Beyond rationality

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Beyond rationality


Lee Hoon-beom
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.

I didn’t want to get involved, but I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to intervene because I could not find rationality in the Japanese government provoking Korea with an inappropriate rationale, and then the Korean government took similar actions in response. Speaking of rationality to either would be like crying out into the wilderness.

But what I liked even less was putting my own feet in the puddle of people pouring out their thoughts — if they can be called thoughts — and taking sides. I know that I will get attacked by both sides by sharing these thoughts I have. But I can’t refuse just because the fight between the two countries is turning them into enemies.

To join this argument, one must “verify” oneself by answering the question of whether Japan’s colonial rule was lawful or not. The question itself is silly as it is not a legal matter but a matter of good and evil. The international community is basically a society of the survival of the fittest. The reasoning of a powerful country is the law. That’s what U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are doing. International laws are mere books of morals, and the good and evil documented in the books are about powerful countries taking credit and weak countries expressing their wishes.

There’s nothing complicated in the compensation issue. As the Korean government did not share the money it received from Japan in the 1960s with the so-called comfort women or forced labor victims and instead used it as seed money for economic development, I believe it is right to embrace victims now. It is especially so for a narrow-minded country like Japan. It is not patriotism for Koreans to ignore the pain of the victims for a long time and criticize Japan when it suddenly becomes an issue.

I also think that strong measures need to be taken now that Japan made a calculated provocation of economic retaliation. Talks are only possible with someone with reason. But you need a strategy to fight. It’s not a wise strategy for President Moon Jae-in to mention the Okpo naval battle during the 1592-98 Japanese invasion of Joseon at a restaurant named Turtle Ship in Busan. It’s also foolish and dangerous for a presidential secretary to ask people to choose between collaborating with Japan and standing up against Japan. I think the only purpose is to fan Korea-Japan discord, which would help the ruling party in next year’s general election. Does the government really think that it won’t matter if people, businesses and the economy suffer as long as the administration can be extended?


Koreans stage a rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul Saturday to protest Tokyo’s decision to remove Korea from a so-called white list of countries eligible for preferential treatment in trade. [AP/YONHAP]

This is my thought, not a correct answer. What I want to talk about is something else. I want to review what “pro-Japan” means. To Koreans, being pro-Japan is almost like selling out the country — unlike being pro-America or pro-China. Even after three quarters of a century have passed since our liberation from Japan’s colonial rule, the anger and humiliation of occupation has not disappeared. To put it simply, cool-headed rationality does not work when dealing with Japan.

Some say that the clearing out of collaborators with Japan was not complete. It is often compared to France’s effort for a post-war cleanup. But that is only half right. France was thorough in cleaning up its past, but it was also strict.

After Paris was liberated, women who slept with German soldiers were brought into the streets, got their heads shaved and were beaten. Many French intellectuals criticized the cruelty. Photographer Henri Cartier Bresson, who was involved in the resistance, refused to take photos of the women being publicly humiliated. The communist FFI members, who were leading the efforts to punish the collaborators, helped protect the women from mob violence.

Because of its rationality, France’s cleanup could be more perfect. It’s quite different from the atmosphere in Korea, where anyone deviating from anti-Japanese sentiment is considered a “native Japanese collaborator.” The attitude stems from an inferiority complex. France had the same feeling. French journalist Agnes Poirier wrote in “Left Bank: Art, Passion and the Rebirth of Paris, 1940-50” that people who were passive during the occupation had more vengeful thoughts against Nazi collaborators, and the most noble people were most generous.

It is about time to get out of our inferiority complex. We have the power. Reckless anti-Japanese sentiment is like a fist swinging wildly. Like an open blow in boxing, it is a big move without power. A more powerful punch comes from a tight fist. It is the proud pro-Japanese stance that does not need bamboo spears to forgive Japan’s past wrongdoings and correct Japan’s current flaws.
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