By Izzy Kim, VI Form
Comparing Korean Forced Labor on Hashima to the U.S.’s Internment of Japanese-Americans
Soon after the arrival of Commodore Matthew Perry, Japan underwent a major industrial revolution. The new Meiji government altered political, cultural, and educational sectors of Japan and even drafted a new constitution to embrace westernization. The rapidly westernizing Japan expanded its sphere of influence in Asia and overpowered China which did not adopt western ideals and technologies. Although the road to Japanese Imperialism in the 1930s to its grand wartime strategies in 1945 are certainly notable, Japan had a blank check in committing unspeakable atrocities during this period. The history of modern slavery and comfort women in Hashima, one of the most crucial industrialization sites of the Imperial Japan, is the very embodiment of the abominable and often ignored history behind Japan’s rise to power.
The example of forced labor of Koreans on Hashima can be compared to U.S. internment of Japanese-Americans since in both cases, a foreign group was suppressed during wartime to ensure security of the “stronger” nation. However, how Japan and the U.S. reacted to their historical atrocities is vastly different. America later acknowledged how they infringed upon the rights of Japanese-Americans with an executive order and apologized, while Japan chose to ignore the existence of Korean forced laborers on the island during World War II. In fact, Japan went as so far as to acquire a UNESCO World Heritage Site status for Hashima in 2015 in a decade-long struggle to register the island as a momentous site of industrial revolution. UNESCO’s decision to grant the island a World Heritage Site status faced many controversies leading to the production of the 2017 Korean film The Battleship Island.
Japan’s push for Hashima’s UNESCO World Heritage Site status and its contention that The Battleship Island is a historically inaccurate propaganda shows that Japan is attempting to manipulate how people remember history to deny and conceal its responsibilities for wartime atrocities. History is important in that it teaches lessons from the past and shapes the future, but all of that is meaningless when the history that people remember is not the correct history.
Izzy (Minjae) Kim is a VI Form boarding student from Seoul, South Korea. She is the co-founder and webmaster of Ami, loves software development, and is really passionate about documenting and promoting sacred places.