Semantics and History: Did Japan “Invade” Korea?

Well, the obvious answer to that question is yes, but that’s not the invasion we’re talking about. Over on the Korea side, there’s a lively discussion on the case of the Japanese teacher disciplined for making her class apologize to South Korea with regard to a Tokyo councilman’s statement that “Japan never invaded Korea.” Here’s a portion of the comment I made:

On the substantive question, I have something of a mixed feeling. In a technical sense, I don’t think you can really point to any of Japan’s actions against Korea as an “invasion” in the sense of a mass military operation. That doesn’t mean that Korea wasn’t dominated militarily, that Japan didn’t use force when necessary to protect and expand its control, that colonial occupation wasn’t brutal and damaging. It does mean that we need to carefully educate our students about the “soft” (formal and informal) processes of colonial domination and control, and the realities of subaltern experience. It’s a “distinction without a difference” and while the statement may (and I’m open to disagreement, really) be technically correct, it is still objectionable because the intent of the statement clearly is to make the occupation of Korea a “blameless” non-violent process, which is a distortion of the truth.

This could be, I suppose, a useful teaching moment…. I’ll have to bring it up in my 20th century Japan course and see how my students respond. In the meantime, come on over and join the discussion. If you want some more background on the history, I recommend Konrad Lawson’s comparative historiography for starters.

[crossposted to Cliopatria]

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