Monday, November 03, 2008

Ask a Korean! News: Japanese Air Force Chief Fired for His Remarks on WWII

The Korean wrote a four-part series on Korea-Japan relation already. On the issue of apology, this is what the Korean wrote:
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.”
So the Korean definitely was not surprised when a Japanese general said Japan was not the "aggressor nation" in World War II.
JAPAN was not the aggressor in World War II, according to the country's air force chief.

The essay was authored by General Toshio Tamogami, chief of staff of Japan's Air Self-Defence Force, and won the top award in an inaugural contest aimed at describing "true views of modern history".

"Even now, there are many people who think that our country's 'aggression' caused unbearable suffering to the countries of Asia during the Greater East Asia War," said the English-language version of the essay.

"But we need to realise that many Asian countries take a positive view of the Greater East Asia War.

"In Thailand, Burma, India, Singapore, and Indonesia, the Japan that fought the Greater East Asia War is held in high esteem.

"It is certainly a false accusation to say that our country was an aggressor nation."

The Greater East Asia War was a term used by Japan to describe the conflict in the Asia-Pacific theatre, emphasising that it involved Asian nations seeking independence from the Western powers.

The essay, entitled "Was Japan an Aggressor Nation?", was posted on the website of a Japanese hotel chain which organised the contest.
Source: Here.

The Korean will give Japanese military kudos for this: they did have the decency to fire this guy. But consider the audacity of this statement. And the fact that there was an essay contest that elicited this type of answer!

Despite the passion with which Koreans hate Japan at the moment, the Korean really believes that Korean people will move on when the Japanese government officially apologizes AND stick to it on all levels. Really, Koreans are like that -- they are passionate people who get very excited easily and move on just as quickly.

Also see ROK Drop's interesting write up on this issue, touching upon the issue of Yasukuni shrine. A quick summary quote from the post:
One theme I have picked up on at the [Yasukuni shrine's WWII] museum is that every attack the Japanese conducted was only executed because of foreign colonizers threatening Japan and its neighbors. Japan never wanted to colonize any country, they just wanted to liberate Asians from foreigners. This is of course nonsense.
Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at


  1. I apologize in advance for what unintentionally because a long, lengthy email.

    I am left to wonder how a high ranking military official of a neighboring nation could make such an outrageous statement. After all, it was not long ago that Japan was completely ravaged by their own war with the U.S -- do Japan publicly thank America for their modernization? I highly doubt it.

    Let me set my emotions aside, so I want to focus on Korea rather than Japan. After all, this is a Korean blog.

    I am so proud of being Korean in so many ways. I feel such a connection to Korea, despite the fact that Ive lived here for 20 years, consider myself Proud American. I told my siblings that I would like to be buried in Korea next to my parents. I shouldn't feel this deep connection to Korea, but I do after all these years.

    Not many countries can claim that in 50 years, they achieved what we were able to achieve economically, politically, and socially.

    Two descriptions will capture modernization of Korea: HARD WORK and SACRIFICE! With that being said, Japan has somewhat indirectly contributed to modernization of Korea. But doesnt all nations contribute to neighboring countries if they are in close proximity to eachother. To make an analogy, can America claim that Canada had no contributions to their econimic success? Definitely not!!

    If any investments were made by Japan to Korea,it was by Japan's own economic ambitions, certainly not out of pity for Korea.

    However, there is one thing I am deeply shamed of: we were colonized by Japan for more than 3 decades. I am ashamed that we were so weak and divided to protect ourselves from Japan -- I will read other bloggers on how they feel about this feeling!

    Recent experience: I was recently at a friend/coworker birthday party and met a half Japanese gentleman. We started to talk about the differences between Korea and Japan. Without delving into the details, he went onto say that Korea was colonized by Japan. I wasn't angry at his statement, but the manner in which he said it. We werent having a historical discussion, rather we were simply talking about our similarities and differences, and there was no need for someone to discuss colonization of Korea by Japan. I almost lost it. I certainly didn't expect a stranger to say something so abrupt and rude, especially someone I barely knew. I was so angry, and at the same time ashamed. But due to many my coworkers being present at the function, making a scene may have cost me my job. He was lucky we weren't in a remote area. Because if we were, there would of been a physical altercation.

    I am glad he got fired for making such a stupid remark. What is more troublesome is the inaccurate accounts of their own history that the remarks were symptomatic of. I hope I make sense, it is very late here in the states..

  2. I kinda understand the old man. He studied History in Japanese books so for him the reality of what happened in the past must be a lot different from what we Koreans (and other Asians who suffered in their hands) know as truth.

    Written words have a lot of power, specially if they're shown to us by our teachers. It's very easy to feed generations of people with lies through History books that distort reality. In Japanese schools, kids are probably told that Japan was only trying to defend its fellow Asian countries against western imperialsm.

    General Tamogami is a product of a system that never completely admitted its mistakes. And I don't think it ever will. Like those idiots who believe the holocaust never happened, Japanese people are condemned to live their lives without understanding what really happened in the past.

  3. You know what. They are the first and only country to have been nuked. Not sure what sort of grould level ramifications all this bullshit talk from on high will have, but so long as its not too far reaching, I really feel like I should just ignore it as much as possible. Is it wrong for me to feel this way as a Korean?

  4. @miguk: Actually, a visiting professor from Japan who taught my early modern/late Imperial Asian demography class did thank the Americans for invading. She said that the US probably did do Japan a favor by modernizing it and said that many people in Japan thought that way. She certainly thought that women's and democratic rights would be much less advanced had the US not invaded and rebuilt the country. Of course, she was in America talking to a class that was mostly Chinese-Americans (Japan screwed over China too, and this woman is educated enough to know it).

    Japan needs to acknowledge its past atrocities. It needs to change its schooltexts to tell the truth. In AP US History, we where taught about the Japanese internment camps- they said there was a question on the AP test on them every year, and sure enough it was there. There are still a lot of Americans around with more patriotism than education, but at least a part of the system here tries.

  5. I would like to get my hands on one of these Japanese text books. It would be interesting to read their own versions of history, eventhough it may be distorted.

    The remarks by the Air Foce Chief is very common amongst the Japanese nationalists. And even among youths due to the distorted text books.

  6. Did any of you stop to think about it from their perspective? If my country had done something so horrible and shameful I wouldn't want it circulated to masses as a reflection of an up and coming country. When you dwell on things for too long it starts to break you down and the Japanese are all for advancement. They have been successful in their ways and have become an advanced country. No what the guy said is out of line no doubt and anyone that claims that it didn't happens either ignorant or misinformed. Someone telling me Korea was colonized wouldn't make me mad, because I could see how it makes sense to the average person. If it isn't meant as an insult try not to take it that way.

    I think the Japanese did a good thing by burying their past or they might be dwelling on it much the same as slavery is beat into our heads. Eli Whitney anyone?

    A country (especially one under reform) has to be able to have pride, and to wash yourself of your sins through denial is understandable. I was raised to be hateful of Japanese people and never had much contact with them, but going to college in Hawaii made me realize that this is in the past. It would be nice for the Japanese government to recognize it, but with all these generations later can they really say it? Both of our countries are a prideful people and that is what ultimately puts us at odds.

  7. @jinxtacy:

    Your comment reminds me of something that happened to me at my first job. I was representing my company in a somehow important meeting with senior executives from two other companies, one of which was our partner and the other our mutual customer. Fresh out of college, I was very proud just to be there and my confidence level was high. At some point during the meeting, I thought of something very deep, significant and noble to say. So I went on to spend five minutes on my thought provoking speech and after I was done the two other guys had a shitty look on their faces.

    Needless to say, the meeting didn't end well for us, for we failed to get the desired results.

    During our 2 hour flight back, the executive from our partner company was fuming and had only one thing to say to me: "If you have nothing to contribute, just shut the fuck up".

    What you wrote may have sounded deep, significant and noble in your head, but is wrong in many levels. Hopefully more patient people here will try to explain why.

    I, however, don't have much patience so I just want to say that what you wrote is shit.

  8. This comment has been removed by the author.

  9. I, for one, acknowledge the limited contribution that Japanese colonization made to the modernization of Korea - without that period of colonization, we arguably would have tried to stay isolated for as long as possible until some other (and possibly worse) Western power or China colonized us later. But I'll only thank them for it when they start thanking us for our contribution to developing their own language and start acknowledging that Korean influence on their cultural development was just as significant.

  10. @jinxtacy: So are you recommending that all people be as self-righteously unrepentant as to alter the truth corroborated by a significant number of countries - and not only that, to call that the true view of history - to further their own personal agenda? So you're recommending that everyone should stab each other in the back when deemed appropriate?

    As an aside, the main reason Japan is so unrelentingly unrepentant is because it has been the one significant power in the region it terrorized for the past 50 so years. Germany couldn't do the same because the victims of its atrocities had extremely close ties with Europe's regional powers, including the two emerging superpowers of the time. That and the fact that America took them under their wing to counteract the Soviet Union's influence in Asia. The result of that was pretty much blind absolution of any war crimes, which never helps a country acknowledge past sins.

  11. @eugene,

    The Korean would say that Japan's contribution to Korea is like this situation: there was a woman who wished to have a child. Then she got raped, got pregnant and gave birth. She got her wish, but it is absurd to ask her to be grateful to the rapist.

  12. Just wanted to share an experience I had while stationed in Japan +10 years ago:

    While teaching English classes to a small group of middle aged Japanese men, one of our discussions led to why there is a US military presence in Japan and the US involvement in WWII.

    I explained to my class that the US was pretty isolationist in the beginning of WWII, didn't send troops over when Germany invaded Poland, and the general American perception at that time was to stay out of it. Then Pearl Harbor happened.

    My class did not know about Pearl Harbor. My students were born at the end of WWII or in the 1950s at the latest. I had to explain to them that Japanese aircraft flew over and launched an attack on a Navy base in Hawaii, which triggered outrage in the US thus, prompted the US to get involved in WWII.

    There was a very lengthy class discussion about WWII events, the Japanese perception of Americans at that time and vice versa. The class thanked me, telling me that what I had explained to them, was never taught to them while in school. The class members remarked at how the "darker" periods of Japan's history were never really delved into or just plain omitted, as if it never happened. Not surprised that Japan's invasions for the sake of manpower and natural resources were glossed over with terms like "colonization", "defending", "liberating an oppressed nation" or helping another country become "modernized." Instead of putting one's self in the wrong, just change the wording so one doesn't have to apologize for "invading", "being an aggressor", or "subjecting another nation to give up its' identity, language, royal family." Unfortunately, that wording was taught to millions of school kids in Japan and is probably still being taught, if at all.

    Did Japan make Korea more modern? Perhaps. But, I would think that Korea would have been able to achieve that on its' own had Japan left Korea alone. But an island nation going to war can't fight without resources, so I can see why Korea would be attractive to invade, especially since it's a convenient route to China. Hmm, perhaps we should ask people in Nanking if Japan "helped" them become more modern.

    I'm not saying that what Japan did was right or justified, but I could understand why they did it. If anything, I think what Japan subjected Korea, China, the Philippines, Burma, and Indonesia to was horrible. My parents, who survived the occupation and the Korean War, don't like to talk about it, but let's just sum it up this way: Upon leaving for Japan, my father told me that if I were to return home with a Japanese husband/boyfriend, I would be disowned. Not that I think my Dad's right to say such a thing to me, but from what he's experienced, I can understand why he feels that way.

    So, though I'm saddened by the now retired General Toshio Tamogami's remarks, I'm not surprised. Perhaps Mr. Tamogami should go back to school, talk to the people who witnessed what Japan did for the sake of "modernization", or just expand his perception of history in general.

    As for Japan thanking the US for its' modernization, actually yes, they do. Especially General MacArthur for preserving their heritage, identity, and keeping the Japanese emperor's line instead of forcing the Japanese to become more American. Which is a lot more than what Japan did to Korea during the occupation.

    It's a shame that that bit of history is buried or sugar coated, because history is bound to repeat itself. At least when I was taught US and world history, I was lucky enough to have teachers that presented many perspectives that included the good, the bad, and the ugly and the social and economic factors that led to such events like slavery, racism, imperialism and the race to colonize every bit of land found on a map, and what defines a nation's power throughout the eras.

    I don't bear a grudge against Japan(the people I've met there were quite lovely), but it would be nice if Japan could recognize its' actions, recognize the cost of human lives they claimed at the expense of war, and apologize on an official and consistent level.
    I don't expect every person of Japanese heritage to apologize to me as I walk down the street, nor do I want to carry the burden of hate in my generation for something from a previous generation.


  14. andrew,

    Did you read the first three paragraphs of the post?

  15. Yes but I thought it be valuable to have a list, especially since the current ROK prez wants a new apology from Aso while he is kneeling down like a previous German president, Willy Helmut (read this recently).

  16. The Korean reads Korean news like religion, and he has not seen anything about Korean president wanting a new apology, much less in the style of Willy Brandt, the German chancellor.

    But the Korean is always willing to be educated if you can provide a link.


    Oops, the Prez wants the Emperor not the PM to kneel and apologise...

  18. Thank you for the link Andrew. For the record, the Korean would note that President Lee wants "genuine expression" of contrition, such as the one displayed by Chancellor Brandt, not kneeling down specifically.

    However, it does seem that extra apology is pointless. And the Japanese military did fire the guy. If anything, Korea should be demanding positive actions from Japan, not more words. The joint history textbook project was a good start.

  19. The only claim Japan can make is the fact that Japan modernized Korea. Due to that fact, they must alter history so that Koreans were utterly weak race that needed someone to fix them up.
    Though the Emperor (The Korean Empire that lasted like... what, 11 years?) was a pussy and sucked balls, the Empress was certainly pushing Joseon on its way to modernization. She was raped, killed, and burned with next to no evidence so that Japan can emphasize Japanese modernization on Korea.
    Japan also was going to set their new capital as Seoul, thus quick and forceful modernization. So their claim that they weren't colonizing Korea is stupid.

    Indeed, Japanese are all for advancement. That is because they have successfully kept truth behind with partial support from US (Yes, Japan had lots to pay the US when it looted other nations.) The fact that Japan also sold huge chunk of land to China has also put China more on their side than SKoreans. (China has also secretly asked SKorea to stop its claims on those lands if Chinese stop claiming Korean history. <- This shows the Chinese government is fearful of the valid claims of the Korean scholars and had to pay its own people to claim Korean history)
    With such superpowers on their side and with both Koreas with next to nothing after the Korean war, Japan is probably the most eager country to move on.
    To me, that is a greater crime than what they've actually done. With the new generation of Korea and Japan being so clean, modern, and spoiled, both fight like crying babies but the fault is more on Japan in my opnion.

    I know many Japanese people, including a friend of mine who sadly is leaving today to Japan, admits of such acts. I'm sure sooner or later this problem will be fixed. And this problem is also a much easier issue to solve if the Korea's unite.


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