The White House reports that South Korean accesses downed their homepage after a petition demanding the US make schools stop using the “Sea of Japan” name in their textbooks inflamed the passions of nationalists.
The trouble began when a Virginia-based Korean pressure group started a petition on the White House’s “We the People” petition system, demanding that the federal government ban school textbooks from referring to the sea to west of Japan as “the Sea of Japan,” and instead call solely it “the East Sea.”
The text of the initial petition, which cannily attempts to present the obscure naming dispute as correcting injustices being inflicted on children and veterans, both of which obsess American politicians:
The East Sea – a FALSE history in our textbooks!
We are teaching our children a FALSE history in classrooms:
1. As a result of gruesome military expansionism, Japan changed “East Sea” (the original name of sea bordered by Korea, Russia, and Japan) to “Sea of Japan” in 1928
2. Korea was liberated in 1945, but Japan still refuses to return “East Sea” to its original identity.
3. Our veterans were the major force defeating Japan in World War II. We helped Korea to regain its freedom.
4. However, we are still teaching our children a FALSE history that was manipulated by the invader who attacked “Pearl Harbor”.
Please join us and sign this petition to correct a FALSE history in our textbooks. Our children have right to learn a TRUE history!
Given that in the US the federal government has nothing to do with selecting school textbooks (they are selected by schools from a list approved by the local state), there are some grounds to doubt whether the original petition was actually launched by anyone familiar with American politics.
The naming dispute has long inflamed Korean nationalists, although the issue arouses very little interest elsewhere.
Their usual tactic has been to cajole international organisations, map providers and even nations of some standing into dropping the “Sea of Japan” name, or failing that to include both in the hopes that they can get it dropped completely later.
This campaign seems to have stalled of late, with the International Hydrographic Organization recently opting to preserve “Sea of Japan” as the sole name of the sea, with only South Korea voting in favour of its proposal for it to be renamed “East Sea.”
The unusual fervour and international meddling of Korean nationalists has many in Japan concerned, and a counter-petition was launched:
Sea of Japan -the authentic history in our textbooks! We are teaching our children the authentic history, so why change?
We should definitely keep the Sea of Japan as it is now.
1. Contrary to the Korean claim that Japan changed “East Sea” to “Sea of Japan” in 1928, the Sea of Japan has always been the Sea of Japan, since the beginning of time.
2. South Koreans are under heavy communism influence because of communist North Korea, and have forgotten about the massive American blood spilled to defend them from the North Korean invasion aided by Russians and Communist Chinese during the Korean War in the ’50s. Now they want the American forces out. Their extreme ethnocentricity blinds them and they want to rewrite history per their stories. That is plain wrong.
Please join us and sign this petition to stop FALSIFYING history in our textbooks. Our children have right to keep learning a TRUE history!
The issue was widely reported in the Korean media, and soon both petitions became widely circulated online, with organised efforts in each country to flood the petitions with signatures in support of their position.
The White House subsequently reported that on the 20th of April the server was downed by heavy traffic and traffic analysis suggested the vast majority of the IPs involved were from South Korea.
The White House’s response was to temporarily block Korean access to the site until the flood of traffic abated.
They did not comment on whether the traffic was part of a denial of service attack (a popular tactic with Korean nationalists) or merely the result of an excessively intense effort to spam signatures originating in Korea.
It is not clear whether there are any restrictions on anonymous non-US citizens spamming petitions and signatures implemented on the site.
However, as the US government appears not to have actually acted on any of the petitions, preferring to cherry-pick popular petitions for brief official responses which explain how its existing policy in fact already addresses the petition’s request, this may be a moot point.