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  • Writer's pictureAlexander Han

South Korea : Inferiority nationalism and settlement of past history (by Kim Kyu-hang)

Kim Gu, a Korean independence activist and politician, is one of the most respected persons by Koreans. I do not belong to that group because of the shock I received by reading the “Baekbeom Journal” long time ago. It reveals the hardships of a prison life and he writes, “My wife is young so I even wish she would sell her body to bring me some good food.”

What would happen if a politician said something like Kim today? Society has changed and so has people’s consciousness. However, no matter how we perceive Kim's language today, it is true that his words reflect society and people’s mind at that time. Admitting this is a basic attitude toward history. It is not an interpretation of history but an exaggeration or creation to put today’s society and consciousness over a historical situation.

This also applies when Korean comfort women are praised as saints of Koreans or denounced as voluntary prostitutes. The most important identity for comfort women is poverty and feminine. There were neither rich nor male comfort women. Comfort women were “daughters of poor families.” There were many fathers who sell their daughters. As shown in Kim Gu’s words, many people understood such fathers. Also, there were many Korean brokers who mediated buying and selling comfort women.

The history of daughters being sold did not end with being Japanese military comfort women. This leads to the history of US military comfort women after liberation from Japan’s colonial rule and Korean military comfort women during the Korean War. Researchers have revealed the fact that the Korean Government proactively managed US military comfort women and Korean military comfort women. Daughters being sold and women human trafficking have become a major supply system of the prostitution industry since then.

In recent years, many Korean citizens got furious at the House of Sharing and the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance. This is because it has become clear that they were pursuing their own interests in the cause of supporting Japanese military comfort women and fighting with them. We can assume how disappointing and angry the citizens are as the expression of “beggars group” appeared. However, even if the situation holds true, the group did not have such a purpose from the beginning. Why were they transformed?

As its main condition, an inferiority nationalism can be mentioned. Needless to say, the reason why Koreans have anti-Japanese sentiment is because of the history of Japan’s colonial rule. However, it was not between the whole Korean people and the whole Japanese people. It was between the Japanese ruling class (imperialist forces) and the Korean public. Most Japanese public were also victims who were mobilized and exploited during the war, while the Korean ruling class enjoyed comfort in collaboration with the Japanese ruling class.

After liberation, the Korean ruling class has created its history as the whole Korean people’s history. Lee Seung-man dismantled the Special Investigation Committee of Anti-National Activities but adhered to the anti-Japan policy firmly. Samurai Park Chung-hee who liked to sing Japanese military songs banned Japanese culture strictly. They could cover most of the various contradictory situations in Korea due to such policies. Anti-Japanese sentiment has been an easy and effective ruling method for over half a century for extreme right-wing dictatorship. And now, the current administration, which fought against the dictatorship and held up the democratization movement, takes over to sing Jookchang-ga - the “Song of Bamboo Spear” and scream “anti-Japan.”

“Pro-Japanese” is a term that has been optimized for such ruling method. Our question is not whether they were close to Japan, but whether they were part of Japanese imperialism. For example, French people use the word “collaboration” when expressing Nazi conspirators. “Germanophile” corresponding to “pro-German” just means a person who likes Germany and German culture which causes no problem at all. Pro-Japanese should be replaced by “accomplices to the Japanese imperialism.”

Regarding Professor Park Yu-ha who conflicted with the Korean Council and House of Sharing and was witch-hunted due to her academic views on comfort women, even after their social respect was lost, it is striking that she has not been re-evaluated by the intellectual society. This is because re-evaluation of Professor Park may come with admitting their mistakes. The argument should remain at the level of personal ethics, not the structure of the situation. Now Yoon Mee-hyang is a new witch, and the past witch, Park Yu-ha, is excluded by silence. They still say the “banality of evil” where Hannah Arendt is branded as a traitor of the people.


An inferiority nationalism is associated with paternalistic victim consciousness peculiar to Korean men. When remarks related to history come out in Japan, Koreans abruptly get mad. It is a sense of victimization that defines sports competitions with Japan as war and shows excessive obsession. The meaning of Goethe's words, "What is the most nationalistic is the most international," also changes. The word “international” in Goethe’s words means human universality. In Korea, it indicates comparison and superiority with other ethnic groups.

Ethnic groups exist and cannot be ignored. However, a nationalism that lost universality is always abused. When an inferiority nationalism spreads, the reality of class within the ethnic group as well as the love of humanity based on the universality of the reality of class will be erased.

Which is a friend of the ordinary Korean worker, Lee Kun-hee from Koea (former chairman of the Samsung Group) or an ordinary Japanese worker? The time has come when we get out of the inferiority nationalism and stand as an individual who has universal love for humanity. Korean people today are naturally qualified for this. Children should be helped to live that way from the beginning. This is the true settlement of history and recovery.


The JoongAng

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