ELECTION-YEAR PANDERING to ethnic minorities is part of America’s political tradition, but sometimes restraint is the wiser course. In Northern Virginia this year, candidates have been outdoing themselves to cozy up to the region’s fast-growing Korean community. That’s fine — except when politicians seek to substitute their judgment for that of historians.
In the open-seat race in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District, the Republican candidate, state Del. Barbara Comstock, is promising that, if elected, she will attempt to insert Congress into a dispute between South Korea and Japan. The dispute involves prodding states to buy school textbooks that challenge the name of the Sea of Japan, which many Koreans insist should be called the East Sea. Ms. Comstock’s Democratic opponent, Fairfax County Supervisor John Foust, chimed in that he would do the same.
Given Virginia’s demographics, politicians may see it as a no-brainer to take the Korean side. The state’s 82,000 ethnic Koreans, many of whom live in Northern Virginia, outnumber ethnic Japanese by more than 4 to 1.
But it’s fair to ask whether Ms. Comstock and Mr. Foust, neither of whom has any particular expertise in international affairs, should be poking their noses in a bitter dispute between two U.S. allies — one of which, Japan, is among Virginia’s top sources of foreign investment. Terry McAuliffe (D), while campaigning for governor last year, said he would support legislation in Richmond requiring the state to buy textbooks reflecting the Korean position. Once elected to office, and faced with the reality of Japanese opposition, his enthusiasm waned (though, in the end, he quietly signed the bill).
Similarly, we wonder about the precedent set by Fairfax County in dedicating a memorial garden, just behind the County Government Center, to women forced into sex slavery by Japan during World War II.
There’s no dispute about the anguish and abuse suffered by so-called comfort women, many of them Korean, who were forced into brothels to service Japanese soldiers. But what other ethnic, national or historical grievances will Fairfax agree to memorialize at its government center? Irish repression at the hands of the British? The Armenian genocide perpetuated by the Turks? The 14th-century Battle of Kosovo, in which the Serbs were wiped out by the Ottomans?
We’re pressing the point, but the question stands: Is the seat of a county government — even a county with a richly diverse population — the right place to memorialize historical tragedies? And if so, which ones?
We doubt it, much as we doubt that Congress should be attempting to arbitrate the nomenclature of the sea that separates Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Let politicians pander. But let them also refrain from dictating cartographic advisory opinions to the states.