History Japan Japan & Korea

Equality, Fraternity, Atrocity

A group of lawmakers plans to submit a bill to the Diet mandating government financial compensation for Korean and Taiwanese former Class B and Class C war criminals and their surviving families.  The move, led by Kenta Izumi, a Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan) Lower House member, could come as early as the current Diet session.

At issue are those who worked as guards of POWs for the Imperial Japanese military during World War II. The non-Japanese were later denied the same pensions and other compensation paid to Japanese war criminals and their family members.  At the Allied Forces war trials, 321 Koreans and Taiwanese were convicted as “Japanese” of war crimes. The group included 23 Koreans and 26 Taiwanese who were executed. [Asahi Shimbun]

And now, the best part:

The lawmakers’ group will propose the government pay 3 million yen in compensation to each former Class-B and C war criminal, in “a humanitarian spirit.”

Suddenly,  I have a better understanding of why Chinese and Koreans can’t just let bygones be bygones.  It’s moments like these when I realize that language may not be the greatest barrier to cross-cultural understanding. There is almost too much perverse principle in there for words to grasp. You could almost celebrate Japan taking a step toward equality were it not for the countervailing embrace of atrocity. 

Korea contributes to this ugly little anachronism.  Violins at the ready, please:

Izumi said he was greatly moved by the story of Lee Hyok Nae, a Korean who worked at a POW camp run by Japan in Thailand and was later convicted.  Lee, 83, is now chairman of Doshin-kai, a group representing former Korean war criminals that since 1955 has urged Japan to act on the issue.  Hearing Lee’s story, Izumi realized the Diet has never heard the views of these non-Japanese, the lawmaker said. He hopes the bill will receive cross-party support.

Lee was taken from his home on the Korean Peninsula, which from 1910 to 1945 was under Japanese colonial rule, at the age of 17 in 1942. After the war, he was sentenced to death for abusing POWs.

Wanting more details on that last bit, I consulted Mr. Google, who informs me that Japan Probe  has been all over this one.  Lee was convicted of working Australian POW’s to death.   He now lives in Japan.  South Korea ostracizes “collaborators” and was seizing the property of some of their descendants as recently as  last August.   Although the seizures were begun under  the  nationalist-left government of Roh Moo Hyun, the seized land  went up for sale  a month after the inauguration of  a center-right government.  (Did you notice that that last  link goes to, of all places,  DynamicKorea.com?)

Not that I have high expectations that certain  other camp guards  who are  working and starving Korean men, women, and kids  to death at this very hour will be held accountable, either.   In northeast Asia,  it is the  ethnic  identity of the regime, not  the ethnic identity of the victims, or (least of all) the objective evil of the acts themselves that separates criminals from old comrades.   

Hat tip to a reader.