We’ve all been there; the mandatory history classes that fill much of our standard K-12 education. Unless you are like me and enjoy learning history, these classes were likely places where you wondered when and how you would actually use the information learned there.
I don’t have an issue with Americans learning about the history of the country they reside in; in fact, I think its importance should be emphasized to better understand ourselves and how we can improve our country in the future. My issue, however, is with the courses entitled “World History” that neglect the nuances of individual cultures in favor of more Westernized views of the world.
I hadn’t realized how much of my education had a Western bias until I got into K-Pop (yes, I love BTS). One day I was reading a Korean comic and saw a reference to a conflict between Korea and Japan. I had known the two countries had some adversity, but I had no idea the two nations fought a massive scale war in the 1500s, the same time when Europe was experiencing the end of the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the Age of Exploration.
How could I have missed this? The only thing I knew about Korea was the Korean War in the 1960s, and the only thing I knew about Japan was the Pacific Theatre during World War II. There was so much more that happened in these nations without the presence of a Western power. For instance, why did I have to wait until I researched this topic on my own until I found out about Admiral Yi Sun-Shin and his incredible turtle ships?
If you’re like me and have never heard of these turtle ships before, I’ll take a moment to explain. Japanese swordsmen were formidable in hand-to-hand combat, and to avoid confronting them, Koreans used turtle ships — naval warfare developed by Admiral Yi Sun-Shin — to deliver long-distance attacks.
Admiral Yi Sun-Shin both inspired his people to stand up to an invasion as well as developed innovations that allowed them to gain an advantage in a seemingly hopeless situation. Leaders like these should not be neglected in a world history course, especially if their role in history is monumental.
If it had not been for Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, his incredible leadership and his innovations in naval warfare, the invading Japanese forces may have achieved their goal of conquering Korea and China. This would have changed the history of East Asia, and by extension, our world history as well.
In a notable quote from Admiral Yi Sun-Shin, he says: “My life is simple, my food is plain, and my quarters are uncluttered. In all things, I have sought clarity. I face the troubles and problems of life and death willingly. Virtue, integrity and courage are my priorities. I can be approached, but never pushed; befriended but never coerced; killed but never shamed.”
World history classes should not neglect stories like that of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin and his turtle ships. These classes have a duty to share with students the important events which have shaped our whole world, not just those in the West. They also have a duty to teach these stories as they happened, refraining from stereotypical perceptions of other cultures, and misrepresenting key figures in our world history for the sake of pushing Westernized viewpoints.
Photo from istockphoto.com.