In the madness of war, all logic is forgottenAfter the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Japanese imperialism continued its sweeping upturn to hold the entire region of Southeast Asia in the palm of its hand.
But the tide began to turn against Japan after the Battle of Midway in June 1942. With the United States Army breaking through the enemy defensive lines toward the mainland of Japan, B-29 aircraft flew bomb runs one after another over Tokyo.
Japan considered this war - what is known here as the Asia-Pacific War - one of aggression, as the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” was threatened by Western actions.
In May 1943, Hajime Tanabe, a Japanese philosopher of the Kyoto School, instructed his students to prepare themselves to make the ultimate sacrifice for their country.
“As the wise man devotes himself to his god and its doctrine for the sake of his own religious faith, we should sacrifice our lives for the sake of our nation in imminent peril,” Tanabe said. “Our nation and ourselves are already united into one in times of national emergency.”
On Oct. 20 of the same year, Japanese imperialists promulgated the rules on the temporary recruitment of special volunteer armies to conscript young Koreans and force them out to battlefields.
Like dictatorial regimes before them, Japanese imperialists were obsessed with manipulating large groups of young people through media outlets. A discussion between Japanese and Korean mothers printed on Nov. 15, 1943, in the Maeil Shinbo, a newspaper used by the Japanese governor general’s office for promotional purposes, shows the extent to which the government controlled what was reported.
“Given the fact that only Japanese people, covered in blood, are serving on the front line,” one Korean mother supposedly wrote, “we can no longer study in school and live in comfort.” This exchange is a sad commentary on the state of the nation at that time.
Student soldiers were threatened by the police and were forcibly mobilized through a variety of propaganda to achieve a 100 percent recruitment rate under the guise of a “volunteer army.” Of 1,000 students enrolled in Korean universities, 959 were forced to risk their lives in the war, as were 2,150 out of 2,929 students studying in Japan and Manchuria. The average national volunteer rate - 96 percent in Korea and 77 percent in Manchuria and Japan - shows just how forcible it was.
Novelist Lee Gwang-soo felt Koreans should fight alongside Japan, but he wrote that “If Japan doesn’t return the favor of our people’s sacrifices ... I am ready to fight Japan and shed my blood.”
He was not the only one persuaded by Japan’s pressure at the time. Even Yuh Woon-hyung, who once fought for Korean nationalism, issued the manifesto “Appeal to 25 million people on the peninsula” in 1943, calling on Koreans to join the Japanese army.
Neither national leaders nor grassroots folks were free from the madness in the era.
The writer is the dean of the school of liberal arts at Kyung Hee University
By Huh Dong-hyun