[Viewpoint] Exposing the truth reveals our dignity

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[Viewpoint] Exposing the truth reveals our dignity

The New Year brought with it the revelation that an agreement has been reached for the Korean government to receive “Korean workers’ deposit documents” - lists of money held in escrow to pay disputed wages to Korean workers conscripted during the Japanese occupation - from the Japanese government.

This is a start to addressing an old problem, and it comes just in time for the 100th anniversary of our shameful history of Japanese rule.

But the problem isn’t Korea’s alone. It is an issue shared by other countries which suffered under Japanese aggression, including China, Taiwan, the former Soviet Union and other countries inside Southeast Asia.

The Japanese effort is forward-looking: Revealing the truth about the past is connected to the future of international politics of East Asia. And in this respect, opening the workers’ deposit documents is very significant. Over the years, the Japanese government has pushed the responsibility onto the companies who used the conscripted workers, so the agreement to finally provide the documents can be seen as recognition of government responsibility.

The “relief fund” included in the payables breakdown of the deposit list, as revealed by the Truth Commission on Forced Mobilization under the Japanese Imperialism Republic of Korea under the prime minister’s office, which recently obtained the documents, proves the responsibility of the Japanese government.

Under “relief,” the Japanese government officially mobilized workers and took legal responsibility for mobilization. Apparently the “welfare pension withdrawal benefits” - a hot topic along with the recent “99 yen problem,” and various other collection categories - is included in the deposit payables list.

But while it is a good start, it is too early to evaluate whether these actions represent Japan’s best efforts. There need to be investigations of other abuses: the comfort women taken by the Japanese military, forced mobilization in the Sakhalin area and within the Korean peninsula, the victims of atomic bombing, and Siberian prisoners of war. There is still a need to reopen discussions of matters not included in the right of claim agreement of 1965, including the welfare pension list and postal deposit material.

The workers’ deposit document will be turned over to the Korean government in March. There is no telling how many months or years it will take to analyze and computerize the lists of more than 200,000 people.

But this must happen as quickly as possible. Around 100,000 victims over the age of 80 and the families of deceased victims get through each day by hoping that the truth will be revealed and they will receive support funds. Whether or not Japanese corporate materials were deposited at the time and outstanding amounts were paid after mobilizing workers in the Korean peninsula should be investigated.

The government is also responsible for confirming the identities of those who will receive “condolence money” and other compensation from the deposit list, tracing remains and developing a system to pay respect to the dead.

In the last four years, the Truth Commission and the Japanese government have confirmed the status of around 2,600 cremated remains and thousands of bodies buried in mass graves, but, again, this is not nearly enough.

What about investigating the remains left in Manchuria, Sakhalin and Polynesia, which were included in the Japanese empire at the time? Apparently the Truth Commission partially investigated Korean graves in Sakhalin - but only around 500 of them. There is more work to be done.

Educating the public is another matter that must not be neglected. History halls and research centers are not spaces that should be provided only to scholars.

That the Korean government plans to reveal the damages of forced mobilization and support the victims sets a good example of political disclosure while showing national maturity and dignity.

It is very mature for a victim country to lead reconciliation with the attacker country. Truly mature “national dignity” can be discovered from these efforts.


*The writer is a professor of history at Konkuk University.
Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Han Sang-do
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