Thus far, we’ve seen how Koreans of various walks of life, including comfort women and ‘model Korean families’ who mainly spoke Japanese at home, have been quoted in the colonial newspaper obsequiously praising Imperial Japan while denigrating their own Korean identities, essentially becoming puppet voices for the colonial regime. In many of these cases, it is doubtful that their words, which often repeat formulaic propaganda stock phrases typical of the era, reflected their actual opinions. I believe it’s reasonable to assume that, oftentimes, various forms of pressure were applied on the Koreans to say the right things. After all, we’ve seen how ‘ideological criminals’ have been placed into re-education camps under ‘judicial protection’, and their family members detained and interrogated. In this post, I am examining the Korean Literary Association (조선문인협회/朝鮮文人協會), which was another puppet voicebox for the colonial regime, and reading the words of three of its members: Yu Jin-oh (유진오/兪鎮午, 1906~1987), Choi Jae-seo (최재서/崔載瑞, 1908~1964), and Lee Seok-hoon (이석훈/李石薫, 1907~?).
The Korean Literary Association was founded in 1939 to nurture Korean writers to serve the colonial regime. The association encompassed both ethnic Korean writers who wrote in Korean and Japanese and ethnic Japanese writers who were residents of Korea and wrote in Japanese, and the works of both groups were considered to be ‘Korean literature’, regardless of how different their cultures and perspectives may have been. In this way, Korean literature of this era became heavily politicized to serve the political interests of Imperial Japan. The association published a literary periodical that was published in both Japanese and Korean, but by May 1942, the Korean language edition was discontinued in the name of ‘Imperialization’ and ‘Japanese-Korean unification’.
In the postwar era, the three members’ lives took very different courses. Yu Jin-oh became one the early drafters of the South Korean Constitution, worked as a legal scholar and as a prominent conservative politician in South Korea for many years until his death in 1987. Choi Jae-seo continued his academic activities teaching English literature at South Korean universities until his death in 1964. Lee Seok-hoon was arrested by the North Korean People’s Army at the outbreak of the Korean War in July 1950, and his whereabouts are unknown to this day.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) August 27, 1943
The Second Day of the Greater East Asia Literature Convention
Koreans Speak Out with Dignity and Determination
Mr. Tsuda and Three Others Take Active Roles
[Tokyo Telephone Report] On the second day of the Greater East Asia Literature Conference held at the Greater East Asia Hall on August 26, Yu Jin-oh (유진오/兪鎮午) and Choi Jae-seo (최재서/崔載瑞), representing the Korean peninsula, delivered remarks on “The Establishment of the Idea of Wartime Literature” and “The Conscription System and the Literary Movement in Korea,” respectively, revealing the positions and goals of Korean literature within Greater East Asian literature. Tsuda Tsuyoshi proposed that “all literary figures of Greater East Asia rise up”, which made a great impression in the entire hall. Of the 24 speakers who gave speeches on this day, the three who hailed from Korea emphasized the holy mission and firm determination of the Korean peninsula to complete the Greater East Asia War and to build the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere through literature, and they expounded extensively on the fact that the Korean Literary Association has an extremely important role in the wartime literary movement to unite the various regions of Greater East Asia in the decisive war, and they made this point fully understood by the representatives of each region. The following is a summary of the three speakers’ remarks:
Mr. Yu Jin-oh (유진오/兪鎮午): The Greater East Asia War has entered the decisive battle phase, so those on the front lines and those on the home front must unite as one to concentrate on the goal of destroying the enemy. Those of us in charge of cultural affairs must clarify our mindset. That is, we must clarify how we position our mindset in order to fight against the concept of “selfishness” that forms the basis of the British-American school of thought that has dominated the world for many years. We must beat down that concept of “selfishness” and rise up to the great spirit of “harmony” that is the original spirit of East Asia that has been preserved in its purest form and developed to the highest degree in Japan. There is no literature or culture apart from winning this war. Literary supremacism (literature for literature’s sake) is only a British-American idea. I believe that the goal of wartime literature should be to win the war.
I am convinced that, in ancient times, Korea embraced the culture of the Asian continent as its own, and at the same time functioned as a cross-bridge, so to speak, in transmitting the culture of the Asian continent to mainland Japan. With Korea now a part of Imperial Japan, there has been a role reversal, and Korea has come to share the mission of transmitting the spirit and culture of Japan to all regions of Asia. My conviction stems from the conscription system that went into effect in August of this year, and it is no exaggeration to say that the problems between Korea and Japan have come to an end with the implementation of the conscription system. It is a great pleasure for me to be able to inform people in the various regions of Greater East Asia of the recent renewal and reactivation of the cultural movement in Korea, which was precipitated by the implementation of the conscription system.
Mr. Choi Jae-seo (최재서/崔載瑞): It was groundbreaking that the Korean literary world, which had been relatively strongly influenced by European literature, decided to break with the liberal literary world at the outbreak of the Greater East Asia War and embrace the Japanese worldview. However, it should be appreciated that the realization of the conscription system deeply contributed to this development. The first effect of the implementation of the conscription system was that Korean-language literature, which was historically written in Hangul, has been converted into Japanese-language literature. The second effect was a decisive change in the worldviews and attitudes toward life of the individual writers. I call this the grasping of the concept of one’s own ancestral nation. Previously, the Korean intellectual class fundamentally lacked something, as if the wheels were missing from the axle. Because of this, the Korean intellectuals were unable to unleash the passion welled up in in the depths of their souls to move forward in a holistic manner. The implementation of the conscription system has made them come to the realization that they have to defend their own country with their own intellects and their own lives, and the idea of one’s own ancestral nation sprang up in the hearts of the Korean literary intellectuals.
Korean literature is no longer a narrow literature based only on Korea. It can be clearly said that Korean literature is now a literature for the 100 million people of Imperial Japan who have established a space for the 27 million people in the Korean-language sphere, and also for the billion people of Asia.
Mr. Tsuyoshi Tsuda: As the Greater East Asia War enters its decisive phase, the cultural movement must also become systematized into a wartime system, and become strategized to push forward to destroy the United States and Britain. It is time for all cultural people of Asia to rise up to the occasion this autumn. We must establish a cultural organization with long lasting structures and methods throughout East Asia, but for the time being, I propose the following plan:
- On the Day of the Imperial Rescript on December 8th, literary writers from each region should hold a writers’ convention in their respective regions. I would like each region to send representatives to each other in an effort to raise wartime consciousness. For example, we should ask for Korea, Manchuria, and North China to send representatives to each other, and it would also be a good idea to have the Japan Literary Association send representatives too.
- The periodical to be published after December 8 will include an editorial issue and a commemorative issue, which will contain wartime literature and expound on knowledge on how to the defeat the United States and Britain.
Mr. Kikuchi Hiroshi, the chairman, spoke in favor of Mr. Tsuda’s proposal.
Greater East Asia Literature Prize
First Prize Winner Announced Today
Contestants for the first Greater East Asia Literature Prize, which is awarded to writers in the Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere for their magnificent works, are being carefully screened by the Screening Committee, but since no works were officially selected for the first prize and the Southern Co-prosperity Sphere was not selected due to the screening deadline, several authors from mainland Japan, Manchuria, and the Republic of China were secondarily selected. The names of the winners and their works will be officially announced at the Greater East Asia Literature Conference in the afternoon of August 27.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) September 19, 1942
Ideological Warfare and Propaganda Warfare
By Maki Hiroshi [translator’s note: his Korean name was Lee Seok-hoon (이석훈/李石薫)]
If we can sum up the essence of modern times, we can describe it as a war of ideology, simply because victory by force of arms does not necessarily mean true ultimate victory. Germany’s defeat in World War I is a perfect example of this. As General Ludendorff said in his autobiography, “Germany’s defeat in the World War was not my own fault, but rather the fault of the socialist fools”. The socialist defeatism and anti-war ideology on the home front ultimately brought victory by military force to naught. In particular, the Greater East Asia War was, from its very inception, a struggle between the worldviews of two sides: that is, an ideological struggle between the New Order and the Old Order. It is difficult to say that the war will be completed simply by driving the United States and Britain out of the East Asian landmass, because the war is not fought for the sake of obtaining oil from the Dutch East Indies or rubber from Malaysia. Our war will not be over until we first thoroughly exterminate the British-American mentality that is nestled in the brains of 100 million people, and also cleanse out every last drop of the British-American mindset that permeates all the peoples of Asia.
I do not know whether the Japanese, who are more patriotic than any other people in the world, are praising the Japanese spirit with the same fervor and organization as the Americans and the British praise democracy, or whether they are even developing this for ideological warfare. For example, in the United States, leading scholars and writers have spent many years praising and promoting democracy. The influence of these efforts has been so great that even the ignorant masses are willing to give up their lives in defense of democracy.
The East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere includes many peoples, and in order to make these different peoples truly regard Japan as their ally, we must not stop at mere temporary propaganda efforts. Rather, we must give them something that will deeply penetrate them ideologically. Propaganda warfare is the rudimentary stage of ideological warfare, and is of course important in its own right, but unless it is backed up by the truth, it may even backfire in some cases. Ideological warfare is long lasting propaganda based on the truth, and those of us involved in writing are keenly aware of our great responsibility in this regard. (The writer is the executive secretary of the Korean Literary Association)