The Fabrication of “Forced Conscription”
Beyond the fabricated story
Interviewer: The idea that the Japanese were wrongdoers and the Koreans were victims from the beginning is bound up in the term “forced conscription”. Further, the term itself acts to deny the existence of issues such as those you have just pointed out on the commonality of Koreans being Japanese citizens just like the Japanese and the factual reality of Korean settlement.
Professor Chung: It is plainly misleading to use the term “forced conscription” to emphasize that the Koreans were victims and the Japanese were wrongdoers.
Looking at how this situation arose, the 1965 publication of A Chronicle of the forced conscription of Koreans [Chosenjin Kyosei Renko no Kiroku] by Park Kyongsik was significant. This work is regarded as the classic theory on Korean residents, however it is dubious in its methodology and further, although its writing was clearly politically motivated from the outset, almost no-one pointed these things out.
I do raise these matters in Korean residents in Japan: The myth of forced conscription and a reading soon reveals that Park’s book was published immediately prior to the conclusion of normalization talks between Japan and South Korea and that Park took a position in opposition to the conclusion of the talks. In other words, Park felt that the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and South Korea would be a restoration of the Japanese imperialism and the publication of the book was intended to prevent that restoration. As Park was, at the time, a history professor at Chosun University, which educated the elite of the pro-North Korean group in Japan, The General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), it is arguable that the forced conscription claims are a perfect reflection of the Chongryon position.
However I feel that this was not the only motivation. I am referring to the North Korean repatriation, with which you are familiar and which began in 1959 and came to a peak in 1960 and 1961 before declining rapidly. There is tremendous significance in the fact that this book appeared during this period.
What I am referring to is that during the repatriation campaign Chongryon was actively promoting the necessity for Korean residents of Japan to return to participate in rebuilding their homeland. In other words Chongryon was arguing that Korean residents should leave Japan. When, however, people did return to North Korea, any illusions they had were instantly destroyed and this led to the sudden decline in the number of those repatriated.
It was at this point that it became necessary to create a basis for Korean residents to remain in Japan and not return home. This was the time when the book stressing that Korean residents had been brought to Japan through “forced conscription” appeared.
Interviewer: Naturally the “forced conscription” theory portrayed the Japanese as wrongdoers and the Koreans as victims.
Professor Chung: Yes, as I said at the outset, the first generation, who came to Japan by choice felt it disgraceful to take an attitude that capitalized on their suffering and so “forced conscription” was, at first, no more than a specialized term used by the left wing, not a term in popular use.
However when we finally reached the 1980s, the Japanese mass media reported on Japan’s state crimes during the Second World War and discrimination against Korean residents became topical, the term “forced conscription” became suddenly popular. Whilst the 1980’s were a period when the school textbooks affair became a diplomatic issue between Japan and South Korea, the fingerprinting system for Korean residents was also taken up by the media and the spike in interest in Korea accompanying the Seoul Olympics meant a popularisation of interest in Korea itself. The Korean studies experts who guided this interest were largely from the left wing and it was they who spread the use of the term “forced conscription”. It subsequently became a keyword used frequently and without compunction whenever Japan’s oppression of her neighbouring countries is discussed, not only in Japan but also in Asia and the west.
My book is a critique of Park’s Chronicle. I wrote it, rather, to rehabilitate the work of Morita, whose work Park criticized. It follows on from my work The end of the Korean residents in Japan published three years ago by Bunshun Shinsho as my second treatise on the topic. Whilst my own view is that The end is a ground-breaking work on Korean residents, however unfortunately it has not been widely read. In other words it has not had the full impact it could have. One cannot influence people unless they buy and read one’s work. Unless the progressive left-wingers too feel they have to read it then it will be difficult to dispel the image of Korean residents as being victims of forced conscription. I’d like you ask your readers to at least read this latest work of mine, both for my sake and also for the sake of Japan’s honor.
Interview conducted on 1 July 2004. The Editorial Department takes full responsibility for the wording and content of this article. (Choice for Tomorrow) .