NY State Senator Tony Avella’s pathetic pandering to Korean nationalists @TonyAvella
The Korean media has posted photos of American politician Tony Avella (Democrat – 11th New York Senate district) attending a press conference wearing a rather odd t-shirt.
The t-shirt says, “Yes! East Sea No! Sea of Japan,” referencing Korean ultra-nationalists’ campaign to make the entire world change their maps to reflect the Korean language name for the body of water between Japan and Korea.
Avella represents the Queens neighborhood of Bayside, an area with a large Korean population. His t-shirt show is an obvious act of pandering to Korean-American voters who support the anti-Japanese agenda of South Korean nationalists.
Last week, lawmakers in New Jersey and New York introduced bills aimed at adding “East Sea” to textbooks in their states. The move comes shortly after the state of Virginia passed a similar plan.
An article on NJ.com mentions the arguments in favor of the plan:
“We non-Asian Americans have very little knowledge of this body of water,” Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Bergen), one of the sponsors, said. “When I spoke to the different Korean-American groups, they felt this should be a way to educate the non-Asian Americans as to what the history is, and maybe stimulate them to look into the history.”
For decades, the name of the sea — fraught with history — has been a delicate issue for South Korea and Japan.
South Koreans, who favor “East Sea”, say that calling it the Sea of Japan is “colonialist” and harks back to Japan’s brutal past rule of the Korean peninsula. They claim the name only came into popular use during that period.
Koreans have a right to feel resentment over the fact that their country was annexed by a foreign empire. The historical record shows that many Korean people suffered human rights abuses under Japanese rule. However, the historical record does not show that the usage of the name “Sea of Japan” on American maps was a product of Japanese imperialism.
By the first half of the 19th century, almost all maps printed in Western countries used the name “Sea of Japan.” Japan was closed off to the outside world until the 1850’s and did not start to become an Imperialist power until the late 1870’s. Foreign countries had already decided on their name for the sea prior to Japanese rule of Korea.
Claiming that “the name only came into popular use” during the period of Japanese Imperialism is simply untrue. It doesn’t reflect historical reality. Instead, it reflects modern day anti-Japanese nationalism in Korea. Some Korean nationalists dislike Japan so much that they cannot stand the idea of English language maps referring to the body of water as the “Sea of Japan.” A few, perhaps, absurdly believe that the name implies some kind of ownership of the sea, or somehow strengthens Japan’s arguments over the ownership of Liancourt Rocks. Korean nationalists want English-speakers, and the whole world, to use the term “East Sea” instead. After all, it’s directly east of Korea, so the name makes sense to them.
When liberal-minded Americans hear about countries that were once placed under the rule of foreign Imperialist powers, we tend to sympathize with the victim, and tend to assume that they are telling the truth. When a former Imperialist power tries to defend its past actions, we tend to take a negative view of such defensive behavior, especially when that former Imperialist power is Japan, a former enemy of American democratic values. In this case, Korean nationalists are taking advantage of the sympathy of well-intentioned but historically ignorant Americans.
American voters should not allow groups backed by foreign countries to re-write American school textbooks to reflect their nationalist grudges. Unfortunately, almost no lawmakers or voters in New York and New Jersery are going to care enough to do their homework about this issue, so the bills will probably pass, and politicians like Tony Avella will continue to champion the cause of ugly nationalism.