Japan started conscription of Koreans in 1944, as it neared defeat in the Pacific War.
Leaders of Japan had long hesitated implementing a conscription system in Korea after the annexation of the Peninsula in 1912 fearing that, once armed as a part of the Japanese military, Koreans might revolt at any time.
Nevertheless, they had no choice but to introduce conscription there, given both the expansion of the war against China and the start of the Pacific War, actions entailing an urgent need for securing sufficient manpower to carry out the war. Some also insisted, "It is not appropriate to carry out this war only at the expense of Yamato people (ethnic Japanese) because if the war kills only Yamato people yet leaves Koreans, they will, together with their formidable power to reproduce themselves, pose a serious threat in the future" (An Outline of the History of the Army System, Masao Yamazaki).
On July 2, 1937, just before the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Japanese troops stationed in Korea (called the Korean Troop) recommended setting up "a system requiring Korean men to voluntary enlist for military service" in response to an inquiry from the Ministry of the Army (An Opinion on Korean Enlistment, the Korean Troop's Headquarters secret documents). Accordingly, the Japanese military, assuming conscription would be introduced in the decades to follow, set up an enlistment system for Koreans on April 3, 1938 (The Army Ordinance for Special Enlistment System)
Initially, the Army Special Enlistment System targeted "those who are better-off than average and ideologically solid" (the Korean Governor-General's Office's Guideline for Implementing the Korean Enlistment System) -- namely those from middle and upper classes, which tended to be friendly to Japanese rule. The military planned to train and educate these individuals as loyal subjects of the Emperor, then using them as soldiers, as well as making them a leading force for the Kominka Movement, an assimilation policy of the government to make loyal subjects of the Emperor out of Koreans through the destruction of their ethnic identity. However, it turned out that these wealthier Koreans were for the most part unwilling to enlist. To make matters worse, the Governor-General's Office was intent on securing ten times the number of enlistees actually needed, announcing the number of sign-ups in each province to encourage further enlistments. Pressured by this, local offices of each prefecture and county resorted to imposing quotas on each myon (village) under their jurisdiction.
"Should this end in failure," expressed Colonel Kaname Kaita, a professor at the Army Training Institute for Enlisted Soldiers of the Governor-General's Office of Korea, "it would leave grave concerns for the future of the Peninsula." Operating under this acute sense of crisis, the Japanese authorities interpreted the number of enlistments as "the barometer of patriotism," which would result in desperate measures at the bottom of the administrative system, the myon : blackmailing new graduates, putting pressure on families by detaining the father, or tricking them into enlisting by falsely informing them that doing so was just a formality.
In 1943, the government abolished a conscription moratorium on Japanese students, and those majoring in Law and Humanities were immediately drafted into military camps. Before this, however, de facto student conscription had been conducted for Koreans in the form of forced enlistment.
"The Regulation for the Emergency Recruitment of Special Enlistees of the Army" was announced in Korea on October 20, 1943. It was effectuated on the same day and schedules were set forth as follows: application documents should be submitted by November 20th; examinations should take place by December; and those admitted should be enrolled in camps as active soldiers by January 20, 1944.
Unfortunately for the Japanese government, however, few students enlisted despite the desperate efforts made by the government, including pressuring them through their relatives. By November 10th, there were less than 200 enlistees out of 2,830 qualified men. This led Kuniaki Koiso, the Governor-General of Korea, to announce on the same day that everybody without exception should enlist. He organized a rally for Korean students at Meiji University on November 14th to rouse them into enlisting. Moreover, he checked to see if all students from each region and province actually enlisted; published newspaper articles such as "Students from Kaeson All Enlisted!"; and mobilized Korean intellectuals including Yu Jin-O and Lee Kwang-Soo for campaigns to encourage enlistment. Newspapers were running articles such as "Suspicion and Hesitation Are Absolutely Unacceptable," and finally on November 21st -- a day before the deadline -- the Mainichi Shinpo press ran on its front page an article claiming "Non-Enlistees Are Non-Japanese." Ultimately, the situation intensified so much that actual penalties were set -- it was decided on November 21st that those who did not enlist would be put under "strict training" and then sent to work in coal mines or at other jobs involving heavy labor.
In this way, Korean students were cornered into unwilling enlistment. In the end, the final numbers of enlistees, including those who submitted documents after the deadline, reached 2,034 out of 2,830 qualified individuals.
With the outbreak of the Pacific War on December 8, 1941, and ever-expanding front lines, Japanese rulers found themselves in need of troops on an unexpectedly huge scale. Moreover, the intensification of the war also increased the need for labor in war industries, forcing the military authorities to maximize manpower to increase production to maintain human resources, even at the expense of the number of soldiers on the front lines.
To avoid attrition of ethnic Japanese as much as possible, it was thus concluded, "Using other races as soldiers...is the most urgent task" (Consideration for National Human Resources in Relation to the Great East Asian War, January 20, 1942, Army Ministry of Procurement Section). Accordingly, for Korea, the government abolished the existing enlistment system, introducing conscription in 1944 for the purpose of rapidly securing a massive number of Korean soldiers.
The Tojo Cabinet decided on May 8, 1942 to introduce general conscription in Korea in 1944, which was approved as A Reform Bill for Military Duties by the Imperial Diet, to be implemented from August 1, 1943. As a result, the Korean Governor-General's Office was assigned the task of transforming Korean youth into loyal Imperial subjects through whatever means necessary by the scheduled start of conscription two years later. The Office set up special youth training centers in each myon, assembling by force those age pools of potential soldiers to teach them Japanese, as well as give them military and spiritual training as Imperial subjects.
The first physical examination for the draft was held from April 1st to August 20th of 1944, involving 206,057 Korean conscripts. Those passed for active service were inducted from September 1, 1944 to May 1945, to be sent to front lines both in- and outside Korea. The numbers totaled about 130,000, including about 69,000 who passed with the highest classification, and another 62,000 with a second-A classification. Along with these individuals, those who passed as the first group of supplemental soldiers were also inducted and allocated (The 85th Imperial Diet Session, explanation material for the Financial Bureau Chief, August 1944, the Governor General's Office in Korea). The draft examination in Korea was conducted by the Kuwantung Army, and attended by 13,000 people. The second examination was held from January to May of 1945.
However, unlike enlistees who were able to receive training at Army recruit training centers for six or twelve months, these conscripted Koreans, recruited in an emergency situation, tended to speak no Japanese and continued escaping during transportation to their assigned camps. As the war turned increasingly hopeless, the fears of the Korean Governor-General's Office and the Japanese military authorities increased, expressing, "(Korean soldiers) might riot at any time," (Katsuyama Kousou, Kuniaki Koiso, Korean Governor General) or that "(they) might revolt in collaboration with British and Americans against us at the front lines" (Secret Operation Diary, July 30, 1945).
The more they felt threatened, the harder they tried to eradicate the ethnicity of Koreans, believing they were inadequately Japanized. Imperial education was intensified while discrimination against them in barracks escalated.
Gunzoku: Civilian Employees in the Military
As the war against China expanded, Japan became increasingly desperate for labor to maintain the munitions industry as well as to support production and distribution of military procurements, transportation of soldiers, and construction of military facilities. The government had to extend total control over manpower and material resources from its mainland to its colonies, organizing them as commissariats.
This led to the enactment of the National Mobilization Law in April of 1938 and consequently, the National Requisition Ordinance in October 1939, which provided a legal basis for the forced requisition of labor.
"Gnzoku" refers to those who freely chose to work for the Army and Navy as civilian employees. However, from 1941 Koreans were drafted for this work through the National Requisition Ordinance, and some were forcibly relocated via "recruitment" and "official mediation" in the same manner used to procure coal miners.
Gunzoku were divided into three ranks : bunkan (civilian officers), koin (employees), and yonin (laborers). This last group was referred to variously, such as gunpu (in Okinawa) and kouin (the South Sea Islands), depending on the location and type of job. It was this lowest rank that most Koreans were drafted or recruited into, and only few, including some of those working as POW guards in Southeast Asia, were ranked as yoin.
From the beginning, the Japanese military fell far behind in the development of the commissariats division. In 1941, men counted in the commissariats division stood at only 25% of those in fighting divisions in the Army. The figure went even lower to 20% by 1944, with 25% for civil construction and 20-21% for the rest by 1945 (A Short History of Mobilization during the Chinese Incident and the Great East Asian War). Engineering and transportation troops were disproportionally neglected and the Army constantly rejected the introduction of catering vehicles, insisting on the soldiers cooking for themselves with their mess kits. Military requisition on the battlefields mostly depended on local procurement, through the constant confiscation or looting of local households as well as the abusive issuance of gunpyo (military currency). This caused local residents under Japanese occupation tremendous damage.
As for the Navy, there was not even a formal system similar to the engineering troops of the Army. On the front lines and in occupied areas, each Navy fleet would organize preparatory troops consisting mainly of unskilled Korean and Taiwanese laborers, who dealt with the construction of base camps, ports, airports and other facilities as well as the policing of local communities (Navy Facilities, War History Series ). It was not until February 1994 that these troops were incorporated into the Navy and manned with many gunzoku.
The primary reason forcing Japan to incorporate so many Koreans into its military organization as gunzoku was the difficulty in securing further labor from the mainland as the Japanese workforce had to be sent to the front lines due to the expansion and seemingly endless nature of the war.
A second reason was the high risk of working in battlefields and occupied areas exposed to enemy attack and local resistance, situations for which civilian workers were unprepared. In a modern military, these tasks should be carried out by professional soldiers for the construction of facilities. However, division of the Japanese military was so poorly developed that it had to rely on gunzoku, who were neither trained nor equipped as proper soldiers. Yet, the government did find a solution to the problem of securing labor for dangerous work in the use of expendable Koreans and Taiwanese by means of forced labor.
According to the Explanatory Documents for the 86th National Diet Session, 88,241 Korean gunzoku had been mobilized by the end of September 1944, with 31,783 of them drafted through the National Requisition Ordinance. The figure included 3,323 Koreans drafted for guarding POWs on the Army's request, and 32,248 Koreans drafted for naval civil projects in the south at the request of both the Navy and the Army after 1941. These men were widely scattered, from Japan, Manchuria, and China to the South Seas.
These drafted Koreans increased in number from the fall of 1944. According to postwar statistics collected by the Second Demobilization Bureau in the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the total number of Koreans mobilized from 1941 reached 154,907, with 70,424 for the Army, and 84,483 for the Navy (Conditions of the Korean Residents in Japan, 1953). Considering the inadequacy in the confirmation of deaths and the recordkeeping of names, the above figures seem to understate by far the actual count.
In 1944, about 3,700 workers were mobilized in Kyong Sang Puk Do to be sent to Okinawa as military laborers.
Based on the Guidelines for the Labor Reinforcement Measures issued in October 1943, the government started full enforcement of the National Requisition Ordinance in Korea in September 1944. The application of the law was expanded from the military to include civilian requisition.
During the war in China and the Pacific, many Koreans were sent by force or fraud to the front lines, where they were subjected to subhuman living and working conditions as gunzoku. Many were killed or maimed during unarmed exposure to enemy attack, an inevitable result of the Japanese war policy.
It is true that these Korean gunzoku were "legally" drafted under the National Requisition Ordinance and served under the military, based on labor contracts. Still, considering the countless violations of these labor contracts and other legal abuses by the employer (the state), they were on the whole forced to do slave work, which had been banned internationally. In so doing, the Japanese government destroyed local production by depriving each Korean family of its main workforce, and together with its policy of strict assimilation, destroyed the cultural base of Koreans in order to erase traces of their ethnicity.
2. The Movement of the South Korean Association of Victims and Families of War Dead during the Pacific War
"The South Korean Association of Victims and Families of War Dead during the Pacific War" was founded in April 1973. It was expanded into a national organization the following spring and, with 20,000 members, gathered to campaign for the rejection of the 300,000 won in compensation offered by the South Korean government. The government tried in 1975 to settle everything by paying this sum to the immediate families of these war dead.
Thereafter, the Association continued its activities in confirming deaths, as well as excavating and repatriating the remains of the victims. During the course of these activities, 219 bodies were discovered in Kitakyushu, Japan, but were secretly buried in foreign soil on October 2, 1976, without any notification of the bereaved families.
Both South Korean and Japanese governments have consistently taken the position that everything related to the victim issue was resolved through the 1965 Japan-ROK Basic Treaty. Thus, they had neglected the exhumation and repatriation of the bodies, and to this day have not even disclosed the lists of victims names. Because of this, those tens of thousands of missing Koreans have yet to have their deaths confirmed and recorded in their family registries
At the Third Regular Ministers Meeting of Japan and South Korea in August of 1969 it was agreed, without much discussion, that both sides would tacitly accept the process of excavation and repatriation of the victims' remains. The decision totally ignored the emotional pain of the survivors and bereaved families.
The Japanese government kept the remains of 2,329 Korean soldiers and gunzoku held since the end of the war; for laborers and the voluntary women service corps (teishintai), nothing suggests there was any attempt to keep their remains. Later, the remains of 1,188 dead were repatriated, with the other remains having been kept at Yutenji Temple in Tokyo.
Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands Koreans were wounded in the war and returned home after its end. Many of them died without having had any chance to make their appeal. Moreover, these individuals were received coldly by South Korean society as they had, for whatever reason, fought for the Japanese. The degree of mental and emotional torment they must have gone through is unimaginable.
The aforementioned victims association in South Korea has worked hard to collect testimony from these victims since June 1988, and renamed itself the Pacific War Victims Association (co-represented by Yang Su-nim and Kim Jong-de), opening its office in Yongsang-gu, Seoul in March 1989. The office has been visited by diverse kinds of war victims.
One man appealed for confirmation of his father as either living or dead in order to ease the suffering of his 70 year-old mother. Bed-stricken after a long wait for her missing husband to return, she was always attentive of the front door, and slept with her head toward the window. Another man requested a search for his father's remains as he has never seen his father and wants at least to embrace the remains and tell them, "Father, your son has been surviving as I am now." One 70 year-old war survivor confessed his experience as gunzoku. He witnessed the execution of 13 villagers who had stolen a few grains of unripened rice. A bullet failed to kill one villager, yet he was still buried, although alive. The old man has been suffering profound remorse for the murders as if they had been committed by him personally, and is obsessed by the memory of the imploring eyes of the villager. He tearfully made his appeal, saying that even minimal compensation to the families of these victims would give him some release from his sense of guilt. He is one of those who managed to return from the verge of death only to find themselves unable to live with pride as they were not wounded fighting for their homeland, and alienated because of their injuries living life in resentment.
Others with similar experiences decided to file suit against Japan to make the Japanese aware of their problems by appealing to international public opinion. During the five days from March 26th to 30th, 1990, just before South Korean President Roh Tae-woo's visit to Japan, the Association made a national tour that included Chonju, Taegu, and Pusan to explain the cases.
Also, they demanded that governments of both Japan and South Korea disclose the lists of names of victims, and held "sixteen days of demonstrations and sit-ins to demand an early solution to the practical difficulties of the victims," which forced the Japanese Embassy to halt its operations for three days.
Influenced by these activities of the Pacific War Victims Association, President Roh Tae-woo on May 24th, during his visit to Japan, submitted a "request to disclose the names of relocated Koreans" to the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the first time in the 45 years since the end of the war. As a result, lists containing more than 90,000 names were handed over to the South Korean government in January 1991, which set the stage for the compensation issue to begin moving.
A one-month "National Mass Procession to Press Japan, as a War Criminal, for a Postwar Settlement" was held by the Victims Association from June 15 to July 14, 1991. Over 5,000 people took part in the procession everyday, even in wind and rain, traveling 600 kilometers from the front of the Japanese Council building in Pusan to the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, and calling for Japan to make an early settlement of postwar problems. The procession was joined by men and women over 70 years of age, and the group walked without resting even a day in spite of the monsoon-related rain storms in June and the extreme heat of July. There was a 70 year-old man marching in the heavy rain, blood from a cut in his ankle staining his leg up to his rain-soaked knees. Yet he did not care about the pain, preferring to go in the rain as he saw the rain as teardrops of his old colleagues who died during the various tortures and terrors visited upon them by Japanese during the war when he was only 20 years old.
In January 1991, when Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu visited South Korea, the Victims Association demonstrated against his visit, posting "No visit without a settling of the postwar problems," and held a sit-in to prevent his visit to Pagota Park.
The Association has demanded the following from the Japanese government:
- An apology to South Korean victims in the Pacific War directly and officially.
- A determination of whether relocated Koreans on the name lists are alive and a disclosure of the results immediately.
- Disinterment of all remains of South Korean victims and their return home.
- Compensation to South Korean victims in line with international tradition.
- Payment of unpaid wages deposited in the Bank of Japan to exploited South Korean workers.
The Association visited Japan to demand the disclosure of the name lists on August 6, 1991 and negotiated with the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Labor.
On December 6, 1991, these former soldiers, gunzoku, and the bereaved families, helped by the "Association to Clarify Japan's Postwar Responsibility," filed suit in Tokyo District Court. The 35 plaintiffs of this "Compensation Demand for the Korean Victims During the Asia and Pacific War" (Chief Attorney Kenichi Takagi) also include former military comfort women, and the trial is playing a central role in the postwar compensation movements.