February 12, 2014

Editorial: Hollow gesture, or important one?

What’s in a name? Plenty, apparently.

State legislators are going to be asked to consider a bill requiring all school textbooks used in New York to refer to the Sea of Japan as both the Sea of Japan and the East Sea.

That bill has been introduced by a senator and member of Assembly who represent a heavily Korean district of New York City. Koreans were long oppressed and occupied by Japan and resent the name. It rekindles those feelings of degradation caused by Japan’s inhumane treatment of Korea before World War II.

To some Koreans, it undoubtedly has the effect of reminders of Nazi brutalities in Europe — particularly Germany, perhaps — leading up to and during World War II.

Expunging the name entirely would probably be regarded by Koreans as the just thing to do, but that is unlikely to happen. After all, Japan is a law-abiding world citizen now, and the name of that body of water is well etched into the minds of people worldwide.

So the next best thing is to teach students that there is a legitimate, internationally recognized alternative name. The East Sea would hardly offend anybody — at least, anybody outside Japan.

National Geographic, incidentally, one of America’s foremost acknowledged experts on such matters, has used both names for more than a decade.

While this seems an argument more suited to Korean and Japanese diplomats or possibly for the United Nations, New York City lawmakers are transferring it for the moment to lap of the New York State Legislature.

With all that’s going on of immediate concern to a large majority of New Yorkers, this seems like a matter of scant importance for the State Legislature. However, local bills have great moment for individual lawmakers who want to curry favor with a segment of their constituency.

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