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Korea's history: What text should high-schoolers read?

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The ministry has ordered specific changes in a textbook entitled "Modern – Contemporary History of Korea" – and is expected to mandate revisions in several others.

Underlying the ministry's criticism is the sense that the books are far too critical of the country's leadership after the time of the Japanese surrender on Aug. 15, 1945.

Conservatives believe the books tend to overlook the economic "miracle" of the nation's rise from the devastation of the Korean War while focusing on the dictatorial excesses of a series of leaders beginning with the country's first president, Rhee Syngman.

"Current textbooks lack positive evaluation of Korea's success in economy and democracy," the ministry said in written response to questions.

In view of the influence of textbooks on "the values of our country," the response goes on, passages "that hurt the legitimacy of the establishment of Korea will be corrected or amended."

Some academic figures see a desire on the part of the conservative president, Mr. Lee, to reverse teachings inculcated during Kim Dae Jung's presidency.

"They're blaming the leftists for troubles," says Charles Armstrong, a history professor at Columbia University, and calling for "a much less critical view of the United States."

Mr. Armstrong, a signer of the statement, concedes that "it's probably true" that the books gloss over the Korean War, covering it only briefly and playing down the North Korean role.

The books in general focus on the democratization movement, giving the impression of a national struggle against foreign oppressors, including the country's American ally.

"There's room for debate about the Korean War," says Armstrong, "but foreign scholars are worried this has become a ."

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