Teachers feel police stepped over the line with pro-U.S. comic
Stars and Stripes August 24, 2009
SEOUL — South Korean police plan to distribute a comic book this fall aimed at changing the minds of elementary and middle school students who admire North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and want the U.S. military to leave their country.
The move is condemned by a leading teachers union as a return to the country’s dictatorship past.
"The police must not be a political organization," said Eom Min-yong, a spokesman for the Korea Teachers and Education Workers Union, who claims police are misusing their authority to gain favor with President Lee Myung-bak. The union represents about 18 percent of South Korea’s teachers.
The 52-page book will say that North Korea’s nuclear program and possible reunification under Kim’s communist regime threaten the South, Korean National Police spokesman Kim Ki-tai said.
KNP decided to publish the book after observing a "shocking" trend of anti-Americanism among young bloggers, he said. The police randomly monitor blog sites, paying special attention to those that are considered a threat to national security.
"It aims to straighten out the distorted ideas about reunification and national security among young teenagers," Kim Ki-tai said, adding that none of the students who wrote the blogs have been arrested.
About 150,000 copies of the booklet, targeting students in grades four through nine, will be distributed to classrooms across the country. The project will cost 75 million won, or about $60,000, and the money will come from the police budget.
Statistics showing that South Korean youth know little about their country’s relationships with the North and the United States also persuaded KNP to publish the comic book.
One survey, conducted by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, found that less than 49 percent of middle and high school students knew that North Korea invaded South Korea. Only 43 percent could name the year the war began (1950), and 64 percent said the likelihood of North Korea invading the South was low.
Kim Ki-tai said North Korea’s recent missile launches and nuclear test alarmed expats more than South Koreans. Many South Koreans blame the U.S. for preventing reunification between the two Koreas, he said.
"People feel a lot closer to North Korea — that they are not our enemy but our compatriots who are poor and in need of help," he said.
Sympathy for North Korea among South Korean youth has been a worrisome trend for educators. In 2004, more cadets at the Korea Military Academy — similar to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point — identified the U.S. as South Korea’s biggest threat than the number who named North Korea. The academy cut its boot camp from six to four weeks, allotting the extra two weeks for classes on South Korean history and the country’s relationship with the United States.
The classes are still held, though the academy doesn’t have data about current students’ views on North Korea, a KMA spokeswoman said.
Eom said police officers should let education professionals decide what material is distributed to students.
He also said that schools should focus on reunification and reconciliation, not on criticizing communism and North Korea.
Police will meet this week with Ministry of Education officials to discuss the book, which the union’s Web site says will likely end up on display in the library instead of being used in the classroom.
The Web site also says police might be overstepping their bounds and turning the country into a military regime — an area of particular sensitivity to South Koreans, because the country was ruled by a series of autocratic leaders after the Korean War through the early 1990s.
The KNP is also producing a 10-minute film warning of the North Korean threat to national security. The film will be released late this year and will be shown in subways, on the electric billboards on high-rise buildings and on public television stations, Kim Ki-tai said.