With the March 1 Independence Movement holiday—what I like to call “Korea’s Easter Uprising”—set for tomorrow, Yonhap talked with Professor Nakatsuka Akira of Japan’s Nara Women’s University. An expert on the history of relations between Korea and Japan, the historian is in Korea to speak at a lecture to mark the March 1 holiday.
Nakatsuka was very critical of the way his nation handles history, noting that the United States and Great Britain include the shameful past of the imperial era in their textbooks, but Japanese are largely unaware of their imperial past. With Japan’s historical perspective getting little support internationally, and little hope for conscientious voices rising from Japan’s media landscape, he suggested grassroots historical exchanges as a means to change historical thinking in Japan.
For instance, he said the March 1 Independence movement—which he said ignited national movements not just in East Asia, but throughout the world—is not properly taught in Japan. It’s mentioned as a mere historical fact, while its significance and background are ignored.
He said even progressive intellectuals close their eyes to Japan’s invasion of Korea and the preceding slaughter of Donghak peasant army and the Righteous Armies (Exhibit A: check out The Village Voice film critic Inkoo Kang’s brilliantly written rant about pacifist director Hayao Miyazaki’s The Wind Rises), and because of this, Japanese can’t understand why Koreans bring up historical issues.
Yonhap also found an old Washington Times column from 1922 detailing Japanese brutalities in Korea in the aftermath of the uprising. Written by an American businessman who spent three years travelling around East Asia, the article recounts what he saw and heard—at one point, he likens the behavior of the Japanese military to that of the German army in Belgium in World War I.
Newsis found a whole lot of other American newspaper articles from the time up the March 1 uprising, too. Note to Newsis, though—that New York Times editorial (fourth clip down) is, ahem, not quite the ringing endorsement of Korean independence that you seem to think it is.
In fairness to the New York Times, though, two decades and a Pearl Harbor later, the Gray Lady seems to have seen the light. On March 1, 1945, the paper ran a piece very much in support of Korean independence. What makes it more interesting is that it expressed contrition for America’s failure to protect Korea from Japanese aggression in 1905 and 1910 despite Washington pledging in 1882 to block attempts by third powers to interfere in or oppress Korea (Marmot’s Note: not sure that’s what Washington actually pledged to do).