HISTORICAL FACTS ARE MIGHTIEST WEAPON AGAINST PROPAGANDA WAR
One of the major problems facing Japan this year is lawsuits filed against Japanese corporations by Chinese and Korean wartime conscripted workers and their families. They are demanding compensation for allegedly having been coercively put to “slave labor” during World War II.
Last December 6, a group of 27 Chinese filed a suit in the Third Intermediate People’s Court (a district court) in Beijing against a major Japanese construction firm, Kajima Corporation, demanding an apology and compensation amounting to 1 million yuan, or US$ 150,000, per head for “coercive conscription and slave labor during World War II.”
Whether the court will accept the case remains uncertain. If it does, it must be construed as reflecting the clear intention on the part of the Chinese Communist Party to hold Japan criminally accountable for its wartime conduct. Devoid of the separation of the three branches of government in theory and practice, China places its politics above the judiciary. Kajima will have no shot at winning if the case comes to court.
Sued in China for similar reasons in February 2015, Mitsubishi Materials agreed to an out-of-court settlement last June 1, with some of the plaintiffs objecting to it. The lead Chinese attorney for the plaintiffs showed “heartfelt respect” for Mitsubishi’s gesture of reconciliation. Making considerable compromises on its part, Mitsubishi issued an apology as well as agreed to make monetary compensation and fund a memorial. Meanwhile, the Japanese leftwing group which supported the plaintiffs praised Mitsubishi’s conciliatory gesture as a “fine example of resolving forced labor issues.” In effect, however, it was a complete defeat for Mitsubishi from the Japanese perspective.
Obviously, the firm’s reconciliatory posture must have convinced the Chinese that Japan will budge if pressed hard enough. In point of fact, Kang Jian, the plaintiffs’ lead attorney, has remarked: “One of the plaintiffs in the litigation against Kajima stepped forward after learning that Mitsubishi had agreed to reconcile.”
The Mitsubishi case presumably constitutes the beginning of a wave of lawsuits against Japanese corporations spreading across China.
China and South Korea are closely collaborating with each other in bringing litigation against Japanese corporations. In fact, Nobuto Hirano, a Nagasaki-based activist who represented the Chinese plaintiffs in the Mitsubishi litigation, has aptly noted that the litigation against Kajima clearly was a result of the Chinese having learned from lawsuits filed in South Korea against Japanese corporations.
Matters pertaining to World War II compensation have been settled under the terms of the Japan-Republic of Korea Basic Relations Treaty of 1965. Similar issues were resolved between Japan and China when the Japan-China Joint Communique was signed in 1972. And yet, lawsuits against Japanese companies have been filed one after another in South Korea, with the Korean Supreme Court ruling in 2012 that individual claims for wartime compensation are viable despite the existence of the Treaty. As a result, lawsuits had been filed by April 21, 2015, against a total of 72 Japanese corporations, including Mitsubishi Materials, demanding compensation of 10 million won (approximately US$8,700) per plaintiff for hard labor and unpaid salaries.
Korean Rancor over Four Generations
Behind the litigation is the assertion that Japan coercively recruited Korean workers and subjected them to slave labor, putting them under guard constantly to prevent their escape. However, there is a remarkable book that flatly disproves such accusations. The book is Note of Conscripted Korean Worker (Kawai Publishing Co., Tokyo; 1990) by Chong Chu-hae. It teaches the reader a lot about the harsh view Koreans had of wartime Japan.
At age 19, Chong started working for Kirin Beer in Seoul and moved to Fukumoto Concrete the following year. In the winter of 1944, the 26-year-old father of two was “forcibly mobilized” and posted to Toyo Kogyo in Hiroshima. After working in Japan for ten months, he returned to Seoul shortly after the war, having been spared the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. He wrote his memoir back in Seoul, recalling his days in Japan.
Permeating through his 245-page book is a strong sense of patriotism coupled with a fierce animosity against Japan. There were massive air raids in Tokyo by American B-29 bombers in March of 1945 and much of Osaka was reduced to ashes shortly afterwards. He wrote in his diary at the time:
“American Air raids! That is what we Korean conscripted workers have secretly been praying for…There’s nothing we can do under the circumstances, except hope that everything in Japan will be burned down. The sooner the better…That Tokyo and Osaka have been burned down is none of our business. It’s simply gratifying to us all to realize what has actually happened to these two cities.”
While describing as “sad” that the American air raids created tens of thousands of innocent victims, Chong declared that the tragedy was “no skin off my nose.” Looking more closely at Chong’s account, however, we see that he also had a surprisingly large number of positive things to say about Japan. In fact, what a Korean with such a harsh view of Japan wrote in connection with the “forced mobilization” of Koreans is truly stunning.
Chong wrote that he went to Japan fully resigned to never being able to see his family again, but then he got a reception in Hiroshima far more courteous than he had expected. “There was a Mr. Noguchi from the company sitting next to me on the boat from Pusan to Hakata, then on the train from Hakata to Hiroshima,” he writes. “He told me that he was concerned about how tired I must be after travelling such a long distance by boat and train.”
What Chong notes is a vast contrast in the treatment he experienced from civilians like Noguchi and the negative image of the Japanese military portrayed by Chinese, Koreans, and leftwing Japanese who claim that military recruiters beat up and detained unwilling conscripted workers.
Wrote Chong: “After we boarded the ferry for Hakata, company representatives put extra effort into making us feel at home. Perhaps because they wanted to make a favorable impression, they tried to be exceptionally kind to us. At any rate, this was warmly appreciated by us all.”
At the Toyo Kogyo (Mazda Motors today) factory in Hiroshima, a brand-new two-story wooden dormitory built near the beach awaited Chong and other Korean workers. (The auto factory had been converted to the manufacture of munitions.) For every ten men there was a 20-mat room (each mat measuring 3×6 feet) complete with brand-new clean hand-sewn silken bedclothes.
Fairness of Japanese Corporations
Not only were the meals “unexpectedly plentiful and palatable,” but Chong and his colleagues often held parties after dinner, with an abundance of tangerines, oranges, sea cucumbers, abalone, and even sake provided. Meanwhile, “there was absolutely nothing for us to do after finishing the day’s work,” notes Chong, recalling he eventually spent days scrupulously complaining about “job training that served no purpose.”
It is clear that Japanese corporations treated their conscripted workers from Korea quite fairly. Tokyo Kogyo had Chong and his Korean colleagues visit all of the firm’s 11 factories in an effort to help them understand the importance of the parts they made for the Type 99 rifles the firm was manufacturing. There was absolutely no discernible discrimination against the Koreans at the firm; they were treated no differently from their Japanese colleagues.
Speaking of the absence of discrimination, apparently the young women working at the plant had no qualms about dating the Korean men. With a large number of eligible Japanese bachelors having gone to the front, Chong’s group of young Korean men suddenly became quite popular. Although a father of two children, he himself became involved with a young woman at work.
Chong depicts the difference between the military and corporations from a unique perspective. For the entire month of March in 1945, Chong underwent training at the Western National Labor Training Camp in Nara Prefecture under the jurisdiction of the army. He observed that the food was barely on a “subsistence level” in quality and quantity, the rules were stringent, and most certainly there was no permission granted to leave the camp after work for any drinking parties with abalone and sake. He thus inadvertently depicts the dramatic contrast between the rigidity of the rules imposed by the Japanese military and the fairness of the treatment he received from Japanese corporations.
These significant facts about wartime Japan that Chong describes in his memorable book is what I believe we Japanese must now endeavor to relate to the Chinese and the Koreans, as well as to the international community. We must win the lawsuits filed by the Chinese and the Koreans against Japanese corporations by steadfastly turning to the absolute power that historical facts possess—the mightiest weapon against propaganda.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column #737 in the January 19, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)