[VIEWPOINT]Anti-Japan anger aids Japan’s rightToward the end of a discussion on the Dokdo islands not too long ago, Kwon Myong-a, a literary critic, showed me a photograph of a sign in front of a bar in the Sinchon area in Seoul that said, “No Japanese or Dogs Allowed.” Ms. Kwon said she came across the sign when she was looking for a place for a drink with her Japanese friend. I could imagine the awkwardness and embarrassment they both must have felt.
However, the bar isn’t the only place displaying that sign. According to Ms. Kwon, there are many stores selling clothes in the Hongdae area in Seoul, which is popular with Japanese tourists, that have signs that say “No Japanese or Dogs Allowed” in the polite form of Japanese.
Actually, this expression is not new. In the mid-19th century, a Shanghai park was said to have signs that declared “No Chinese or Dogs Allowed.” A pub in front of London University had a sign saying “No Irish or Dogs Allowed” until 1968. A southern town in the United States told customers: “No Blacks or Pets Allowed.” These signs all show us that they belong to the era of imperialism.
I wonder whether the shopkeepers realized that the sign represents the remnants of imperialism when they hung it up. There is no way to find out if these citizens of a former colony had a desire to become part of an empire, or if perhaps they had some sort of retaliation psychology against the Japanese empire. Perhaps the commercialism of merchants, which aimed to sell more by appealing to nationalistic sentiments, might have been in play.
The attitude of the Korean press in dealing with Japanese issues is not much different from that of the shopkeepers. In my opinion, the news agency that took a photograph of a sign saying “No Japanese Allowed” in front of the ferryboat Hangyoreh, which shuttles between the Ulleungdo and Dokdo islands, and the national daily newspapers that published them are no better than the shopkeepers who displayed similar signs.
With only one simple question, it can be revealed how shallow these shopowners’ commercial nationalism is: Should the Japanese people who are sorry about their nation’s claim to the Dokdo islands, those who criticize the nationalism behind the revisionist Japanese history books and those who are against Japan’s ultra-rightist trend not be allowed to enter? Are the conscientious Japanese people, who kept the adoption rate of the revised history books at only 0.039 percent four years ago, also not be allowed to enter?
There is another fundamental reason why I shudder at these signs. As we can see from the new history textbooks’ goal, Japanese nationalists are putting all their efforts into making all Japanese people into one, through a unified will.
These “No Japanese or Dogs” signs deny the variety that exists among the Japanese people and lump them together into one group, and in doing so, contribute to the goal of Japanese rightists to make a unified people. Even though the anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea stems from hostility to the Japanese right wing, that sentiment is helping the Japanese rightists’ cause.
In short, Korean nationalism and Japanese nationalism have a common code of considering the people as a unit, in that they consider all Koreans and all Japanese as having one unified will respectively.
The dangerous thing about this way of thinking is that when they judge a person, they judge him not by his intentions, actions or the result of his actions, but by his nation.
Not being able to shop at a particular store or drink at a particular bar only because a person is Japanese may be seen as a trivial issue. However, the problem is that if such conflicts get out of control, it can lead to genocide, or “territorial murder,” as Zygmunt Bauman put it.
For example, the Holocaust started not when Jews were sent to the gas chambers, but when they were made to wear a yellow Star of David on their chests.
Is it not unbearably horrific that these victims were innocent but were killed only because they were a member of a certain nation, and that their murderers justified massacres for that reason?
* The writer is a professor of history at Hanyang University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Lim Jie-hyun