Monday, June 29, 2020

When "pro-Japanese collaborators" become "victims" (and heroes)

The other day on Facebook I came across the story of Yang Chil-seong / Yanagawa Shichisei / Komarudin, a Korean who became a guard at a POW Camp operated by the Japanese army in Indonesia in September 1942, but then after WWII joined with two Japanese soldiers in the fight for Indonesian independence from the Dutch, took the name Komarudin, and, along with the two Japanese soldiers, was captured and executed in 1949. In 1975 his body was moved to a Indonesian independence heroes' cemetery. While Wikipedia has information in English and Korean, this Hankook Ilbo article has more information and a photo of him with the two Japanese soldiers. As it notes, it's not clear if he chose to be a POW camp guard or was forcibly mobilized. According to the article, when Indonesia was liberated at the end of the war, the Korean POW camp guards were investigated and 63 were imprisoned for more than 10 years as war criminals, and 4 were shot. According to a Korean guard who was there, Yang was considered to be close to the Japanese soldiers, and considering he joined two in fighting for Indonesian independence, the article surmises that this might be true.

My first response upon reading this (the English version did not make clear that he was a POW Camp guard), was to think of this recent article, which spoke of how General Kim Paek-il, who convinced the US military to save 100,000 refugees during the Heungnam evacuation of late 1950, was later targeted by anti-Japanese activists (inspired by Roh Moo-hyun's Presidential Committee for the Inspection of Collaboration in Japanese Imperialism), according to whom "Kim was involved in Japan's brutal crackdown on Korean independence fighters in the Manchuria region in the 1930s," and they erected a monument criticizing him next to his statue. Taking things further, in May some progressive lawmakers "called for a bill to have the remains of Kim and other Korean 'colluders' during the Japanese colonial period removed from the national cemetery," and to block the burial of Korean War hero Paik Sun-yup. There is no indication that such a bill would have any support, and I hope it doesn't. Considering Korea's long history of disinterring political enemies (perhaps they could just do as Yeonsan-gun did and simply behead the buried remains?), you would hope such officially-mandated desecration would remain in the pre-modern era where it belongs.

Thinking of the above example, I couldn't help but wonder if those lawmakers and activists would also want to put a memorial next to Komarudin's grave calling him a "pro-Japanese traitor," since that's what they seem to consider any Korean who joined the Japanese army to be. But then, after consulting the Korean-language articles, I realized he was a POW Camp guard, and, well, anti-Japanese activists - particularly those in the employ of official truth commissions - have demonstrated profoundly lenient attitudes toward POW Camp guards who mistreated Allied prisoners so badly that they were convicted of war crimes.

According to Utsumi Aiko’s “Korean ‘Imperial Soldiers’: Remembering Colonialism and Crimes against Allied POWs,” in the 2001 book Perilous Memories: The Asia-Pacific War(s), serving in the Japanese military in the 1930s and 1940s were 17,000 Volunteer soldiers (through a system begun in 1938) and around 110,000 soldiers who were conscripted in 1944 and 1945. There were also around 120,000 civilian employees of the military, which included POW Camp guards.

At the end of World War II, 23 Koreans were executed for war crimes, and 125 were imprisoned. Of the 148 in total, 3 were soldiers and 16 were translators, and “of the 3,016 Korean men conscripted to work as prison guards 129 were found guilty of war crimes.”

These war criminals were transferred to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo to serve out their sentences, but while Japanese serving out their sentences there got government benefits (for, say, injuries incurred during their service during the war), Koreans, since they were no longer Japanese citizens, did not. When the Korean war criminals were released, those who continued to live in Japan formed the Association for the Mutual Advancement of Korean War Criminals and sought compensation from the Japanese government (as described here).

What needs to be remembered, however, is that many POW Camp guards were not conscripted, but volunteered. According to an unpublished paper of mine about Japanese POW camps in Korea, the announcement of the conscription system for Koreans - to begin in 1944 - was announced on May 9, 1942.
In addition to this, on May 22, 1942 a system allowing Koreans to apply to be prison guards for American and British prisoners of war was announced. The Maeil Sinbo reported the “once again glorious news,” coming two weeks after the conscription system announcement, that “as imperial subjects our brethren from the peninsula will also bear the heavy responsibility of national defense” by guarding prisoners overseas, though some would be employed in Korea. Such lofty language appeared a day later when it was reported that “a sublime path to cooperate in building the southern part of the co-prosperity sphere has opened for the youth of the peninsula who will be employed by the military.” The reason for the system was made clear: “Six months have passed since the war to destroy the Americans and British was begun last December 8, and already the number of enemy prisoners has reached 340,000.” Applicants needed to be between the ages of 20 and 35, have robust bodies and no diseases, have completed at least 4th grade in elementary school, and had to be able to carry on everyday conversation in Japanese. The Maeil Sinbo spent weeks covering the application, testing, and instruction process of these young Korean men[.]
 The first day of applications. (Maeil Sinbo, May 26, 1942)

Taking an employment test. (Maeil Sinbo, June 6, 1942) 

(Maeil Sinbo, June 10, 1942)

Farewell ceremony. (Maeil Sinbo, June 13, 1942)

It's said that at least some of these POW guards were conscripted, but the earliest to be sent had to apply and pass written and physical tests to become guards.

A nuanced examination of how Koreans were remembered in POW literature, and of the POWs awareness of the low status of their Korean captors vis-a-vis the Japanese - while at the same time recalling their casual brutality - can be read here.

Now, in November 2006, under - once again - Roh Moo-hyun's presidency, the Truth Commission on Forced Mobilization under Japanese Colonial Rule, "confirmed," as the Donga Ilbo put it, that "Korean POW camp guards were sacrificed without a proper trial." It examined the cases of 86 of the 148 Koreans convicted by the Allies of war crimes and cleared 83 of them, or as the Hankyoreh put it, it "recognized them as victims and removed the stigma of them being war criminals." In other words, a Korean government commission unilaterally ruled that the judgements of the Allied War Crimes Tribunals after WWII no longer applied to these Koreans. It should be noted that 12 of the 86 applications made to the truth commission were from the relatives of Koreans who were executed for war crimes. The commission decided that the Korean war criminals, who "unavoidably" became POW camp guards to avoid the Japanese draft were burdened with responsibility for the abuse of Allied POWs, and so had to suffer the "double pain" of forced mobilization and becoming a war criminal.

Lee Se-il, head of the fact-finding investigation team, said, "As a result of analyzing the military prosecutor records of 15 Korean prisoner-in-law recently obtained from the National Archives of England, we were able to confirm that the conviction was made without clear evidence." (A few months later the Hankyoreh examined some of these cases and interviewed a former guard who had been sentenced to death. More on his case, and his activism in seeking redress from the Japanese government, can be found here.)

Needless to say, this didn't go over well at the time with non-Koreans, and led one blogger to say:
What annoys me is that one hears sympathy for men who would be called collaborators if they had been working in prisons that held fellow Koreans during colonial rule. Their prisoners were (largely) white, however, so they are afforded as much understanding as possible. And they get to be called “victims.”
[He follows this with a more nuanced discussion at the link.]

That mistakes were made when some of these POW Camp guards were judged, I would not be surprised. That mistakes were made in over half of the cases, including half of the cases that led to executions? That seems rather unlikely. But considering the fact that the guards suffered "double pain" at the hands of Japanese and Western imperialists, the two bêtes noires of National Liberation-style Korean progressivism, perhaps the desire to beatify them with the hallowed status of "victim," and, while they were at it, to declare the decisions of Allied tribunals null and void and therefore expand Korean sovereignty backwards in time, was too tempting to pass up.

On May 26, the Segye Ilbo published the following report that reveals that the work begun 14 years ago continues today:
Korean and Japanese scholars work together to recover the honor of Korean POW camp guards who became war criminals.

On May 26, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security-affiliated Foundation to Support Victims of Japanese Imperial Forced Labor announced that it will hold an international academic conference to re-examine the "reality of forced mobilization of Korean POW camp guards" who were dragged to Japan during the period of resistance to Japan.

On May 28th, the Foundation to Support Victims of Japanese Imperial Forced Labor will hold an academic conference on the theme of “International Comparisons to Forced Mobilization by Imperial Japan' at the ENA Suite Hotel in Seoul. This academic conference is looking to commemorate the Korean POW camp guards forcibly mobilized by the Japanese imperialists and to restore their honor. The Korean POW camp guards were sent by Japan to places like Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, and Indonesia by Japan, and faced with prisoners, after the Pacific War they were branded as war criminals. In 2006, they were first recognized as victims by the "Truth Commission for Victims of Forced Mobilization Under the Japanese Empire."

Five Korean and Japanese scholars will give presentations. Arimitsu Ken, an invited researcher from the Waseda University International Reconciliation Research Center will present “The progress and present of the compensation issue for Chosen soldiers and civilians after the war,” and Professor Okada Taihei from Tokyo University Graduate School’s Department of Interdisciplinary Cultural Studies, will present "Sexual Violence by Japanese Forces in Visayas, Philippines.''

As well, Kim Jeong-suk, a researcher at Sungkyunkwan University's East Asian History Research Institute, will present "Cases and Lives of Korean POW camp guards under the Japanese Empire," and Yoo Byeong-seon, a lecturer at the Faculty of Liberal Studies at Korean Traditional Culture University, will present "The current status and anti-Japanese activities of the Korean POW camp guards in Indonesia at the end of the Japanese Empire."

Kim Yong-deok, president of the Foundation to Support Victims of Japanese Imperial Forced Labor said, "Through this academic conference, how the prisoners of the Korean prisoners were mobilized and how the situation of war turned them into war criminals will be re-examined within the international community." "Even now, the way needs to be made clear to restore the honor of all those who suffered from Japanese imperialism."
Well, it's nice to see Koreans and Japanese working together, I guess. Still, the feeling you get from reading about "Korean POW camp guards who became war criminals" or who "were branded as war criminals" or about "how the situation of war turned them into war criminals" is that the reason they became war criminals was because of unfair actions taken by the Allies, and not because these Koreans abused Allied prisoners. It's certainly something to think about the next time you hear the Korean government decry Japan's refusal to take responsibility for its past.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

The Korean war as depicted by "Gobau"

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean War (or the 149th anniversary (+ 15 days), by some reckonings). I recently came across this 11-year-old Japan Focus article by Andrew Salmon about the art of 18-year-old Kim Song-hwan, who would later become the author of the newspaper cartoon "Gobau," about the era when he was hired as a war artist by the ROK Ministry of Defense. His drawings and watercolours are often stark and uncompromising in their depiction of what the war wrought upon Korean society. Kim Song-hwan went on to become perhaps the Korean newspaper cartoonist of the latter half of the 20th century, penning his "Gobau" cartoon for 45 years, as Colin Marshall wrote.

As I've mentioned before, Gobau was also featured in the cartoons US ambassador Philip Habib sent in a cable to the State Department in March 1973, months after the advent of the dictatorial Yusin constitution. According to Habib, they were just about the only public source of criticism, mild as it was, of government policy at that time. Habib's cable, which was part of  a collection of such cables at the National Assembly Library website, can be read here.

Update, June 29:

Robert Neff's article on the participation of Ethiopia's Kagnew Battalion in the Korean War is well worth reading.

Anti-war protest by GIs in Seoul in 1971, and my article on USFK race relations that year in the Korea Times

Yesterday, my latest Korea Times article filled in some of the events that occurred between the January 15, 1971 rally in memory of Martin Luther King held in Paju and the Anjeong-ri race riots of July that year, which I wrote about here and here.

Since writing that article a week or so ago, I began looking through the Stars and Stripes archive to discover that the story was far, far more complex (and covered in far more detail), than I had imagined. The incident at Camp Kaiser in May 1970 where various fires were set around the base seemed to be point where race relations became something to be concerned about in Korea, at least according to articles written later that year.

The army reacted by setting up different councils to try to address the problems on base, and tried to work with club owners to stop segregation in clubs. But some of the articles made clear that things were pretty dire at the time: racist graffiti in latrines, crosses burned onto blankets of black soldiers, which suggested Klan activity, areas of Dongducheon that black soldiers declared their own and essentially made off limits to white soldiers on pain of beatings, a bomb attack on a club frequented by black soldiers in Paju in the months after the January 1971 MLK rally, an earlier series of firebombing attacks at Camp Humphreys and in Anjeong-ri in April 1971 that predated the grenade attacks of May and the race riots of July, and the list goes on. Interesting as well is the fact that the Korean press sometimes provided details that Stars and Stripes did not, but Stars and Stripes also noted that the Korean press tended to sensationalize these events. They also - and this is true in the case of the Korea Times - tended to put the blame for these events on the black soldiers.

Needless to say, there's far too much there to cover in a post, and it will take time to sift through these articles. Something I covered in my KT article that can be dealt with in more detail at the moment is the May 17 anti-war protest by GIs in Myeong-dong. Here is the report on the protest published in Stars in Stripes on May 19, 1971:

Korean Cops Turn Them Over to MPs
31 GIs Arrested in Seoul Antiwar Protest
S&S Korea Bureau

SEOUL — Thirty-one American soldiers were arrested by Korean police Monday night after an anti- Vietnam war march through the streets of downtown Seoul.

The soldiers were taken to a nearby police station after Korean police arrested them in the Myongdong entertainment district in the center of the capital.

No violence was reported.

It was believed to be the first public organized antiwar demonstration by American soldiers in Korea, although in the past individual soldiers have worn black armbands in protest against the war.
The soldiers were released to American military policemen late Monday night after being questioned for three hours at Chung Ba Police Station where they were charged with blocking traffic and assembling without a permit, according to a military spokesman.

There was no violence observed during the demonstration which began at about noon with five soldiers silting on the steps of a downtown Seoul building. By 5 p.m., about 30 others had gathered. All wore black arm bands and demonstrated peacefully, attracting crowds of several hundred curious Koreans before police led them away without incident to waiting vans.

The demonstration, which leaders had earlier said they expected about 500 soldiers to join, had been planned for two weeks, they said. Printed flyers, criticizing the Indochina war and urging participation in Monday’s demonstrations had been distributed to most major U.S. military camps in the republic. Attempts also were made to elicit Korean University students' support for the anti-war rally, according to students.

At least two Koreans did join with the protesters briefly but were led away by Korean police almost immediately. Three other persons, who identified themselves as American military dependents also participated but were not taken into custody.

Demonstrators said they had gathered solely to protest the Vietnam War and to show their support for recent Washington marches. They were careful to stress that in no way were they demonstrating against Korea or the American role here, but were acting only as "concerned Americans wanting to end the Indochina debacle."

The soldiers were released in groups at about 11 p.m. from the police station where they said they had been questioned by men identifying themselves as Korean Central Intelligence agents.

As they were being trucked away to the Yongsan Provost Marshal's office they reported that they had been treated well, although they said they had not been allowed to contact American authorities or been advised of charges against them.

Police at the station refused admittance to reporters and police officials would not comment on the incident, saying only that "an investigation is in progress."

Army officials to whom the protesters were released said Tuesday morning that all of the men had been released to their units. The military spokesman was not able to comment on what further action might be taken against the men, but official legal sources here said any measures would probably be a matter for the Koreans to decide under the Status of Forces Agreement, because apparently the protestors had violated no American military statutes.

AP reported Korean onlookers showed no reaction to the antiwar march but called the marchers “Yankee beggars," apparently referring to their clothing.

(Korea is a staunchly anti-Communist, country and about 50,000 Korean troops are fighting in Vietnam in support of the Saigon Government.)


One wonders what the KCIA agents thought of the protest.

Here is the May 18, 1971 Korea Times article about the protest:

Here is a photo from the Korea Times:

Below is a photo from the May 18 Maeil Gyeongje, which played down the number of protesters ("around 10"), focused on the black soldiers present, and said the sit in only lasted one hour:

Below is a photo from the May 18 Kyonghyang Shinmun, which reported that around 5:15 pm Ernest Hirst (22) and about 30 other US soldiers in civilian clothes and wearing black armbands gathered in front of the Cosmos Department store in Myeong-dong and had flyers calling for an end to the war in Indochina. Then then marched for ten minutes to the Chosun Hotel and held a sit-in there until police convinced them to leave, so after that they returned to Myeong-dong where they held a silent protest for 3 hours. Gwon Yeong-ok (20), who lived in Chongsin-dong, joined in the demonstration briefly with three other Koreans and they were all taken to Namdaemun Police Station where they were released after a warning.

Below is a photo of the protest from the May 20 Stars and Stripes:

Stars and Stripes reported that day that Korean police had decided not to charge them; whether USFK would charge them was still being decided.

I haven't found any reports after this discussing the matter, so one assumes USFK authorities let it drop.

I would certainly be curious to hear first-hand accounts of this protest.

Monday, June 22, 2020

The rally in memory of Martin Luther King at RC 1 in Paju, 1971

 Rally commemorating the third anniversary of Martin Luther King's assassination held in Paju, Jan, 15, 1971.

Years ago I wrote about the Anjeong-ri race riots of July 1971, which took place outside Camp Humphreys. In the comments to the two posts I wrote (here and here) a number of soldiers who served at Camp Humphreys left comments describing their memories of that event. What was confusing, I realize now, is that there were actually two incidents that took place that year, seven weeks apart, at Camp Humphreys, and the soldiers at times referred to both. The reason I understand this now is that I recently looked through my Korea Times archive, where I found a number of articles about black soldiers in Korea demonstrating against discrimination going back to at least late 1970. What set the tone for 1971, however, was a rally held by black soldiers in memory of Martin Luther King on January 15, 1971, his birthday.

Here is the Korea Times article about the rally from January 16, 1971:

A few months ago, through this article by Jon Dunbar about Martin Limon's latest book, I was made aware of the newspaper Overseas Weekly, which was a tabloid weekly out of Germany that covered stories Stars and Stripes wouldn't. With the help of Jon, and Jacco Zwetsloot, we discovered that some of Overseas Weekly is preserved on microfilm here, but more easily accessible are some of its photos, searchable at the Hoover Institution (the Korea-related ones are here). It was there that I found scanned contact sheets for this rally (here, here, and here; click "Download low resolution copy" at right). I've posted some of them below. This page describes how the images of the rally itself were obtained: "All pix are of the protest meeting on RC One that the press were barred from. A guy slipped me the film." "RC One" referred to Recreation Center 1, which was located across the road from Camp Beard and next to the Yongjugol camp town in Paju.

The rally was held in front of the 2nd Infantry Division Museum, then located at RC 1. 

 It appears they finished the rally by lowering the flag to half mast.

As the Korea Times article noted, however, there was a significant response to this rally by USFK. Below are photos of MPs gathered on the football field (and go-kart track) at RC 1.

APCs on the move through Yongjugol.

As for it not initially being clear, as the Korea Times noted, whether the movement of APCs to the area was related to the rally or not, the following photos make it clear they were in the streets as the black soldiers walked through Yongjugol.

In fact, the Korea Times' photo of the APCs shows the soldiers walking on the right:

As the photographer described it, this photo shows "a helicopter that was orbiting the site":

There are 3 more photos that, with the one above, make a panorama showing that the football field was half-ringed with APCs, of which I could count at least 23.

A series of photos, including the one below, was described as showing "some troops in what appears to be a riot-control formation. I guess they were practicing."

It's unfortunate there aren't any photos of the club where the soldiers ended up continuing the rally, or of soldiers blocking entrance to it. What is clear, however, is that USFK authorities barred press from attending the initial rally at RC 1 and mobilized MPs, soldiers in 30 APCs, and helicopters to intimidate participants or stifle the rally after they left RC 1.

While the US military's response to the violence at Camp Humphreys six months later was to criticize the role Korean racism played, little was said in regard to the way in which USFK consistently stifled and suppressed rallies by black soldiers against discrimination that year, including this one and others in Seoul and Busan. A subsequent post will deal with these, and the way they led to the Anjeong-ri race riots.

As for where this rally to commemorate Martin Luther King took place, here is a map I made of the area, which is a 5-km drive east of Paju Station.

Photos of the Yongjugol area taken in the early 1960s can be seen (particularly if you follow the links) at this page about Camp Beaumont, and some basic information about Camp Beard is here. While written information online about Recreation Center 1 is sparse, there is a lengthy film of it taken in mid-1970 here (shown below). All of these camps have long since closed. The more recent Yongjugol red light district mentioned in this article is south of the stream from the 'Yongjugol' marked above, and served Korean soldiers stationed in the area.

In the below video of Recreation Center 1, just after the 6 minute mark you can see the flagpoles and 2nd Infantry Division Museum where the rally was held 6 months later, and around the 12:30 mark you can see the go-kart track and football field where the APCs were parked.

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Writing about the Itaewon COVID-19 outbreak in the Korea Times, re-entry visa changes, and recent foreign teacher court cases

My latest article for the Korea Times, "Itaewon once again at center of virus fears," looks at the COVID-19 outbreak in Itaewon, touching on topics I covered here and here back in May. Also worth reading is the article "COVID-19 devastates Itaewon businesses."

Here is the "Sorry! Foreigners are not allowed to enter" sign I mentioned in the article (from here):

As for the recent removal of automatic re-entry for many visas and the need for a medical certificate attesting to a lack of COVID-19 symptoms in order to re-enter Korea (see here, for example), the government was quite open about its desire to "curb non-essential travel." Though, after complaints from chambers of commerce, the medical certificate requirement was dropped for business / journalism / academic trips of three weeks or less.

One announcement also reads that "As of 27 May, a total of 78 accumulated cases were reported since January 2020. This accounts for 53% of all 145 imported cases by foreigners, meaning long-term foreign residents are involved in over a half of all imported cases."

Well, "over a half of all imported cases" by foreigners. Applying these stats to KCDC stats, as of May 27 there were at total of 1,221 imported cases, with 1,076 by Koreans (88%), 67 by short term foreign visitors (5.5%), and 78 by long term foreign sojourners (6.4%).

It didn't say how many of those long term foreign sojourners were on F-4 visas, but [as statistics available here reveal] while F-4 visa holders make up over 25% of foreigners on long-term visas, they only made up 5.5% and 5.8% of foreigners entering the country in March and April, respectively, so the number of cases involving them is likely small. Due to the Korean government's support of a race-based right of return for ethnic Koreans on F-4 visas, that visa category is legally separate from others, and to threaten to bar their return if they lack a medical certificate would require legal changes, unlike other visa categories for which the government has much freer reign to impose restrictions.

Still, considering that long term foreign sojourners have made up only 6.4% of imported cases, it seems to create burdens while having little positive effect on the caseload here, particularly considering that everyone gets tested at the airport anyways.

In other foreign teacher-related news, Yonhap published a report a couple weeks ago titled "Native-speaking teacher gets three and a half years in prison for production and possession of obscene material involving teenage middle-school girls."

It notes that a 31-year-old South African native speaking teacher in Suwon was sentenced to three and a half years in prison for violating the law on sexual protection of children and adolescents (production, distribution and possession of obscene material).

He must also complete a 40-hour sexual assault treatment program and is banned from working at child and youth-related institutions and welfare facilities for the disabled for five years.

He was prosecuted for taking and sending obscene photos and videos to two teenage girls he met through a chatting application in October last year.

Though he confessed to the crime and admitted the charges during the initial police investigation, in court he argued that there were procedural problems, and that he was not shown a warrant. Unfortunately for him, the police sergeant involved testified and the judge did not accept the teacher’s claim that he had difficulty communicating during the arrest because the police sergeant, who had served as a KATUSA , confirmed his English proficiency in court.

This is a pretty strong sentence - it seems authorities are starting to take these cases quite a bit more seriously than in the past - though I imagine the fact that he did not admit guilt or show proper remorse in court contributed to the length of the sentence.

What was odd about this is that after seeing more than 80 articles about foreign teachers and Itaewon after the outbreak there, I could only find 12 articles about this case. You never know what the media is going to focus on.

Also, if you remember the Canadian woman who was arrested by police for violating the Child Welfare Act after she showed young students a "what does human flesh taste like" video earlier this year (see here and here), a court ruled she was not guilty, mostly due to a lack of intent on her part and her lack of previous criminal record. Civic groups complained about the ruling, saying the children's testimony was not taken enough into account, though it seems she's already left the country.