The Fabrication of “Forced Conscription”
Korean resident “victims” theory disgraceful
Interviewer: The “forced conscription” of Koreans appears in the majority of Japanese middle and high school textbooks today and the same is even set in the exams of the National Center for University Entrance Examination as established historical fact. Further the term “Korean residents” is explained to mean these victims of “forced conscription” in the context of the issues of foreigners rights to take up public service jobs and vote in local elections.
Whilst in one sense debates on “forced conscription” are advanced as if the concept were a major and self-evident premise, amidst this Professor Chung’s newly published book Korean residents in Japan: The myth of forced conscription [Zainichi Kyosei Renko no Shinwa] (Bunshun Shinsho) has upset the status quo by pointing out that the “forced conscription” of Korean residents is a myth.
It was in this context that we invited Professor Chung to speak on the currently asserted “forced conscription” theory and its connection to Korean residents and further on the problems inherent in the “forced conscription” theory that become apparent from that connection.
Professor Chung: It is acceptable to think of the use of the term “forced conscription” as having gradually widened after being sparked by the 1965 publication of A chronicle of the forced conscription of Koreans [Chosenjin Kyosei Renko no Kiroku] by Park Kyongsik, a Korean resident. The term itself was not coined by Park. However, this book, which had been authored by a Korean resident provided those Japanese in favor of apologizing for the war with a sense of mission. In fact, it has taken on biblical significance for these pro-apology Japanese. However, I think that, from the perspective of Korean residents, there was a feeling that this book by Park had done something disgraceful. Saying that their presence in Japan is entirely due to forced conscription carried out by the war time Japanese is a persuasive story that the thinking elite amongst Korean residents use from time to time to silence the current generation of Japanese. I think Korean residents had a sense that this sort of idea should not, by rights, be used lightly and that even if it were an argument used in speech it would be wrong to use it in writing.
Today however, forty years on from these events, making statements such as those of Park has, on the contrary, somehow become the standard for Korean residents. Since when we speak of Koreans residents these days, the majority of the first generation have already passed away, few are left who actually experienced the time of the voyage to Japan. This means that, as with the Japanese, Korean residents are also learning their history through the media and education. In other words, they are formulating their own images not through the actual experiences of their parents and grandparents, but through learning the images of Korean residents depicted by the media and other sources.
Interviewer: The forced conscription theory is told in the media and emphasis is given to Korean residents being victims.
Professor Chung: Yes and not only this but examining the discourse on forced conscription it is often the case that it is not Korean residents themselves who are relating that they are the victims of forced conscription or descendants of the same. I touch on this on page 27 in my book. The Korean resident victims theory is taken at face value and believed by more Japanese than Korean residents here and by more westerners than Japanese. It is the custom for Korean residents to be living witnesses telling of Japan’s crimes as a nation. There are two quotations at the beginning of my book relating to the fact that in America and other places the Korean resident victims theory is referred to as soon as Japan’s ethnic problems are mentioned.
However it is the first generation Korean residents themselves who know best of all that they are not the victims of forced conscription. The first generation comprises those who have been able to tell their own stories by comparing themselves to their friends and acquaintances in their hometowns. “Why am I living in a strange land while my friends stayed in my hometown?” This is no doubt because the person made a decision due to some circumstance or another to journey to Japan or because the person, for some reason, chose to remain in Japan rather than return home. In other words, the first generation feels that to agree to the proposition that they live in Japan entirely due to forced conscription by pre-war Japanese, would be to show contempt for their own existence. We can expect that it would differ from the memories carved deeply into their minds and bodies.
However, whether for better or worse, those who recorded the stories of the first generation were not themselves first generation but a subsequent 1.5 generation. By “1.5 generation” I mean those who accompanied their parents to Japan in childhood. Park fits into this group. Whilst the first generation were not blessed with educational opportunities, this 1.5 generation did enjoy educational opportunities in Japan, so it is only natural that from amongst them should emerge some who recorded their parents’ stories. The problem is that the first generation was largely unable to read the forced conscription theory written down by this 1.5 generation, and even if they had been able to read it, the problem would never have been pointed out. No doubt it was due to circumstances such as these that we have reached the present day with the forced conscription theory still at large.