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[Opinion] Japan, The “Victim”

Posted May. 30, 2005 03:34,   


When I was in Europe to study, there was one thing I could not understand in talking with people. It was in the 1970s, when intellectuals were mostly progressive leftists and anti-imperialism was in its heyday, so I assumed that European intellectuals would take sides with Korea as the victim of Japan’s colonialism. Unexpectedly, however, they primarily had a lukewarm position on the issue. It was only long after when I realized that to Europeans, Japan was more strongly recognized as the victim of nuclear bombing conducted by “U.S. hegemony” rather than the war criminal of the Second World War.

The movie “Hiroshima Mon Amour” directed by Alain Resnais that I saw at that time was not different, either. The plot of the movie revolves around the German occupation of France, when a French woman is lynched for her love affair with a German soldier and meets a Japanese man in Hiroshima after decades have past to see her own pain from the man. The movie implied the guilt underlying the collective unconscious of the West over the collective violence against slave laborers and the Hiroshima nuclear bombing, but I could not understand it. Because Japan was fast ingrained in my mind as an offender, a different understanding of Japan was unimaginable.

Led by the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan has been aggressively staging a campaign against “nuclear bombing and war” against the U.S. and the world for the last two decades, and is calling for extensive support for a peace movement to eliminate nuclear bombs by 2020. Who could resist that message of peace delivered by the first-ever victim of nuclear bombing?

With such movements, Japan seems to think that it has succeeded in consolidating its image as the war victim instead of a colonizer. That is why the emperor of Japan has stated that he will hold a memorial event on Saipan on the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII to remember Japan’s war dead with all the eyes of the world watching. It is disturbing that perhaps Korea and China, wrapped up in their self-centered views, are once again losing in the controversy over history to Japan.

Park Myung-jin, Guest Editorial Writer and Media Professor at Seoul National University, mjinpark@snu.ac.kr