The Fabrication of “Forced Conscription”
Wartime mobilization due to being Japanese citizens
Interviewer: I think it is clear from both the history of Korean settlement in Japan and the first generation accounts you have just mentioned that the claim that Korean residents are the victims of “forced conscription” is completely fictitious. However do you not also feel that the term “forced conscription” itself must be challenged?
Professor Chung: The term “forced conscription” is used as if it refers to a specific historical event that occurred at a specific time, however, it is actually a vaguely defined term. Some use it to indicate all Koreans who came to Japan during the period of annexation, some commentators use it to mean the recruitment drive that began as wartime mobilization in 1939 and others say that the use of the term should be limited to the conscription that occurred from September 1944.
Whilst these various theories exist, generally speaking it is commonly used to indicate wartime labor mobilization. This being the case the term “forced conscription” is definitely odd. It exaggerates Japanese culpability and Korean suffering.
It is an exaggeration because, at the time, Korea was part of the Japanese Empire and ethnic Koreans were part of the Japanese citizenry and further, because there were no able-bodied people loafing about amusing themselves in Japan during the war.
As the war dragged on and military conscription expanded the labor supply grew scarce. The distribution of the labor force was regulated in order to compensate and mobilization was intensified. Against this backdrop I think it is true that Koreans mobilized from the Korean peninsular were sent to sub-standard work sites, forced to do hard labor and discriminated against in terms of food and wages in some cases.
However, having said that, Japanese men were sent to war and ethnic Koreans took their places in the workforce. My view is that in comparison to being sent to a battlefield as a soldier, being sent to a coal mine or construction site cannot be called “unreasonable” or “unfair”.
What we have to keep hold of here is that, at the time, whether Korean or Japanese, all citizens were expected to serve their country and that many people participated and were subject to that expectation. If this was “unreasonable” then that is the case not only for ethnic Koreans but for all Japanese citizens and it should be referred to as a fate imposed jointly on all Japanese citizens.