Blasts from the past

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Blasts from the past


Kim Dong-ho
The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

“In our society, the word ‘reds’ is still being used to vilify and attack political rivals,” President Moon Jae-in said on March 1, during a national address to commemorate the centennial of the March 1 Independence Movement. He later said that it was “very regretful” how Tokyo was cunningly using historical issues to gain political points on its home turf. Moon’s former senior secretary for civil affairs, Cho Kuk, claimed that some Korean politicians and media outlets were siding with the Japanese government in criticizing the Korean government and Supreme Court.
So Moon’s logic is that if a person denounces his hard-line policy toward Tokyo or expresses doubt about where it’s heading, he or she is definitely pro-Japanese.

Let me rephrase his comment a bit. “In our society, the word ‘pro-Japanese’ is still being used to vilify and attack political rivals.” Swapping “reds” with “pro-Japanese” seems to make perfect sense. This shows the reality. Currently in Korea, if people voice their opposition to government policies, they’re disparagingly called pro-Japanese. Even worse, they’re called tochakwaegu, “native collaborators with Japan,” a phrase that was used a century ago.

Tochakwaegu goes back to 1908. The Korea Daily News, a local newspaper, used the term “towae,” an abbreviation of “tochakwaegu.” In an article in 1910, the paper defined “towae” as “someone who looked Korean but had the intestines of a Japanese person, or in short, someone like a goblin.” A towae, the newspaper wrote, acts in the following way: someone who signs several treaties with Japan to gain “vain honor,” and through those treaties, secretly gains profit; someone who instigates for Japan with preposterous words while hiding their sinister plan; someone who rapes women in suburban areas and steals their fortunes while relying on Japanese soldiers; and someone who spreads venom in the hearts of other people by lying to them when they talk bitterly about Japan’s wrongful actions.

Today, if a Korean shows even the slightest bit of discomfort about the Moon administration, they’re straight-out called a tochakwaegu. I wonder if people who actually call others by this moniker somehow feel relieved about bashing Tokyo. But what is pro-Japanese anyway in the 21st century? We live in a world where the number of Koreans going to Japan and Japanese coming to Korea in a single year adds up to 10 million. Some young Koreans go crazy over Japanese sweets and know more about sake (Japanese rice wine) than makgeolli (Korean rice wine). Can we really label these Koreans tochakwaegu? Can such Koreans gain anything by being pro-Japanese as they might have a century ago?

There’s no doubt that Japan should reflect upon its wrongful past. And the Japanese government must stop its shameful economic retaliations against Korea. But we should spare some time to think about our actions, too. It was Korea that disbanded the reconciliation and healing foundation aimed at compensating Korean women for their forced sexual slavery by the imperial Japanese Army, which had been agreed to by both the Japanese and Korean governments in a 2015 agreement “finalizing” the comfort women issue. It was also Korea that caused bilateral ties to fray recently by refusing to deal in any way with Supreme Court rulings that took issue with the 1965 Korea-Japan claims agreement.

Moon’s approval rate is soaring as Korea is caught up in an anti-Japanese movement. His anti-market policies have turned Korea’s private sector economy into a complete wasteland, and the Korean government did not issue even the most customary statement warning China and Russia not to fly into Korea’s sovereign airspace or air defense identification zone as if it is some sort of a public play ground. It seems that the Moon administration cares about nothing but the simmering anti-Japanese sentiment within Korean borders.



Korea is no longer the weak country it was a century ago. It’s not a superpower, but it is a mid-sized country that’s the world’s sixth-largest exporter and 12th-largest economy. It’s about time Korea showed its broad-mindedness. Until when should we play silly word games? We must break out of this mindset and look to the future through a restrained response. I hope Moon comes up with something future-oriented in his speech for National Liberation Day on Aug. 15.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 31, Page 30
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