An unfathomably brazen comparison

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An unfathomably brazen comparison


Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909), the first prime minister of Japan, left a unique record in Japanese history. He was the only prime minister to commit murder in peacetime. He was involved in not just murder, but also terror attacks on foreign legations.

Around the age of 20, he was an avid supporter of the emperor and defied Western powers. In 1862, Ito became furious when he learned that Jiro Hanawa, son of the renowned scholar Hokiichi Hanawa, was researching precedents on dethroning the emperor at the request of the shogunate. Together with one of his friends, Ito killed Hanawa. He also attempted to assassinate Uta Nagai because of political differences. In December 1862, he joined in the arson of the British legation. He was a murderer and terrorist.

In 1863, Ito got a secret order from the Choshu Domain and, together with four others, snuck out of Japan to go to the United Kingdom and study. His stay in Great Britain was a crucial experience in his life and made a great impact on the fate of Japan. Ito learned about Western civilization and international politics from the most powerful country at the time. The “Choshu Five,” who included Inoue Kaoru and Yamao Yozo, contributed to Japan’s emergence as a new power. Celebrating the 150th anniversary of the Five’s secret journey, a memorial to the British couple who helped them on their voyage was erected in London earlier this year, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent a letter of appreciation.

While Ito may have been a visionary in the Meiji period, he is only a symbol of aggression to Koreans. Ito is inseparable to the annexation of Korea to Japan. Some argue that Ito had opposed the argument for conquering Korea. However, he was more of a prudent politician who supported gradual progress to wait for the right time in the international situation. History, from the Eulsa Treaty of 1905 to the full annexation, proves his true color.

In 1909, a patriotic hero Ahn Jung-geun assassinated Ito at Harbin Station, China. On hearing that a stone monument had been erected on the spot of the assassination, Japanese figures, including a Cabinet minister, protested, calling Ahn “a criminal.” More offensively, the Sankei Shimbun made an absurd comparison, “President Park has not realized that it is like erecting a statue to Mun Se-gwang, the man who assassinated her mother, at Seoul Station.”

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Oct. 29 that a former Japanese diplomat said, “When I give a speech in the United States, I say, ‘Erecting a memorial for Ahn Jung-geun in Harbin is like having a memorial for Oswald in Dallas, where President Kennedy was assassinated.’ And the audience goes quiet as if a cold blanket was thrown over them.” We are aghast at the frivolousness - and shamelessness - of the Japanese.

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


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