JAPAN MUST PREVENT “BATTLESHIP ISLAND” FROM TURNING INTO ANOTHER “COMFORT WOMEN” ISSUE
The monthly magazine Hanada ran a startling article by Mitsuhiko Fujii in its August 2017 issue.
As is widely known in Japan, Radhika Coomaraswamy, a special rapporteur for the United Nations, submitted a report in 1996 to the UN Commission on Human Rights that falsely claimed Korean women had been used as sex slaves by the Japanese military during the last war. One can readily judge the report as false by simply skimming over it. Fujii is a member of a study group formed by historian Nobukatsu Fujioka to scrutinize the “Coomaraswamy Report,” closely examining every single source the rapporteur used as a reference.
To his great surprise, Fujii found that the only English-language material Coomaraswamy apparently resorted to in compiling the controversial report was The Comfort Women by Australian George Hicks (W. W. Norton Company, New York; 1994) and that Hicks depended significantly on Tenno no Guntai to Jugun Ianfu (The Emperor’s Army and the Korean Comfort Women) by Korean author Kim Il-myong (Sanichi Shobo, Tokyo; 1992).
Fujii further discovered that Kim had relied heavily on erotic or bizarre stories and comic strips in the Japanese yellow press, including the Weekly Taishu and the Weekly Jitsuwa.
It is stunning that a UN report of this significance was in fact based on yellow journalism articles and cartoons absolutely lacking credibility.
But it is a fact that this report, frivolous as it indeed is, has continued to bring disgrace to Japan to date. Why didn’t the Japanese Foreign Ministry refute the report immediately? Why didn’t it bother to conduct a thorough investigation?
A former bureaucrat who had long served as administrative vice foreign minister once told me that the US and European nations basically refused to listen to Japan’s explanations about the “comfort women” issue, and lamented that he couldn’t but feel a wave of despair every time he was reminded of this. Frankly, I believe his ministry brought it on itself. If they had acted swiftly to launch a full-fledged investigation into the report as private citizens such as Fujii did, they should have been able to put forth a fully convincing counterargument.
Once they realized that their belief about young Korean “comfort women”—that they had been “coercively recruited as sex slaves for the Japanese military”—was in fact based on erotic articles, bizarre stories, and vulgar comics in the Japanese yellow press, American and European intellectuals presumably would be prompted to change their views. I don’t think it is the job of Japanese diplomats to forego such an investigation and instead gaze helplessly up at the sky in despair.
Despite being based on malicious and offensive assertions lacking concrete evidence, the Coomaraswamy Report has been cherished as a bible of criticism for the international community against the way Japan has handled the “comfort women” issue. And now, I am afraid a similar situation is going to evolve in connection with matters pertaining to Korean laborers conscripted during the war.
The Seoul-based Association of Victims of Forced Conscription under Japanese Rule of Korea has announced plans to erect statues of a conscripted worker in Seoul, Pusan, and Kwangju on August 15 this year. The one in Seoul is expected to be built next to the statue of a young “comfort woman” erected in 2011 without authorization in front of the Japanese Embassy.
Prior to that, on July 26, The Battleship Island, a new South Korean film directed by Ryoo Seung-wan, is scheduled for release across Korea. It depicts a supposed attempt by several hundred Korean conscripted workers and their families to escape Hashima, a coal island off Nagasaki Prefecture also known as the “Battleship Island” because of its shape. As the story goes, the escape fails and the workers are massacred by Japanese military guards.
Ryoo has stated that he has used “the creative license of a movie” and “the state of the art technology available for Korean movies today” in producing a vividly dramatic film. The truth of the matter, however, is that there were no forced recruitments, no slave labor, and no attempted escape from Hashima.
Japanese and Korean workers and their families in Hashima rubbed elbows with each other harmoniously in congested quarters, stress members of the Association of Hashima Residents Committed to Pursuing the Truth of History.” They unanimously note that “all the children of the island, Japanese and Koreans alike, happily studied in one classroom together.” (Editor’s note: Mining began on Hashima in 1887 and ended in 1974 when coal reserves were virtually depleted. All its residents have since left the island but Hashima remains a popular tourist spot; its popularity grew further after it became one of the 23 sites of “Japan’s Meiji Industrial Revolution: Iron and Steel, Shipbuilding, and Coal Mining” recognized in 2015 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.)
Former residents in their 80s and 90s are seriously concerned about Hashima being baselessly defamed by propaganda as an island of hell where forced labor was practiced. Today, one can get a feel of what life on the island must once have been like. It is a small island—only 16 acres. At the time as many as 5,000 residents were living in seven-to-nine story concrete apartments under extremely crowded conditions. How could military guards have tortured or butchered the Korean residents without anyone getting wind of it? How could Japanese and Korean children sitting in class next to each other be unaware of what was going on?
When the movie is released this summer, it will likely enflame very strong anti-Japanese sentiments among its Korean viewers. As a result, the Moon Jae-in administration may possibly demand that Japan apologize for having implemented “coercive recruitment and forced labor” of conscripted Korean workers.
As I have earlier mentioned, the truth about the situation in Hashima is exactly the opposite of what the Koreans claim. This time, the Japanese government must by all means assert the facts.
In this regard, it is crucial that we all be aware of what went on during negotiations conducted between Japan and South Korea from 1951 to 1965 to normalize relations. In 2005, the late President Roh Moo-hyun decreed that all of the 35,000 pages of materials pertaining to Japan-Korea diplomatic normalization talks be made public. Among the materials released were some related to conscripted workers.
Some intriguing revelations contained in these released materials are noted in Japan-South Korea Diplomatic Negotiations: A Study of Right of Claim Issues by Professor Osamu Ota at the Global Studies Institute, Doshisha University, Kyoto (Crane Tosho-Shuppan, Tokyo; 2003). Allow me to cite the pertinent parts at some length:
South Korea: We are requesting that Japan extend appropriate compensation to atone for the physical and mental torture it inflicted on the citizens of another nation by subjugating them to forced conscription.
Japan: Are you requesting the same form of compensation as paid to Japanese labor conscripts, as they were Japanese citizens when conscripted in occupied Korea?
South Korea: We are requesting that Japan first compensate the government of South Korea. We will then deal with individual requests for compensation from the former conscripts as a domestic matter.
Japan: We have adopted appropriate compensatory measures for Japanese conscripts and their bereaved families, and wish to provide Korean victims similar compensation to the best of our ability.
After these exchanges, the two sides further pursued the matter as follows:
South Korea: Japan treated us Koreans as slaves, and yet insists that we were Japanese during the Japanese colonization of Korea. We find your contention an attempt to obscure the truth.
Japan: We genuinely feel sorry for the victims and naturally consider it mandatory to come to their aid. We believe we can quite expeditiously resolve this issue if your side can make available the lists of such people.
South Korea: We do have some materials, but they are incomplete.
Japan: We are also sorting out some lists available to us in Japan. We consider it quite possible to find a solution if we can put our incomplete lists together. We believe things will work out well if our laws supporting former Japanese conscripted laborers can be applied to their Korean counterparts and if they can be paid by the Japanese government directly on an individual basis. Japan keenly feels responsible and regrets not having been able to work out any satisfactory measures to compensate the victims of conscription to date. It is particularly regrettable that we have failed to implement appropriate measures on behalf of the injured, missing, deceased, and their families. We consider it appropriate for our government to pay compensation individually in order to promote mutual understanding and placate each other’s feelings.
South Korea: Our position is to deal with the compensation as an internal matter, and our government will implement the payment.
Ota’s book goes into more detail about these exchanges, but it is clear that Japan repeatedly offered to pay the former Korean laborers directly, while South Korea insisted on treating the matter as an internal issue, maintaining that it was determined to handle individual payments on its own.
After reviewing the diplomatic records, President Roh stated that “the US$300 million grant which South Korea received from Japan ought to be viewed as inclusive of the fund to compensate the victims of forced conscription.” Roh thereby effectively settled all matters pertaining to compensation for conscripted laborers once and for all.
The above episode clearly shows that the conscript laborer issue is far from what the Korean side portrays it to be now. This issue must never be allowed to turn into another “comfort women” issue. We must face Korea’s grossly fabricated war on history against Japan by amply arming ourselves with the correct knowledge about our own war history.
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column #761 in the July 13, 2017 issue of The Weekly Shincho)