[Letter to the editor]Healing with people-to-people dialogue
It saddens me to sometimes encounter unmitigated, dogmatic expressions of hatred by Koreans for the Japanese. This anger is understandable of course, considering the lack of official Japanese atonement, and indeed even the denial and glossing over of facts concerning colonial crimes, as well as war crimes in the past. The old wounds seem to be very much still open. Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to the Yasukuni war shrine and Shinzo Abe’s nationalist agenda have certainly not helped smooth over the historical grievances between Japan and its neighbors, South Korea and China.
Since diplomatic headway on these issues has been slow and stubborn, perhaps what is needed is more simple dialogue between the people of South Korea and Japan. By this I mean greater cultural familiarity and openness to discussing issues and having conversations, rather than ostracism by one side and complete ignorance or apathy on the other.
Allow me to present the example of a single individual, although individuals like this may be rare indeed. Recently, while in China, I met an American man in his late 60s who was traveling through Asia. He is a Nisei: though he was raised in the United States and speaks only English, both his parents were Japanese.
As a child, during World War II, he and his family were placed in a Japanese-American internment camp, and perhaps this early experience has had something to do with his current interest in and concern with the history of that war and its buildup.
He is personally concerned with the war crimes committed by Japan, and had, in Harbin and other cities, visited various museums on the occupation of Manchuria. He also traveled to South Korea, visiting Independence Hall in Cheonan and the comfort women museum in Gwangju. He even attended a Wednesday rally by comfort women outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. When I met him, he was preparing to go to Nanjing, but informed me that the museum of the Japanese massacre was closed for renovations, which is a pity, since, as I’ve seen firsthand, this museum is quite powerful and moving. Not only did he travel to these painful sites of history, but he continually discussed the issues in question with the people he met, as I saw for myself.
Individual efforts like this are an inspired step toward reconciliation. Another case, this one high-profile, is that of Senator Daniel Inouye. Another Nisei, he has been instrumental in extracting an apology from Abe in relation to the comfort women resolution in the U.S. Congress. This kind of personal initiative pursuing a moral line should be encouraged and recognized, by Korean and Japanese citizens alike.
Matthew C. Crawford, visiting professor, Chungnam National University