PATRIOTIC BESTSELLER CONDEMNS SOUTH KOREA AS “NATION OF LIES”
A rapidly growing number of South Koreans are standing up to the anti-Japanese, pro-Pyongyang, socialistic policies of President Moon Jae-in. In the vanguard of the anti-Moon front is Korea’s renowned economic historian Lee Young-hoon, emeritus professor at Seoul University, who has co-authored Anti-Japanese Tribalism: the Root of the Korean Crisis (Tribalism, hereafter) (Miraesa, Seoul; July 10, 2019). Selling a record 100,000 copies in the first three months of its publication, the 413-page book has become a phenomenal bestseller and a powerful spiritual pillar for those opposing Moon’s autocratic governance. I recently obtained a copy of the Japanese translation fresh off the press and read through it in one go.
As an expert on economic history, Lee (68) has devoted himself to pursuing verifiable numbers and facts, convinced that only the facts derived from his fieldwork on the history of Korea-Japan relations can be free from political prejudice. Over the years, he has continued to steadfastly disseminate an understanding of history and information entirely different from the anti-Japanese twists and fabrications circulated in South Korea by anti-Japanese elements.
Because of that, he has been exposed to stern criticism despite his position as professor of a prestigious national university. In publishing Tribalism this year, which sharply dissects historical anti-Japanese feelings among South Koreans, Lee is fully resigned to taking a broadside.
Rich with hardheaded analyses and empirical facts, Tribalism also contains fiery terms and expressions that cannot fail to shock South Koreans.
Take the Prologue entitled Nation of Lies, for instance. It comprises four stinging subheads that cannot fail to pierce the Korean reader to the heart—People Full of Lies, Politics Full of Lies, Academia Full of Lies, and Lawsuits Full of Lies—followed by Anti-Japanese Tribalism, the expression the authors view as appropriately pointing to the essence of South Korea today. The prologue goes:
“Our culture is widely known internationally to be based on lies. Our politicians are the role models for liars. And the greatest responsibility rests with academia, which teaches all manner of courses full of lies. Our culture based on lies is finally beginning to control even our judiciary.” The Prologue then expounds on South Korea’s anti-Japanese tribalism, which has corroded the spirit of South Koreans and put their nation on the wrong path.
Below I will explain what the authors mean by anti-Japanese tribalism as concisely as I can.
Shamanism, which has deeply tainted Korean society, inevitably has led the nation to materialism and tribalism. In a nation tainted by shamanism, a Yangban (traditional ruling class of Korea during the Yi Dynasty) is always a Yangban—even after death. Likewise, lowly people remain lowly even after death. Therefore, Koreans deep down think nothing of telling lies or committing fraud in their desperate efforts to be Yangban. Society turns a blind eye to dirty money.
In a world where most people are driven by materialism, there are no common truths or values that band them together. Anything goes. People are inevitably divided, one group expelling the other solely for its gains. Such people, lacking common values, cultural background, and emotions, can hardly be called a race. They merely represent a tribe.
Tribalism refers to politics conducted on the basis of tribes. To put it simply, tribalism represents a mentality born out of an illusion that has absolutely nothing to do with facts, reason, or rationality. One should never trust or be influenced by tribalists. Tribalism is an evil mentality prevalent in Korean society and must be sternly rejected under all circumstances.
The sharp criticism the co-authors of Tribalism have voiced against their mother country is, I believe, a desperate cry on the part of scholars of conscience—a confession of love of their beloved motherland that has sadly transformed itself into “a nation of lies.”
As an example of Koreans weaving history out of illusion, Tribalism cites the nationwide land ownership investigation—one of the major sources of Korean animosity against the Japanese.
Is There Rational Reason?
In Arirang, the 12-volume best-selling historical fiction that has sold 3.5 million copies in South Korea since 1994, there are several scenes of the land surveys. In one such scene, a Japanese police officer assigned to a rural area ties a protesting farmer to a tree trunk and shoots him dead. The book knows no bounds in the absurd way in which it depicts Japanese abusing Koreans.
The author also writes that in the Kurile Islands, which was Japanese territory until the end of the last war, some 1,000 Korean laborers were massacred at a construction site. When construction was completed, he claims, the Japanese army locked them up “in air-raid shelters” and “killed them with hand-grenades and machine-gun fire.” He also writes that elsewhere in the Kuriles the Japanese army killed an estimated total of another 4,000 Korean laborers in the same brutal fashion. These scenes remind one of The Battleship Island, the ludicrous anti-Japanese South Korean move released in July 2017. Both the movie and the book start with the malicious conviction that the Japanese would have readily massacred Koreans.
Following extensive research, Lee concludes that “these alleged massacres aren’t based on facts,” questioning if there was any rational reason the Japanese army had to kill the workers—hard-to-get wartime human resources for a precariously labor-short Japan. Lee speculates that Arirang author Jo Jung-rae was obsessed with trying to document massacres by the Japanese army that simply didn’t happen.
Elsewhere in Tribalism, co-author Kim Nak-neon, who serves as professor of economics at Dongguku University in Gyeongju City, exposes lies in Korean school textbooks about Japan having “deprived Korea of 40 percent of its land” and “taken food away from Koreans.” To enhance his argument, Kim cites an article in the Dong-a Ilbo daily dated June 16, 1931, which reports a move being contemplated to restrict rice export to Japan in light of both countries having recorded bumper rice harvests and the risk of a possible excess supply to Japan that year:
“From the standpoint of Korean farmers, they have no choice but to oppose measures restricting rice export to Japan—not only legislation…but any attempt to curb the freedom of rice export.”
In other words, Japan was not taking rice away from Koreans. On the contrary, Korean farmers eagerly desired to export it to Japan.
Shedding New Light on Takeshima Island
With regard to wartime conscripted Korean workers, Lee U-yeon of Naksundae Institute of Economic Research in Seoul has established that they were treated completely the same as their Japanese co-workers. As for Takeshima Island, Lee explicitly states that “frankly speaking, there is absolutely no historical evidence that South Korea can present to the international community which proves the island had once been its indigenous territory.”
Lee Young-hun, the lead author, writes that such assertions will sound repulsive to many Koreans, but he could not help pointing that out “as a responsible intellectual.” In him I see an honorable scholar.
Japanese may sigh with relief reading what Tribalism has to say, but Lee also writes:
“Ordinary Koreans do not have a favorable opinion of Japan. Candidly speaking, they generally have unpleasant and antagonistic feelings.” This sentiment has been inherited over the long history of Korea-Japan relations dating back to the late seventh century. In 663, after Silla had unified the three kingdoms on the Korean Peninsula, the allied forces of Silla and the Tang dynasty of China fought Baekje restoration forces and their ally, Yamato Japan. After Baekje and Japan sustained a crushing defeat, Japan completely pulled up its stakes from the Korean Peninsula, reinforcing its spirit and national defense against the Silla-Tang forces.
Lee points out that for over one thousand and some hundred years since then, the relationship between Japan and Korea has remained remote despite their geographical proximity, stressing that the unpleasant feelings and malevolent antagonism South Koreans entertain toward Japan date back to that era. Lee warns that Japan likely will remain an archenemy of South Korea—the object of tribalism that may spring up at any time.
Tribalism also dives deeply into the “comfort women” issue, which has brought the bilateral relationship to probably its lowest nadir since diplomatic normalization in 1965. The book explains in detail how life for the women became more miserable after Japan’s defeat as they dealt with the South Korean and American armies.
In the epilogue, Lee and his fellow authors state this truth: only the great wisdom of the Korean people will be able to fend off their nation’s ruin. I will closely watch how Korea’s patriotic struggle for survival as a democracy will evolve, while pondering the fate of Japan, strongly hoping for a mutually-rewarding relationship to eventually take root between our two nations. (End)
(Translated from “Renaissance Japan” column no. 877 in the November 21, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)