The Senate Plays the Name Game …

Each day is different down here.  Sometimes, we are designating the state bat.  And other days were are naming a body of water which is 10,000 miles away.  And it always comes back to one thing … I got a constituent (or several) who cares about this.

The original and all-time highlight for foreign policy intervention occurred in 2003, when the House of Delegates designated the old ARVN flag as the official flag of Vietnam.  Of course, the Republic of Vietnam had gone out of business 26 years previously, but that was a minor detail.

What was interesting about the 2003 effort, which I remember vividly, was that the bill  carried by Bob Hull had limped out of the Rules Committee and likely would have died a quiet death  except that the Vietnamese Communist government got their friends in the Bush administration involved in trying to kill it.  (This was just as the countries were normalizing relations).

Talk about giving left-wingers and right-wingers a reason to work together.

Instead of killing it as the State Department requested, we passed it with a thunderous 68-27 majority in the House, as old ARVN veterans wearing their yellow-red division patches cheered from the gallery.  (I still remember Hull telling the Speaker in our Caucus that he would withdraw his bill only if the Vietnamese Communists would release all their political prisoners.  And you go, Bob!)

Of course, the bill died in the “more responsible” Senate.

Anyway, this year the controversy arose around SB 2,  a bill carried by Senator Marsden to co-designate in Virginia textbooks the “Sea of Japan” as the “East Sea” which is the name used in Korea.  (To compare the actual words, its “Nihonkai” vs. “Donghae”).

The body of water lies between the two countries.  It was named internationally during a time when Korea was a colony of Japan and, therefore, not in a position to have a voice.  For that reason, it’s name is a source of controversy in the Korean community, as a proxy for the larger issues arising from the Japanese occupation, including the effort to ban the Korean language.  I know that first-hand.

I won’t rehash the legal arguments (pro or con), except to state that the bill is a “Section 1″ measure which means that it’s not a state law, but simply expresses the policy of the Assembly.  In this case, that policy we voted — and passed today — is to have Virginia textbooks reflect both names.  In reality, an explanation of the controversy would be a good learning point for all our schoolchildren.

You can state that the Assembly should not be in the business of micro-managing textbook materials.  And you would generally be correct.  But when you have thousands of constituents (literally) who feel strongly about an issue, you don’t have the luxury of pretending that the issue doesn’t exist.

While the bill was being considered, the Japanese government got involved to slow down this bipartisan effort.  Of course, the bill and its supporters has nothing derogatory to say about Japan; I lived in Osaka in 1990-1991 and have great affections for my friends back there (“tanoshikatta yo!”).  I highly doubt that they know or care about our actions in Virginia.  Therefore, I have difficulty believing that Japanese businesses will stop doing business in Virginia due to a sixth-grade textbook mentioning both names.

For the Koreans, it’s different.  This is an identity issue and “whose side are  you on.”  And, yes, all politics is local.  Even when it involves the East Sea.




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  • Tess Ailshire

    It may be an identity issue, but one on which Virginia should not be on one “side” or another.