I’m trying to start saying what I really think more often. This has been requested of me. But the reason that I don’t usually is the expression on my coteachers face when I didn’t answer the question from the principal relayed through her with a yes. At Seodaemun prison in Seoul, he wanted to know, did I feel the oppression of the Korean people by the Japanese?
I said that although the building itself was interesting, I thought the ratty haired mannequins that move on one axis in simulated acts of tortue with screaming voice overs actually detracts from the solemnity of the place. Although not exactly in so many words.
Her expression said something along the lines of ‘I will not be the one who will say anything other than yes to the principal.’
However, Seodaemun prison was one of the most authentic places I have been, and did remind me that I have a tendency to underrate what happened during the Japanese occupation. At the Jeju Peace Museum I watched a video about forced labor on the island. The video included quite a bit of original footage from that time period, which I initially thought lended it some authenticity.
Until the closing scenes which were of emaciated human bodies being bulldozed and I was like, those are, uh, Jews. In Germany. Not Jeju Island. My exasperation at their unwillingness to let the facts speak for themselves without appealing to moral outrage or cultivating racial hatred wipes away any empathy I might otherwise be capable of. Since I really should have empathy for women forced into sexual slavery and people who were imprisoned, tortured, and murdered for protesting the government.
Although I would like to find some empathy, it’s impossible for me to sympathize. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and as a nation we don’t today hate them for that. There are Jews who still live in Germany. African Americans do occasionally have relationships with with white Americans whose ancestors kidnapped and enslaved their ancestors, destroyed their families, and denied them access to education in a country where they are still discriminated against. In Africa and India where the period of colonization lasted much longer than 30 years, you see favoritism towards the former colonizers more than hatred. Which is all very simplistic, I realize, and comparing apples to cumquats, but I just can’t find any common ground on which to sympathize with this Korean resentment.
Although I did have an emotional reaction to walking through a basement dungeon full of mannequins in simulated acts of torture, what I thought about was not the Japanese oppression of Korea but Abu Graib. I thought the tragedy here is not what Japan did to Korea but that it didn’t end with Korea. And that it won’t end.