At the risk of attracting more trackbacks from the lovely people at Occidentalism, I thought I’d bring people’s attention to this really fascinating piece on Korean convicted war criminals translated from Hankyoreh 21. Here’s a sample:
“I cannot deny that the prisoner camp conditions were deplorable,” said Lee. Food, medicine, and clothes were not properly provided, and many forced laborers lost their lives due to wounds and diseases that went untreated. In the month of March 1943 alone, a full quarter of the 800 Australian prisoners were hospitalized. One hundred died. For good reason, the Australian military prosecutors could not forgive the Japanese for putting their men through hell on Earth. They were eager to pursue those responsible for the deaths of their comrades, but in their fury were not about to lend an ear to the plight of a youth caught up in the gears of the imperial war machine.
Lee served as a supervisor of the prisoners at Hintok. As a civilian hired by the Japanese military, he was lower down on the chain of command than a private. However in the trial proceedings, he had somehow been transformed into the “Camp Commandant.” The reason for this was that the military prosecutors took the testimony of the prisoners at their word, without an objective investigation into the situation. Most of the Australian prisoners did not know Lee’s Japanese name. Instead, they gave the various guards nicknames, which in the case of Lee was “lizard.” The origin of this name is unknown.
Hankyoreh also has a more analytical piece on the subject here, which includes this succinct description of the catch 22 in which the former war criminals found themselves once they were released:
Even upon release, however, the convicted war criminals were left in a difficult position. Though Japan enforced the prisoners’ Japanese citizenship during their prison term, the newly freed men were not given the according financial support afforded to other veterans of the Imperial Army. “It’s absurd,” lamented the director of the Committee for Reparation to Victims of the Pacific War. “They were punished for being Japanese, but were rejected aid for not being Japanese.” The war criminals were also denounced in Korea as pro-Japanese collaborators. Upon liberation, most were in their mid 30s. Succumbing to depression, two committed suicide.
It’s quite likely that I’m barking up the wrong tree here, but the name of the support organisation founded in the fifties by the convicted Korean war criminals – Dongjinhoe (同進會) – sounds remarkably similar to the name of the early twentieth century pro-Japanese organisation called the Ilchinhoe (一進會). I suppose it’s possible that since they were operating in Japan they chose a name that might be amenable to the Japanese authorities.
I met a Korean volunteer of the JIA who had exactly the same complaint. Although he had volunteered and fought as a Japanese citizen, he became ineligible for a veterans pension due to losing his Japanese citizenship when Korea asserted its independence.