Shaping memories of atrocities

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Shaping memories of atrocities

Koreans actually knew that someday Japanese politicians would deny that their government had forcibly enslaved “comfort women.” That’s why Koreans were not surprised when the Japanese politicians did in fact deny the cruel military past. Koreans just treated them as the bare portrait of the Japanese right and once again confirmed that the lawmakers cannot be trusted over issues involving the two countries’ history.

But a question has emerged. Why is Germany so different from Japan despite also being behind World War II atrocities? Senior politicians of Germany almost always attend the commemoration events to remember the fallen soldiers of World War II victors in the Normandy invasion and the Battle of Stalingrad. They make it clear that the Nazis are enemies of contemporary Germans.

If Japanese politicians had any sense of international affairs, they would have attended the commemoration events of their neighbors and made promises that they will never take part in similar acts of aggression. But in fact, many actually visit the Yasukuni Shrine on Aug. 15, the anniversary of Japan’s surrender.

Aged men, dressed in imperial Japanese Army uniforms and holding the flags of the rising sun, march in front of these politicians at the shrine. It is a pity to witness such a scene. They tarnish Japan’s image in the international community.

In Germany, those holding Nazi flags and marching on the streets would be criminals. Not only Germany, but most European countries punish the remarks and writings that deny the Holocaust. In the Western world, this is the global standard.

Horst Mahler, a founding member of the extreme-left Red Army Faction that later shifted to the extreme right, was sentenced to five years in prison by a Potsdam court in March 2009 for denying the Holocaust.

British writer David Irving also served 13 months in prison in Austria after he was arrested over denying the Holocaust in 2005.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of France’s far-right National Front, was also convicted in France and Germany for contesting the Holocaust and was ordered to pay fines.

The arguments behind the denial of the Holocaust are the following: The Nazis never made an official policy to exterminate the Jews, they argue. They also claim that the survivors’ testimonies were inaccurate or incoherent and thus cannot be trusted. The Jews, they say, made up the stories of the Holocaust to win financial support.

When the Jews and the Holocaust are substituted with the Koreans and sex slavery or the Chinese and the Nanjing Massacre - the mass rape over six weeks by the Japanese military - the arguments are nearly identical to some Japanese politicians’ claims. While condemning denials of the Holocaust is a global standard, politicians in Japan are actually leading the remarks to deny sexual slavery and the Nanjing Massacre.

After World War II, Germany fought to sever ties with Nazism and educated its students about the horrific atrocities against humanity committed by the Nazi regime. It tried to build a forward-looking future with its neighbors by repenting its past.

But Japan has become a subject of embarrassment as it rejects the efforts to sever its ties with its previous atrocities, repent its military past and teach its students the truth.

After the Korean government took a more resolute approach toward the Dokdo islets, some Japanese politicians threatened to walk away from the Kono statement, through which the Japanese government admitted to forcing Korean women into sex slavery. Linking the two issues clearly shows that Japan is well aware of the fact that both cases were caused by its military aggressions, but it persistently denies this.

The time has come for Korea and its East Asian neighbors to work together to set forth a global stance on Japan’s past atrocities.

They must establish laws to punish anyone who denies Japan’s aggression during the Pacific War and brutality during the period. The war criminals of Nazi Germany were tracked down and punished without any statute of limitation, and the same principle must be applied to the crimes against humanity committed by Japanese forces during the Pacific War.

We must start preparations to register the House of Sharing in Gwangju, Gyeonggi, where the former sex slaves are currently living, as a Unesco World Heritage site.

It was first opened in Mapo District of Seoul in 1992 and moved to the current location in 1995. The tragic sites of the Japanese military invasions of Asian countries have disappeared, but this place should be remembered as the symbol of Japan’s crimes against humanity through its brutal sexual slavery.

The place must be preserved even after the aged victims all pass away as a reminder of the history. Germany recently applied to register the Buchenwald concentration camp site of the Nazis as a Unesco World Heritage site. The truthful history deserves to be known by the people.

*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Chae In-taek
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