Though I may earn frowns of disapproval for writing this message while Japan and South Korea are still happily basking in the successful cohosting of the soccer World Cup, there is one joint project between Japan and South Korea that I am quite unable to accept as being worthwhile. Do you know the so-called Japan-South Korea Joint History Research Project?
As is clear from the fact that last May the South Korean government submitted a request for 35 items in Japanese history textbooks to be revised, there are many historical matters on which South Korea and Japan have different perceptions. I cannot possibly see how these differences can be resolved.
Every nation has its own pretext and perceptions, even about issues such as ongoing conflicts or trade negotiations. Consequently, the ways in which each nation assesses and acknowledges historical matters will naturally differ.
For example, can we reconcile these discrepancies and find mutually satisfying answers?
1. From Japan’s viewpoint, the United States is to blame for the atomic bombings in World War II. This is because the mass killing of civilians and attacks on nonmilitary facilities are prohibited by international laws of warfare. However, President Truman said the atomic bombings were justified. President George H.W. Bush (father of the current president) supported Truman’s decision by saying the bombings hastened the end of the war and saved the lives of Americans, and it was therefore “right.”
2. President Bush said the Persian Gulf War was a war fought for freedom, justice and fairness, but Iraq criticized it as an “‘invasion of our territory by multinational forces.”
3. An Jung-geun, who killed Resident-General of Korea Hirobumi Ito in 1909, is considered a “noble patriot” in South Korea and an “assassin” in Japan. In Taiwan, Ito is regarded as “a man who contributed to the modernization of Japan”; in South Korea, he is a “villain.”
4. Four northern islands off Hokkaido are claimed as “our nation’s territory” by both Russia and Japan.
5. Taiwan considers itself to be an “independent state,” but China insists it is “part of China.”
6. National History (a government-approved history textbook in South Korea) states, “Even women were mobilized in the name of the volunteer corps and sacrificed as comfort women for the Japanese military.” In Japan, the 1944 Women’s Volunteer Labor Law specifically says, “The volunteer corps is formed of women mobilized to provide labor to cover the worker shortage in munitions industry sectors.”
7. Chinese History (a government-approved history textbook in China) states, ‘‘According to the International Military Tribunal for the Far East, the Japanese army slaughtered more than 300,000 unarmed Chinese citizens in the six weeks after occupying Nanjing.” The indictment of the Tokyo Trial put this figure as “several tens of thousands,” and the judgment concluded “more than 200,000.”