed until weeks after Korea’s liberation on August 15, 1945.
The writer also claims that she and her mother were forced to steal the uniform of a dead Communist soldier in order to hide from North Korean forces, but North Korea’s Communist army was not founded until 1948 so there would have been no uniforms of that type at that time.
Yoko also writes that her father, who worked in Manchuria, was against the war, but records show that he was a war criminal who served for six years in a Siberian prison. Finally, the bamboo groves mentioned in the title of the book existed only in the southern part of Korea until the 1920s.
Korean parents’ groups in New York, Boston and Los Angeles have questioned the novel's failure to mention the many atrocities committed against the Korean people by Japanese troops.
They are also angry that their children are being compelled to read a book that paints a false picture of Koreans, the victims of the occupation, committing unspeakable acts of vengeance against the Japanese.
The Korean Consulate in the U.S. is trying to stop the usage of this book in American schools.
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