-WARNING- This post will make an analogy between what imperial Japan did to colonial Korea and the crime of rape. If you had read Part III, you would know it is in fact worse than that. But the Korean understands that many people are uncomfortable with a discussion of rape. If you are one of those people, you might want to skip this post. But the Korean promises that this post will be interesting, and hopefully enlightening.
Imagine two criminals committed a horrendous crime against someone. The victim’s injury has been more or less healed after a long time, but there are many scars remaining, reminding him/her constantly of the crime. What should they do? Any decent human being would answer in the following: “Find ways to atone for your crime. Apologize sincerely, and support that apology with action. Then, perhaps, the victim might find ways to forgive your crime.”
One of the criminals of World War II – Germany – did exactly that. In December 1970, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt went to Warsaw, Poland, and sent an unmistakable image out to the world when he fell to his knees before the monument at the site of a concentration camp. Since the end of World War II, West Germany and unified Germany have spent $104 billion for restitution of the victims of its war crime. Denying the existence of Holocaust is a crime in Germany, freedom-of-speech concerns aside.
What did the other criminal do? To its credit, Japan did officially apologize for its colonial past several times, including at the level of the Japanese Emperor and Prime Minister. In fact, especially in the 1990s, Japanese Prime Minister Hosokawa and his successor Murayama both apologized pretty sincerely, acknowledging Japanese Imperialism to be “invasions”.
Problem is that unlike Germany, Japan somehow has trouble maintaining that party line. Each time there is an apology from Japan, there are two Japanese politicians who say such things as “the Imperial Japan in fact did a lot of good to Korea, like modernizing it.” Well, that claim is somewhat true, but consider the following. Suppose there is a woman who wished to have a child. She then becomes a victim of rape, and gives birth to a child. It is true that without the rapist, the woman would not have gotten her child. But should we recognize the commendable behavior of the rapist of granting his victim’s wish? Of course not.
Another issue along the same line is paying respects to Yasukuni Temple. At Yasukuni, 14 top war criminals of Japan, including Tojo Hideki, are buried. (If you don’t know, Tojo is to Japan is Mussolini to Italy and Hitler to Germany.) Since 1996, on every End of War Memorial Day of Japan (which is Liberation Day for Korea, making it doubly insulting,) Japanese Prime Minister would visit Yasukuni Temple and pay his respects. Imagine the uproar if Angela Merkel (Prime Minister of Germany) paid respects to Hitler’s tomb every year!
One argument that Japanese people make is that Yasukuni has more than the 14 war criminals – it in fact memorializes over 3 million war deaths, and visiting Yasukuni simply has the meaning of commemorating the dead. But in that case, why not move out the war criminals’ tomb out of the temple? We know where Hitler is buried in Berlin – it’s underneath a random parking lot, and there is no marker for the place, so that it cannot become a shrine for Neo-Nazis.
Still another issue is that when a new war crime comes up, Japan refuses to recognize its role in the crime. The current row over Comfort Women is a really good example of this. (See the earlier post for the short discussion.) This issue was not really made public until late 1980s~early 1990s, and Japan initially dragged its feet, saying it was merely private contractors recruiting women for the military. Finally, in 1993, Kono Yohei, then-Minister of Defense, admitted that the Japanese military was involved in recruiting the women through force, lies, and deception. Since then, Japan’s position has been admitting moral culpability, but not the legal one. Accordingly, in 1994, Japanese government set up a private fund in order to compensate the victims. Naturally, no victims of Comfort Women took the money.
(More on why Japan can take such a position a little later, but talk about splitting hairs! Recalling the rapist earlier, it’s as if the rapist is claiming clean hands because he did everything but forcible penetration. Some nerve.)
Things were unsatisfactory to Koreans even then, but recently Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo made it worse. As U.S. Congress is trying to pass a resolution urging Japanese government to apologize to the survivors of Comfort Women, Abe bluntly refused to apologize, and hinted at backtracking on the involvement of the Japanese military in conscripting the women by re-investigating the issue once again.
Just compare this to what Germany did. Amazing, isn’t it? Instead of treating its war crime as a clear evil that must not be repeated ever again, the Japanese government seems to see them as a matter of opinion.
Naturally, the amount Japan paid in restitution to Korea is nothing compared to $104 billion that Germany paid. Japan paid exactly $500 million to the Korean government in 1965 – less than 0.5 percent of what Germany paid. Korea was desperately poor at that point, and in exchange for $500 million, the Korean government decided to extinguish all of its claims against Japan regarding its past. It’s a complex issue in the international law as to whether a government may enter into such a pact. But since 1965, every time a new and horrendous war crime is uncovered, like Comfort Women and Unit 731, Japanese government repeats its argument that it paid all of its obligations in 1965. That may be arguably true, but it surely is not the way to make yourself appear to be atoning for your crimes.
Finally, the most egregious form of not atoning is that, certain history textbooks in Japan minimize its war crimes in World War II. The Korean actually saw one such textbook. The biggest section on World War II was how Japan was the only country in the world which was nuked. There was no mention of Comfort Women, Rape of Nanking, or war crimes in general. Only description of Japan’s imperialism was how Korea, China, and Southeast Asia belonged to Japan’s “sphere of influence”, like the ones other imperialist countries had. Beyond any absence of apologies, this is appalling and sickening. Japan is trying to erase its colonial past, and it’s working – many young Japanese have no idea why Korean people hate them so much, because they have no idea what Japan has done to Korea only 60 years ago!
This concludes the saga that is Korea-Japan relations. There are still a lot of things that have not been discussed yet, but the Korean thinks the series more or less covered why Korean people hate the Japanese so much.
Personally, this is how the Korean feels about this issue. Many Koreans will never forgive Japan, and they are entitled to such a feeling. But vast majority of Koreans, over time, would be willing to forgive Japan, as long as Japan makes all appropriate motions such as: apologizing, sticking by it in all levels of the government and the society; making appropriate reparations; and vowing never to repeat the tragic history. Until that happens, Koreans will continue to hate the Japanese.
-EDIT- Actually, the Korean decided to extend this series by one more part. Please check the "Series Index" link on the top to read Part V of the Korea-Japan Relations series.
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