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[Editorial] Professor Lee Young-hoon’s Academic Courage Should Be Given Credit

[Editorial] Professor Lee Young-hoon’s Academic Courage Should Be Given Credit

Posted April. 28, 2005 23:46,   


Lee Young-hoon, a professor of Economics at Seoul National University, will read his thesis, “Korea’s Economy in Middle and High School Textbooks,” at an academic conference.

The main point of his thesis is that most textbooks undermine the “Hangang Miracle” based on faulty statistics. His examples are, “Korea’s economy grew on the sacrifices of minimum-wage laborers and small- and medium-sized companies and the income gap between the classes worsened in three decades from the 1960s.” Professor Lee showed that this is not true through his research conclusions.

Professor Lee pointed out a few days ago that the number of sex slaves and forced laborers is exaggerated in our textbooks in a thesis titled: “The Trap of Faulty Numbers of North Korean Diplomats and in South Korean Textbooks.”

Professor Lee’s conclusions challenge three strong beliefs: Japanese colonial rule and development, which has been considered an “absolute evil,” common knowledge as we know it, and a sign of authority, the textbook. This is a difficult task to undertake without academic courage.

We are not here to advocate Professor Lee’s position. We are merely here to point out that society should allow for free intellectual pursuit and public debates of this pursuit. We should give people like Professor Lee an opportunity to speak up. Fact is sacred, and is more important than interpretations and appraisement. However, the environment of our society completely blocks out mere questioning of facts that dispute original interpretations and appraisals. Academics cannot develop in such an environment.

It is an undisputable fact that sex slaves were a Japanese atrocity. However the problem is how many of them there were. When someone disputes a number, society makes it sound like they are agreeing with the Japanese statement that “there were no sex slaves.” There were a lot of human rights violations during the Park Chung-hee era, but it is not right to undermine the economic development at that time as well. If we are to criticize Japanese textbooks, we must do so on a basis of facts and truth. The term “lonely struggle” must really disappear, at least in the academic world.