Is it just me or has anyone else on this side of the world noticed an uptick in the anti-Korea rhetoric? I’m not talking about the public’s reactions towards North Korean’s recent missile tests or the attendant saber-rattling by the Japanese government. Rather this is more along the lines of increased blog “chatter” about the disputed Takeshima/Dokdo islets, South Korea’s insistence that the Sea of Japan should be renamed, as well as exactly what was the nature of Japan’s “occupation” (or “annexation” or even “alliance” depending on which side of the rhetorical fence you’re sitting on) of Korea from 1910 to 1945.
Maybe I’m just going through a bad patch of blog-surfing (not helped by the inherent inter-linking among sympatico sites), but there does seem to be something that’s gathering a bit of momentum here. What’s particularly of note here is that, contrary to what you might be thinking, this chatter I’m referring to is going on at English-language sites, sites maintained not by Koreans or Japanese but by foreign residents living in South Korea and Japan.
I suppose I should be grateful I don’t read 2channel (the most popular discussion forum/site here in Japan — see Wikipedia’s 2channel entry here which mentions the site’s relationship with things Korean) or whatever the equivalent is in South Korea, sites where I’m sure there’s more flaming and epithet-throwing than reasoned discussion. And I want to be clear that the discussions I’m referring to on these blogs are, as far as I’ve seen, free of racist remarks and for the most part lacking in extremist rhetoric. Rather what I’m seeing is a growing tendency to harp on the many manifestations of Korean pride — much of which, to be fair, does leave itself open to being mocked or derided (to wit, the South Korean reaction to their exit from the recent World Cup) — to the point where you start to ask whether the blogger is simply calling it as he/she sees it or whether there’s an additional axe to grind.
Much more disturbing than poking fun at Korean pride, however, is a distinct streak of historical revisionsism that I’ve been coming across lately. The site that seems to have formed the locus of many of these opinions is Occidentalism, maintained by an Australian
living in South Korea [see comments]. The main writer, Matt (he seems to have recently opened up his blog to other contributors), claims in the FAQ to “tell the other side of the story, the one that the Korean media ignores or covers up or distorts,” and that his site’s purpose is to “oppos(e) Korean hate and extremism.” Not being privy to Korean mainstream media or having any idea what it’s like to live in Korea, it’s not for me to say whether there’s a legitimate beef here or not, though given that I do have some experience as a person living in a foreign land, I can certainly sympathize with his apparent frustration that the local populace doesn’t have the means — or the inclination — to seek a wider picture.
Nevertheless, there’s still something slightly repugnant about this site that I’m trying to put my finger on. If we look at the above-mentioned FAQ, he gives his answers to questions and comments which are all more or less the same, i.e. “This is a racist site.” or “Why are you anti-Korean?” (These
may are in fact be actual emails/comments his blog has received or he may have made them up, who knows. [again, see comments]) His answers themselves could be boiled down to a single response, which is basically that “This site exists to provide balance.” and that “Anyway, I have my opinion. If you disagree, thats fine.” (Nevermind that on the same page he writes, “What is written on this site is true. You wont find many judgements from me unless there is plenty of reason to do it.”)
The FAQ is a kind of rhetorical conceit that plays on the idea that the site and its author can’t possibly be racist or anti-Korean because rather than ignore the complaints and abuse he’s received, he publishes it and answers his critics. I don’t mean to imply that the site is racist or anti-Korean (again, I don’t have the sufficient background to make a judgment), merely pointing out that his defensive posture as seen in the FAQ and the site as a whole seems to have pulled a page out of the book written by Little Green Footballs or Rush Limbaugh. (It wasn’t surprising that one non-Korea-related post on the site that I did come across was about that tired old bugaboo “political correctness.”)
The recurrent themes of Occidentalism (the site started about a year ago, here’s the first post) in a nutshell seem to be a) Koreans are still to this day using fake, doctored atrocity photos to drum up anti-Japanese hatred (see posts here, here and here); b) the whole issue of “comfort women” has been vastly inflated or distorted (no specific posts but see the end of this post plus various comments littered throughout the site); c) Koreans were not forced to serve in the Japan Imperial Army or as workers for Japan’s industrial giants, but rather volunteered (here and again in various comments); and d) that Japan’s occupation of Korea was not nearly as brutal as Koreans today make it out to be, that such policies as forcing Koreans to adopt Japanese names or banning Hangul didn’t happen, and that the developed South Korea of today owes a big debt to the colonization of Korea by Japan (see here, here, and here).
Not surprisingly, folks who take the time to comment in with opposing viewpoints are invariably shot down by Matt or by readers who share his opinions. It was more than a few times that I came across comments along the lines of “you must be Korean,” and in general the comments section takes on the feel of Limbaugh-esqe talk-radio where dissenters are either patronized or simply shouted down. As with most bullying blowhards with a pulpit, the site’s writers and serial commenters can usually run rhetorical circles around most any opposing viewpoint, and waste no chance in doing so (so much for that “Anyway, I have my opinion. If you disagree, thats fine.” part of the FAQ). (This thread, with Matt as predictable apologist for Japanese Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine and contending that Korea has no legitimate reason to oppose them, is indicative of the kind of combative, unbalanced discourse one can expect at the site. Good luck making it through all 188 coments, though.) Given how these “discussions” usually work, the folks with the minority view who feel compelled to post will sooner or later either give up, or become increasingly frustrated and hysterical, like lambs before the slaughter.
Now again, it may be that all of what’s on this site is true and not merely historical revisionism. It may well be that the majority of South Koreans are brainwashed to a point that precludes reasonable discussion. It may be that Korea was an “ally” of Japan and not a colony, and that all these tales of forced labor, comfort women, and oppression have all been exaggerated by South Korea. As I’ve said a couple of times, who am I to say, never having been to South Korea myself, exposed to the media and mainstream thought there, and quite frankly, not very educated about the whole of Japan and Korea’s historical relationship. But sorry, I’m not buying.
Ordinarily I would welcome such a site that attempts to correct an inbalance, and expose lies and half-truths. And I would love to find a site that helped me create an informed, fair perspective on the Korean-Japan relationship. But the reactionary, revisionist, speak-louder-than-anyone-else tone tells me that Occidentalism isn’t the site I’m looking for. They would have you believe that South Korea is Andersen’s Emperor without any clothes on, but as I see it, it is they who are wearing the Emperor’s new clothes.