Blind spots of Independence Days

How much do Woodstockers know about Indian and Korean Independence day?

After talking to a small group of them, the answer seems to be: not much. All names have been removed to protect the innocent (and ignorant).

Question: What is the precise date of the India-Pakistan Partition?

What people thought:

“I don’t know” and a shrug was the general response from most respondents. With puzzled faces, most of them couldn’t even say when the Partition of India happened, except for a 9th-grade Indian girl and a history teacher.

What actually happened:

India and Pakistan were partitioned on August 15, 1947, which is now India’s Independence Day.

Question: How long did the British rule India?

What people thought:

Though none of the responses were precise, about half of the replies were on the right track. “I think about 150 years?” said a history teacher, and “about 250 years,” said an AP science teacher.

A 12th-grade girl was closer, saying, “for a couple of centuries?” while a 9th-grade Indian girl was also near the correct answer, saying, “for a couple of centuries?”

The furthest answer was “about a hundred years, but I don’t know” from an 8th-grade boy.

What actually happened:

The Partition of India and Pakistan happened at the midnight on Aug. 15, 1947, when Britain ended its 190 years of colonial rule (17571947). Mahatma Gandhi had marched for peace alongside the Congress’s “Quit India” movement on Aug. 2, 1942, leading to the British granting Indian Independence.

It was quite a surprise when only one out of five Indians got the answer right, whereas, on the other hand, most of the foreigners (American, British, Nepali, and French) got the answer nearly correct.

Question: Why did the Partition occur?

What people thought:

Some blamed the Pakistani side, saying that “Pakistan tried to conquer Kashmir” (a 6th-grade Indian girl) or “because Jinnah wanted to separate the Islamic state from the Hindus” (history teacher).

Others blamed it on the British, saying, “The British community thought that they had to divide the Hindu and the Muslim communities, and the British deepened the division between those two communities” (12th-grade girl).

Interesting enough, there was also a third perspective introduced about this event. “Nehru and Jinnah never came to conclusion,” said an 8th grade boy, regarding the Hindu and Muslim community, continuing to say that there were no sides to blame, for it was a conclusion made for the better of both communities.

What actually happened:

After the 190 years of British rule started by the East India Company followed up with the Company Rules (1708-1873) and the British Raj (1858-1947), the tension between the Muslims and the Hindus was not resolved and was contributed to by the British after the 1857 revolt. Hence, when the British were leaving, the last viceroy of India Louis Mountbatten suggested that the country should be partitioned in order to separate those two communities. The Kashmir conflict was not the reason why the Partition happened since it occurred after both countries’ independence.

It seems that nationalism and anti-Pakistan rhetoric dominates thoughts about Partition until today. About 4 out of 5 Indians blamed the Pakistanis for their greed (over Kashmir) and anti-Hindu anger.

Question: Which year did the Korean Independence happen?

What people thought:

The question of when Korean Independence day happened brought more predictable results. As we are more familiar with Indian culture and customs, it wasn’t expected that people would be well aware of South Korean history and its Independence. And as predicted, the answers ranged from “I don’t know” to “am I suppose to know about this?” Surprisingly, the history teacher too had some hardship in settling on the answer.

What actually happened:

Earning independence on Aug. 15, 1945, the Koreans were freed from the Japanese rule which lasted for  35 years (1910-1945). With historical heroes such as Gwan soon Yu and Gu Kim, who has bared the Japanese threat and torture, the Korean peninsula was finally freed.

As mentioned, though it was presumed that not a lot of people would have been aware of the precise date, the gap between how well people know about the British-Indian colonization and the Japan-Korea colonization was drastic. It can be said that it is because there is more interest in European history than East Asian history, but it may also be opinionated that having a general knowledge about world history is also necessary.

Question: Why was the Korean peninsula divided?

What people thought:

This question had the most interesting answers.

Firstly, some were misinformed that the division was related to Kim Jong Un (the current North Korean leader). For example, one 6th-grade Indian girl said, “When North and South Korea was one country, Kim Jong Un didn’t like that, so he divided the country in half.”

Secondly, some thought that it was “because North Korea wanted to take over the world” (8th-grade boy).

The only answer which was accurate was from the history teacher, who said, “After the Cold War the communists (Russia and China) and the western powers (America) divided the countries. The Cold War was being played out in the Korean peninsula by the other communist and western forces.”

What actually happened:

To start with, the present North Korean leader Kim Jong Un did not have any influence over the Korean division nor on the Korean War since his birth date is Jan. 8, 1982, 32 years before the Korean War (1950-1953).

The war was provoked through the constant persuasion (from 1949-1950) of the Soviet Union’s leader Joseph Stalin, who provoked Kim Il Sung (Stalin’s puppet and the current leader’s grandfather) to start the Korean War. With the communist forces (the Soviet Union and China) on one side supporting North Korea against the western forces (America alongside with the UN) aiding South Korea, the Korean war halted in 1953 as China, North Korea, America and South Korea signed an armistice.

It came into sight that most of the people were having overlapping views on the current North Korean President and the former President Kim Il Sung. Forming a prejudiced view towards the North Korean government seems to be a trend these days, perhaps not entirely deserved

Question: Are North and South Korea different countries?

What people thought:

As much as people thought this last question was preposterous, nobody got the real answer. “Yes!” they said with a fazed face with an isn’t-that-obvious? or an are-you-serious? expression, confident that their answers were certainly right.

Yes, one may argue that legitimately North and South Korea are different countries, but technically they are neither one country nor two different ones.

What the truth is:

Firstly, North and South Korea are one nation despite being two different states. So depending on how an individual may define a country the answer to this question may vary.

Secondly, though legitimately North and South Korea are separate states, the current process of reunification through tackling Panmunjom Declaration and Sunshine Policy between those countries makes it hard to draw a defining line whether they are different countries or not since they are hanging on the fence.

Through this investigation, the amount of interest poured by students and staff towards current affairs of other countries was unveiled. All of the answers to this question was a determined and a definite “Yes!” (except one, an especially bright 12th grader), but not a single person was bothered to elaborate why, how, and since when.

Generally, if this was a quiz or a test, regardless of gender, nationality, and/or age, everyone would have failed. There were some right answers, some which were only half right, but most of them were either incorrect or misinterpreted. If you were the teacher of this class, you would certainly be unhappy with the amount of concern given by the students to look for historical events they themselves celebrate every year.

Maya Angelou once said, “You can’t really know where you are going until you know where you have been.” Similarly, history may not matter to an individual’s life, and it may not directly impact one. It might as well seem like a boring course to torture our memories, but since “everything connects to everything else” (Leonardo da Vinci), “for better or worse, everything matters” (Bruce Mau).

Photo by Mikko Aoki Liu

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