I received an interesting comment on my last post, where I had expressed my sadness and frustration at the bitter, highly xenophobic attitude of many people in Korea, particularly towards the Japanese. The comment says:
Hmm… I’m not too up on Japanese-Korean history, but I seem to remember that Koreans were, in fact, seen and treated as sub-humans by the Japanese during WWII. And wasn’t there an outcry not too long ago over the fact that the Japanese to this day refuse to officially recognise the atrocities committed against the Koreans? Doesn’t that indicate that the Japanese rather continue to see Koreans that way? And aren’t there many, many Korean women alive today who had been systematically abused, raped and tortured by the Japanese in WWII? Please correct me if I’ve gotten anything wrong here, as I said, I’m a bit hazy on the details.
And please don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to defend the stomach-turning kind of indoctrination you’ve described, but perhaps you need to give the country a little more time? Plus, you know, look at the bright side: although it’s true that it only takes one really crazy dictator to implement genocide, it’s also true that it only takes a few really committed politicians to melt down rather highly justified barriers of hate – just look at France and Germany today, for example.
As I said in my reply, I know pretty much nothing about the current general attitude in Japan towards Korea and Koreans. I don’t know whether the Japanese continue to view Koreans as inferior people, or whether there is regret or acknowledgement of the appalling treatment the people of Korea suffered under Japanese control. I’m aware that I am very much immersed in Korean society, and being exposed only to what the Koreans say and do, which means that I don’t have a clue about whether or not the Japanese attitude is equally bitter. I would certainly appreciate any insight into this!
I do, however, have a fair amount of understanding of why Korea is so angry and defensive. I might not agree with how the massive injustices of the past are being remembered in the form of worrying indoctrination, racism, xenophobia, and the poisoning of young minds with hatred – but I do understand why. Although I will always preach peace, harmony, and tolerance, that doesn’t mean I have no sympathy for those who have undergone so much suffering.
I wanted to link to a blog post I was sure I had written on this topic, but after searching in vain I realised that I’d simply written a paragraph to accompany pictures I put on Facebook after a visit to Seodaemun Prison in Seoul, quite some time ago. For those who don’t know the background, and for the sake of presenting a slightly more balanced picture of the situation, here are those photos with the accompanying paragraph. Other than that, they pretty much speak for themselves.
This was the largest prison in Korea during the Japanese occupation. Those who resisted Japanese rule were imprisoned here and tortured, then executed. Every effort was made to stamp out Korean culture, language, and national identity. Korea has had a very long history of suffering, and I made some realisations during this visit, which help to explain the often firece nature of Korean patriotism.