Home History The History Problem : The Politics of War Commemoration in East Asia
Commemorating the Double Tragedy of Colonial Rule and the Atomic Bombings
South Koreans began to learn about A-bomb victims in March 1965, when a broadcasting station in Seoul reported that there were about two hundred A-bomb victims living in South Korea.6 Then, in May, the Korean Residents Union in Japan (Mindan) sent delegates to investigate conditions of South Korean A-bomb victims. While in South Korea, the delegates requested the South Korean government and the Red Cross Society to conduct a comprehensive survey of A-bomb victims. In response, the South Korea Red Cross Society began a survey in August and found at least 426 A-bomb victims.7 The media coverage of the survey encouraged South Korean A-bomb victims to form an association to seek relief for their medical and economic conditions. In July 1967, they established the South Korean A-Bomb Victims Association. By the end of the year, a total of 1,857 victims had joined.8
First, the association sought medical and economic relief from Park Chung Hee’s government, as well as requesting that the Japanese and US governments provide funds and construction materials for hospitals and rehabilitation centers for South Korean A-bomb victims. Moreover, the association asked the Japanese government, specifically, to compensate the physical damages that its members had suffered from the atomic bombings. The association justified the claim by arguing that South Korean victims “had been taken away by the Japanese imperialists and then struck by the atomic bombings during the forced labor.”9
These activities by South Korean A-bomb victims were reported regularly by the Hiroshima-based newspaper ChUgoku shinbun. One of Japan’s major national newspapers, Asahi shinbun, also published an extensive report on South Korean A-bomb victims in March 1968. The report presented the victims as embodying the history of Japan’s colonial rule and urged Japanese citizens to “do something about the deep wounds of the atomic bombings that we inflicted on them.”10 As more and more people in Japan came to learn about A-bomb victims in South Korea, they began to organize relief activities. In December 1967 and August 1968, high school students in Hiroshima and businessmen in Nagasaki, respectively, organized fundraising drives for South Korean A-bomb victims.11 In August 1968, the National Council for Peace and Against Nuclear Weapons (Kakuheiki Kinshi Heiwa Kensetsu Kokumin Kaigi) also decided to provide relief for South Korean A-bomb victims.12
While Japanese citizens began to take action for South Korean A-bomb victims, Japanese A-bomb victims and opposition parties stepped up their efforts to press the Japanese government for compensation. Specifically, the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations argued that the Act on Medical Care for A-Bomb Victims was inadequate because it provided only medical relief. Since A-bomb victims suffered from chronic diseases that often made it difficult for them to hold regular jobs, the confederation demanded that the government provide A-bomb victims with not only medical but also economic relief. In October 1966, the confederation also published a pamphlet that demanded a “relief act” (engoho) for A-bomb victims, comparable to the Act on Relief for Injured Veterans and Bereaved Families.13
Sato Eisaku’s government responded by proposing the Bill on Special Measures Concerning A-Bomb Victims (Genshi Bakudan Hibakusha ni tai- suru Tokubetsusochi ni kansuru Hoan) in March 1968, offering monthly allowances for A-bomb victims with certain medical and economic condi- tions.14 The government, however, continued to insist that relief for A-bomb victims should be understood as voluntary, and that “compensation” (hosho) should be offered only to military-related personnel. As Muranaka Toshiaki, an official of the Ministry of Welfare, repeatedly argued, “We think that compensation should be given only to those who had been employed by the government, such as those who served in the military. It is therefore inappropriate to apply the compensation scheme to A-bomb victims who had no employment relations with the government.”15 While opposition parties criticized the government’s continuing refusal to compensate A-bomb victims, they eventually accepted the bill by adding a resolution to increase allowances in the future. The bill passed the Diet in May 1968. Because it fell short of providing government compensation, however, Japanese A-bomb victims and opposition parties continued to press the government.
Then, in the late 1960s, the two parallel movements by Japanese and South Korean A-bomb victims began to intersect. First, in October 1968, Japanese police arrested Son Gwi Dal, a female South Korean A-bomb victim who entered Japan illegally to seek medical treatment. The arrest of Son prompted the Japan Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations to lobby politicians to allow her to stay in Japan. Son was deported to South Korea in November, but people in Hiroshima formed the Japan- South Korea Council for A-Bomb Victim Relief (Hibakusha Kyuen Nik- kan Kyogikai) in October 1969, invited South Korean A-bomb victims to Japan for medical treatment, and conducted a survey of A-bomb victims in South Korea.16 In February 1969, the Japan-South Korea Council for A-Bomb Victim Relief also organized a signature-collection campaign requesting the Japanese government to issue health record books to nonJapanese citizens.17 Then, in May 1969, Motoshima Yuriko, a member of the Democratic Socialist Party—a centrist party created by the former rightwing faction of the JSP—brought up the issue of South Korean A-bomb victims for the first time in the Diet. She suggested that foreign A-bomb victims should be able to receive the same treatment as their Japanese counterparts.18 Observing these events, Hiraoka Takashi, a ChUgoku shin- bun reporter who was to later become a mayor of Hiroshima City, noted in August 1969, “Korean A-bomb victims embody the double tragedy, Japan’s colonial rule and the atomic bombings. . . . Confronting the fact that Japanese A-bomb victims were also perpetrators [from the Korean perspective] shall produce a new philosophy of Hiroshima.”19
The movement to support South Korean A-bomb victims accelerated in December 1970 when the police arrested Son Jin Du, another South Korean A-bomb victim who had entered Japan illegally to seek medical treatment. He was imprisoned first but transferred to a hospital after he became ill. While at the hospital, Son applied for a health record book. Although his application was rejected, his Japanese supporters helped him file a lawsuit at the Fukuoka District Court in October 1972 to revoke the rejection. Meanwhile, journalists, university students, and workers in Osaka and Kobe created the Association of Citizens to Support A-Bomb Victims in South Korea (Kankoku no Genbaku Higaisha wo Kyuensuru Shimin no Kai) to provide relief for South Korean A-bomb victims.20 The National Council for Peace and Against Nuclear Weapons also sent doctors to South Korea to examine medical conditions of A-bomb victims in September 1971 and created a medical center for A-bomb victims in Hapcheon, South Korea, in December 1973.21
Concurrently, the South Korean A-Bomb Victims Association increased its lobbying activities. In August 1971, the association sent a petition to Prime Minister Sato Eisaku requesting that the Japanese government treat South Korean A-bomb victims as equal to their Japanese counterparts. Then, in August 1972, Shin Yong Su, the association president, met with Deputy Prime Minister Miki Takeo in Tokyo to hand another petition to Prime Minister Tanaka Kakuei. In the petition, the association demanded that the Japanese government compensate South Korean A-bomb victims because they had suffered from the atomic bombings while they had been “forcibly mobilized by prewar Japan’s imperialism for military service, 1 abor, and voluntary corps, among other activities.”22 Other NGOs in South Korea, especially Christian NGOs, also joined the lobbying activities. Korean Church Women United, for example, began to work with the South Korean A-Bomb Victims Association in spring 1974, after its members had participated in the World Day of Prayer in Hiroshima and learned about the plight of South Korean A-bomb victims.23 Supporting the association’s petition in 1971, Korean Church Women United sent its own petition to Prime Minister Tanaka in July 1974 requesting that the Japanese government provide South Korean A-bomb victims with the same relief being offered to their Japanese counterparts.24 The group also asked its sister organization in Japan to write a similar petition to the prime minister.25
Opposition parties in Japan, too, rallied behind South Korean A-bomb victims. JSP member Ohara Toru argued that the Japanese government should provide relief for South Korean A-bomb victims “from a humanitarian standpoint (jindotekina kantenkara) since Japan had mobilized Koreans, and Japan also had more experience of providing relief and medical treatment for A-bomb victims,” even though he felt that the United States should be held primarily responsible because it had dropped the atomic bombs.26 Komeito member Kashiwabara Yasu made a similar point: “The Japanese government argues that the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and South Korea has resolved all issues regarding compensation. Even if that is legally the case, I think we, as human beings, should do something humanitarian for South Korean A-bomb victims.”27
Then, in March 1974, the Fukuoka District Court ruled that it was illegal to reject Son Jin Du’s application for a health record book since the
Act on Medical Care for A-Bomb Victims had no citizenship or residency requirement. Following the ruling, Shin Yong Su visited Tokyo in July 1974 and applied for a health record book. Tokyo governor Minobe Ryokichi, known for his liberal orientation, agreed to issue a health record book to Shin. This was the first time a South Korean citizen had obtained a health record book since the 1965 normalization. In March 1978, the Supreme Court also upheld the ruling of the Fukuoka District Court and stated, “The Act on Medical Care for A-Bomb Victims has a characteristic that amounts to government compensation (kokka hoshoteki hairyo) since it aims to provide relief for the exceptional war-related damages [of the atomic bombings] based on responsibility of the government as an actor that carried out the war.”28 Given this ruling, the Japanese government began to issue health record books to foreign A-bomb victims, though it also issued the so-called 402 Directive to invalidate these health record books once their holders left Japan.29
In response to the Supreme Court ruling, the LDP also sent its delegation to meet with members of South Korea’s ruling Democratic Republican Party in July 1978 and began negotiations over the issue of South Korean A-bomb victims. In June 1979, the two ruling parties reached a three-part agreement: Japan should accept South Korean doctors seeking training in the medical treatment of A-bomb victims, send Japanese doctors to South Korea to provide this same training there, and invite South Korean A-bomb victims to Japan for medical treatment.30 When finalizing the agreement in October 1980, however, the Japanese government agreed to honor only the third part of the original agreement, and even then, the South Korean government was expected to cover the costs of sending A-bomb victims to Japan. The agreement was also set to expire in five years.31
Although the 1980 agreement fell short of what South Korean A-bomb victims and their supporters had hoped for, the 1965 normalization treaty stimulated transnational interactions at both governmental and nongovernmental levels. In particular, Japanese and South Korean NGOs formed a transnational network to demand that the Japanese government recognize the suffering of South Korean A-bomb victims. This demand was coupled with a demand for the commemoration of what had brought Koreans to Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the first place—Japan’s colonial rule and forced l abor for the war effort. Put another way, the mobilizing structures for cosmopolitan commemoration expanded to the transnational scale, while the commemoration of the atomic bombings became more inclusive by encompassing foreign victims of Japan’s past wrongdoings. Thus, A-bomb victims and the opposition parties and NGOs that supported them began to challenge the LDP government to incorporate cosmopolitanism in Japan’s official commemoration. This challenge was reinforced by normalization of Japan’s relations with another important neighbor, China.
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