[Viewpoint] Japan’s shameful failure to apologize

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[Viewpoint] Japan’s shameful failure to apologize

The leaves on the trees were beginning to change color in the gardens of Gyeongbok Palace when Empress Myeongseong was stabbed to death and her body burned. It was Oct. 8, 1895, and she was 44.

Hundreds of Japanese soldiers, police officers, diplomats and masterless samurai stormed the palace of a sovereign nation to murder the empress.

Imagine a squad of soldiers from a European country breaking into one of the royal palaces of England and murdering the queen. Or what if terrorists penetrated the White House and killed the first lady of the United States and burned her body in the Rose Garden? Do you think the country that perpetrated such bloody acts could go 114 years without apologizing?

Japan’s resident minister extraordinary Goro Miura, the former lieutenant general of the Imperial Army of Japan, planned and coordinated the assassination of Empress Myeongseong, who is also known as Queen Min. The masterless samurai from Japan were hired as assassins and the Japanese army and police initiated the break-in.

Heungseon Daewongun, the father of Emperor Gojong and the regent of the Joseon Dynasty, and soldiers from the Korean military joined the raiding party in order to make the assassination attempt look like a coup d’etat.

Since Miura had been the mastermind behind the heinous murder, and the military and police had played a role, the assassination of the empress is indeed a national crime committed by Imperial Japan.

If Miura thought he would be reprimanded by Emperor Meiji or Prime Minster Hirobumi Ito, he would not have committed such a crime.

We cannot confirm the people from Japan’s government involved in the crime, but Miura must have been confident that Japan would approve his “grand plan.” Miura even sent a report on the incident to Prime Minister Ito.

Lee Jong-gak, a former reporter with the Dong-A Ilbo, quoted Miura’s report in his book, “Assassin Goh Yeong-geun’s Revenge for Empress Myeongseong.”

“Please understand the circumstances before and after the incident, because it was inevitable in order to maintain the power and attain the original objective,” the book says.

Dozens of men thought to be involved in the murder, including Miura and the samurai, were put on trial in Hiroshima, but they were all acquitted because of a “lack of evidence.” Many subsequently rose to prominence in their careers.

The most notable is the editor Kenzo Adachi, the editor of the Hanseong Daily. He served 14 terms in the Japanese Diet and became a minister.

There have been some attempts at apologizing. Two descendents of the assassins came to Korea in May 2005. They visited the tomb and the birthplace of Empress Myeongseong as well as Gyeongbok Palace, making apologies to the spirit of the empress on behalf of their long-dead relatives.

Also, a memorial event to enlighten people in Japan about the assassination was held in Kumamoto on the island of Kyushu, Japan where some 20 samurai involved in the crime had come from.

These courageous Japanese people have stepped forward to acknowledge the truth about what happened to Korea’s last queen, but we cannot help but ask if Japan as a nation has ever really taken responsibility for what happened.

Why hasn’t an official apology ever been issued by the emperor, prime minister, politicians or officials?

The truth is most history textbooks in Japan do not even mention the assassination.

What’s more, no Japanese leader has ever publicly stated that the next generation should learn about the crime of murdering the empress of another country.

The 1895 assassination of Empress Myeongseong was a savage event in world history, one that is without precedent.

Japanese Prime Minister Hatoyama advocates friendship. He has told President Lee Myung-bak that Japan has the courage to look straight into history.

He plans to visit Korea on Oct. 9, the day after the 114th anniversary of the assassination. We will see if he indeed has the courage to admit his country’s role in killing Myeongseong and issue a sincere apology.

President Lee Myung-bak has expressed his hope that the Emperor of Japan will visit Korea next year. If he ever comes, I hope he will stay at the official residence of Japan’s ambassador in Seongbuk-dong, northern Seoul. There, he will be able to hear the cries of Empress Myeongseong.

*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kim Jin

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