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POLITICA

Forced Mobilization: Responsibilities of the Nation

forced-mobilization:-responsibilities-of-the-nation
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On Dec. 18, 2012, in Cheonan, An Bu-su (left) leads a procession of people carrying the recovered remains of Koreans who passed away overseas during forced mobilization.

The author is chairman of the Asia-Pacific Interchange Association — Ed.

It has been 18 years since 2004, when I started investigating the actual situation and truth of the victims of forced mobilization during the War of Resistance against Japan. In the meantime, the remains of 177 people have returned to our shores three different times, and after the 4th domestic burial of the remains occurs on the 30th of this month, the ashes of a total of 215 victims of forced labor will be brought back to their homeland.

Everyone said that I was reckless when I said that I would excavate the remains of those who were taken to foreign land due to forced mobilization by Japan and died unfairly. They also asked why I do this work, which isn’t compensated by any government. But I kept up the work even though I went through many setbacks and learned the best way forward.

So far, the number of citizens’ remains (mortuary tablets, etc.) that my organization has excavated and confirmed abroad is 3,000. During the time of the “Anti-Japanese War Committee,” we notified the Korean government of about 2,789 remains of victims of forced labor investigated by the Japanese government.

Even until now, the remains are still left unattended by Japan under the excuse that the Korean government doesn’t have the budget to support the work. It is estimated that the number of Koreans forcibly mobilized due to the Japanese invasion was about 8 million at home and abroad. Since fewer people returned home after liberation, the government should step in and thoroughly investigate and record the number of people who were forced to mobilize inside and outside of the country.

At the end of the war in January 1945, which corresponded to mobilization, my father was deceived with the trick that he could earn a lot of money in just two years, so he left his family behind and headed to Japan with his friends. In short, it was hell. Only Indiscriminate assault, hunger, and disease greeted my father. My father, who escaped from Japan by all means possible, occasionally told his one-year-old son, who could barely hear and understand, about the events of that time.

“I keep seeing the faces of people who died while working together in Japan! I want to find the remains of those people and bury them in their hometown. I still pity them,” he said. About 40 years later, as the son of the father with that wish, I set out on a long journey to relieve his resentment.

I became immersed in the work. Leaving his family and friends behind, I traveled to Japan and the Asia-Pacific region to investigate the victims of forced labor. It is understandable that the Korean government at the time insisted that the private sector not do it, saying that it would cause confusion. How would they know that the remains in the ground were the victims of forced mobilization by Koreans at the time?

Without DNA investigation, there is only suspicion without no evidence. Sometimes it cannot even be determined if the people were Japanese, Chinese, or Taiwanese. These cases should be referred to a local agency in order to preserve them, and a special investigation team should be formed with the government at a later date. Our government will have to establish and inspect a DNA database as soon as possible while the bereaved families are still alive.

What is even more difficult to understand is that in December 2015, the day of the 70th anniversary of liberation, the government of the Republic of Korea abolished the “Committee for the Victims of Forced Mobilization during the Japanese Resistance Against Japan,” which was in charge of finding out the truth about forced mobilization under Japanese colonial rule and investigating damages and compensation. The reason given was that the committee had fulfilled its responsibilities.

At the same time, an agreement on sexual slavery (comfort women) in the Japanese military was reached, and the History Inspection Committee (an organization that tried to distort history) was newly established as a permanent organization under the Japanese Prime Minister’s Office.

Now, there is no time to hesitate. Some say that after receiving an apology from Japan, we should bring the remains back. Will the unattended remains stay there until that time?

In this fourth return, the remains of 38 victims of Japanese labor mobilization will be returned to Korea. Among them, there are casualties at the scenes and surviving deaths that happened under the “General Mobilization Act” of Japan from 1938 to 1945, including the remains of the victims of children (average age between 1 and 3), whose mothers were brought to the scenes of labor from Korea to live with their husbands.

Why? A lot of people ask me why I’m working hard on this project without anyone knowing it or the government’s support. It’s not because I’m good at this job or because I have a lot of money.

The answer is that I think that it is just the best way I can make use of my 19 years of experience investigating the victims of forced mobilization, and I strongly hope that all of this effort will finally get an apology from Japan.

All we can do is remember, to remember and not to forget our dark and painful history.

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