[Traces of forced mobilization-part four] “Peace” museum glorifies young conscripted Korean Kamikaze pilots

Posted on : 2010-02-16 12:03 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
The exhibit includes 11 Koreans on display, including officers who were 17 years old at the time of their death

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the forceful annexation of Korea by Japan in 1910. A number of issues, however, remain unresolved between South Korea and Japan. This is part four of the Hankyoreh’s series about traces of history, which has been made in hopes that both countries are able to move together toward a brighter future after having resolved remaining issues concerning conscripted labor and other human rights issues.

On Jan. 20, I paid a visit to the Chiran Peace Museum for Kamikaze Pilots in Chiran, southern Kyushu’s Kagoshima Prefecture. Among the various types of special forces under the command of the Japanese military, the Chiran kamikaze pilots were a suicide squad that would fly a small fighter plane into enemy vessels carrying 250 kilograms of explosives. “Chiran” has now become synonymous with the kamikaze pilots. The museum currently displays notes, diaries and letters left behind by those who died in battle, as well as photographs showing the squad members’ daily lives and real examples and restored models of the fighter planes that were used.

The atmosphere was strange from the moment I made the preliminary request to investigate the story. When I informed them of my plans via e-mail and fax, they sent me an application form. In addition to requests asking for the goals and methods of the investigation and the name of the person who would be handling it, there was another request in their note. It stated that it was forbidden to insult the squad members who died in combat or their family members, and that taking photographs within the museum is prohibited.

It takes about one hour and twenty minutes by bus to go from Kagoshima Central Station to the museum, which is located in the Chiran-cho neighborhood of Minamikyushu City. When I informed the information bureau of my business, an old man named Matsumoto Junro came out to meet with me. The job title listed on his business card was “advisor,” and he was 82 years old. He told me that two of his classmates from middle school had joined the suicide squad and died in combat, and he spoke about the museum’s exhibits like some kind of walking encyclopedia. On the right-hand wall inside the entrance were photographs or portraits of 1,036 people, along with brief personal information about them. I was told they were arranged according to date of death and squad.

Matsumoto pointed to one of the many photographs and began his explanation. The individual’s Japanese name was Okawa Masaaki, with the Korean name Park Dong-hun. He had come from Hamju County in South Hamgyong Province. He died on Mar. 29, 1945, in the 15th class of the Youth Pilot Training School. He was the earliest casualty of the 11 Koreans shown in the exhibit, 17 years old and with a rank of second lieutenant. Matsumoto asked how it was possible for a 17-year-old to become a second lieutenant and then answered his own question. Students who completed the Youth Pilot Training School curriculum were given the grade of staff sergeant, a noncommissioned officer position. As a rule, the Japanese Empire gave a special two-grade promotion to people who had died participating in the special forces. However, Park was made into a second lieutenant, perhaps out of the notion that a military hero would require an officer’s rank. Matsumoto said, “The surviving family members of those from South Korea do visit the museum, but there is almost no contact with the families of those from North Korea.” Three of the Koreans on the wall are listed only by their Japanese names, as their Korean names have not been found.

The history of Chiran as a kamikaze village started in late December 1941, just after the Pearl Harbor attack, when the Tachiarai campus of the Youth Pilot Training School was established. The students, who had been training with the “Akadonbo,” or “red dragonfly,” were sent into suicide attacks when the tide of the war turned against Japan. The museum commemorates the casualties among the army special forces unit members who took part in the Battle of Okinawa from late March to early July 1945. Located around the site are sanctuaries for the soldiers with images of the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy, who is said to turn nightmares into pleasant dreams. Also present are shrines dedicated to patriots and memorial stones erected for the different “graduating classes” by surviving classmates. Listed among the names of those erecting monuments are Koizumi Junichiro, the man who insisted on worshipping at the Yasukuni Shrine while serving as prime minister and Ishihara Shintaro, the current Mayor of Tokyo who has not shied away from making extreme right-wing remarks.

Inside the museum hangs a large chart showing the numbers of casualties by region of origin. It starts with Hokkaido in the north and travels down to Kagoshima, passing through Okinawa and Karafuto (Sakhalin Island) before arriving, at the very end, at Korea. A Japanese person looked carefully at the chart before remarking to a companion, “Oh, there are Koreans on there, too.” There is no explanation anywhere in the exhibit for why Korean names are listed among the fatalities, nor can one find any comment on the misguided measures of the Japanese leadership in hurling young Japanese men into an abyss of tragic death. When asked what he thought about critics’ charges about the glorification of a misguided war, Matsumoto responded, “That is something for each individual to view and feel for himself.” It was impossible to erase the overall impression that the site was enjoying tourism benefits by selling the souls of young men who died absurdly tragic deaths. Matsumoto said that some 500 thousand people visit every year, through school trips and other means. On my way back, the use of the English name “peace museum” weighed heavily on my mind.

By Kim Hyo-soon, senior reporter

Young university and flight school students were selected for kamikazee runs based on their dispensibility  

  The suicide squads that we refer to as “kamikaze” squads first came into the Japanese military in October 1944, when the Imperial Japanese Navy’s First Air Fleet, whose headquarters were located in the Philippines, formed a special forces unit called “Shinpu Tokubetsu Kogekitai.” (“Shinpu” and “kamikaze” indicate the same Japanese characters, the former pronounced in the Sino-Japanese “on” reading and the latter in the indigenous Japanese “kun” reading.) After this squad carried out attacks on U.S. vessels at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, it became an emblem of the “kamikaze pilots” carrying out suicide attacks on the enemy with their own bodies.
  The kamikaze pilots did not have the possibility of living or dying depending on their outcome. Their tactics were based on dying, and so while the forces adopted the process of “volunteering,” this was essentially no different from coercion. Since Japan could not use for such “one-time-only tactics” the kind of professional soldiers who had come out of military schools and received a long period of training, student soldiers whose enrollment had been cut short and young men in their late teens were selected, taught how to pilot an airplane, and then sent to their deaths.
   Among the routes for selecting participants in kamikaze squads were the Youth Pilot Training School, which gave young men in their late teens a little over a year and a half of training in piloting techniques, and the Special Flight Officer Training School, which provided flight training to anticipated graduates from universities and professional schools and sent them into battle with officer status. Of the sixteen Korean kamikaze pilot fatalities confirmed to date, eight were from the Youth Pilot Training School and five were from the Special Flight Officer Training School, while only one, Choi Jeong-geun, came out of the Imperial Japanese Army Academy.
   It would not be too much to say that the kamikaze pilots had practically no tactical value. After the initial shock of their existence wore off, the U.S. fleets response capabilities increased, and the success rate of attacks ended up at just around 6 percent. Lee Hyang-chul, professor of Japanese economies at the Kwangwoon University College of Northeast Asia, said that the kamikaze pilots represent a “tragedy unprecedented in human history, where in order to prevent the depletion of professional soldiers, the best and brightest from the era’s universities and young men in their teens were used as disposable ‘human bombs.’”

By Kil Yoon-hyung, reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [englishhani@hani.co.kr]

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