Kotaji on Korea (& Japan)

I wanted to quickly mention two fascinating posts by Kotaji in the last two weeks that may be of interest to readers here.

First, he refers to an article in OhMyNews about a village near Kyoto composed of those of Korean descent who are resisting the destruction of their neighborhood. Kotaji picks up on the dissonance between the way the South Korean media has covered this story and the villagers who are squatting in defiance.

Second, he reports on a talk at Yonsei University given by Pak Noja . A part of the lecture (transcript here in Korean) focuses on the links between North Korea and the legacy left by Japanese imperialism, and Kotaji has graciously translated a few paragraphs into English. Here is Pak’s main point:

So, when General Kim Il-sung was constructing a nation state, he brought in considerable parts of the apparatus of state control and repression that were taken from the mechanisms of administration of the Japanese imperialists, the very people he had been struggling against up until then. In other words, it is hard to get rid of the sense that the state created by the nationalists in some way inherited a great deal from the imperialist state.

1 Comment

  1. Tak: Hope your move to Japan is going well. (Were you the Japanese student beat up at the Yasukuni Shrine by the right wing thugs?) Here was my attempted reply to Kotaji which I think was unsuccessful as the site is transitioning to wordpress somehow (I really don’t know why? Am I now blacklisted?). Anyway, Kotaji wonders why Korean nationalists should resort to the tools of nationalism of Imperial Japan.

    Here were my opinions, some of which are edited here as opposed to my earlier post on my own blog:

    The brutal form of nation building, often used to build a “nation” in a short span of time across a diverse populace, requires a certain degree of national mobilization.

    It is anti-progressive (non-popular) since the work gives preference for a specific set of ideologies at the expense of and exclusion of others. Where time, resources, finances, legitimacy, and even emotion is in limited supply, power and everything else are monopolized by the willing nationalist cliques.

    Meiji Japan (pre-1900?) represents one aspect of Japanese nation-building: An open form that welcomed and nurtured new ideas to the exclusion of the old in the rush to modernize. Imperial Japan (post-1900?) represented another aspect of Japanese nation-building: A closed form that excluded any new idea, especially that which might hamper the work of the military/politico elites in the rush to match the old imperalism of the West and deploy their military throughout Asia.

    The Imperial Japanese used the tools of nation-building to coerce the population into an Imperial program and was able to extract significant sacrifices (up to the point of jumping off the cliffs or exploding a handgrenade over their stomach in the face of approaching US forces) and silence any form of descent through outright murder, beating, jailings, or shear intimidation. (Of note, we see that latter forms of control and nation building in Japan. Case in point, the murder of the Asahi journalist and the inability of the police to resolve the case.)

    In the post Imperial age, the new states of former colonies will have been astute students if they resort to the same mechanisms of control learned from their former masters in a rush to legitimate and consolidate their own powers, especially when both were in short supply.

    Of note, in the industrial age, nation building becomes more urgent considering the scale of financial and labor organization required to effectively modernize. Once again, Meiji Japan channeled valuable (and limited) financial resources to buy itself into the industrial age. Likewise the military juntas of South Korea required the tools of nation-building to solidify their control on power vis DPRK, legitimate their power, and channel limited finances to targeted industrial sectors. (The Kim dynasty similarly relied on such nation-building even as going as far as replacing the mythical Japanese emperor with the mythical Kim Il Sung. Now we have the second emperor in the name of Kim Jung Il.)

    Marx always eluded me (and so I don’t understand the “primitive capitalism” argument proposed by Kotaji). But it seems to me that the mechanisms of control that such nation-builders employ are readily tradable in the free open market of ideas (of Machiavellian statecraft). It’s understandable that the Japanese elites would adapt the Prussian model of nation building to their group oriented society (and not necessarily the more liberal Anglo model), then expand the repertoire for the sake of their empire. We can see about the same type of nation-building often using the same mechanisms (ideological training, thought police, brutal suppression of differing ideas or groups, etc.) in fascist and communist countries (not that Imperial Japan was a tutor to them all but it does testify to the ingenuity of man): Nazi Germany, Stalinist USSR, and Maoist PRC.

    In milder forms, even democracies resort to nation-building juxtaposed to the other in the international stage to negotiate inernal debates or to reassure itself in times of uncertainty (e.g., at a less subtle stage in US history, Sen. Joe McCarthy). So while the tools of nation-building may become less brutal over time, it is always there.

    But it must evolve if the socio-economy is improve and civilization is to progress. And today (coming back to my favorite topic) it appears that Japan must change. I think it is dangerous for Japanese socio-economy for the Japanese elites to cling on to the right wing mechanisms of control in modern day Japan. For as the USSR has shown, while such tools are useful for industrial catch-up to a certain point, beyond that point it becomes useless. The reason is that in the industrial catch-up context, the road-map is fairly worked out; you don’t have to reinvent the wheel (see for example Gerschenkron). The road-map disappears at the point where you then need to compete with your peers at the level of socio-economic-technological innovation or at the point where the people take their lives into their own hands in a truly realized democracy. Continuing to concentrate political and economic resources becomes counter-productive and riskier, and stiffling to the people. Today the Japanese right-wing elites continue to hold the leash in Japanese society. But the people seem used to the leash.

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