I’d like to bring to your attention a fascinating article from June 1945, which I found in the archives of the National Library of Korea in September this year. This article was published in Keijo Nippo (Gyeongseong Ilbo), the official newspaper and propaganda arm of the Imperial Japanese colonial regime, which dominated Korea from 1905 to 1945.
In June 1945, Imperial Japan was on the losing end of World War II. In a desperate attempt to bolster its fighting strength, it announced the creation of Volunteer Fighting Corps (義勇隊) in Korea. These Corps were to include nearly all able-bodied Korean men aged 12-65 and women aged 12-45. Excluded from this mass mobilization were foreigners, disabled individuals, and pregnant women.
In this announcement, these Volunteer Corps are also described as Specialized Attack Units (特攻隊), which are also known as Suicide Squads notorious for the suicide missions that their members were tasked with accomplishing.
To facilitate the creation of these Volunteer Fighting Corps, a significant reorganization of the colonial government was planned. Previously, Korea was governed by three main pillars: the Governor-General’s Office, the Imperial Army, and the Party [Korean Federation of National Power (国民総力朝鮮連盟, 국민총력조선연맹)]. However, the June 1945 reorganization aimed to dissolve the Party and replace it with the Volunteer Fighting Corps, making them subordinate to the military. Interestingly, the neighborhood cell units, known as “Patriotic Groups” (JP: aikoku-han, KR: aeguk-ban, 愛國班), which were instrumental in local governance and control of the Korean populace, were to be retained as units within these new Volunteer Corps.
These Volunteer Corps were essentially a last resort, hastily organized militias that would have presumably been used as cannon fodder in bloody, fanatical last-stand battles—much like what was seen in the Battle of Okinawa—if Japan had not surrendered by August 1945.
Unfortunately, there’s a gap in the historical record about what actually happened to these Volunteer Corps by August 1945, especially concerning whether or not they were used against Soviet troops entering Korea. It’s a subject ripe for further research. The article also raises logistical questions, such as how children as young as 12 and old men up to 65 would have been trained for combat. It also raises questions of loyalty as to whether Korean civilians would have really cooperated to become combatants in the service of Imperial Japan. Essentially, the article poses more questions than it provides answers.
It will be noted that the age ranges of the Volunteer Corps were actually more draconian than the Volkssturm, which only conscripted males between the ages of 16 and 60 years, so this counts as one aspect where Imperial Japan was actually more extreme than Nazi Germany.
The article is surprisingly detailed and accessible as it explains things plainly in a Q-and-A format. I hope you find this historical snippet as intriguing as I did. It serves as a stark reminder of the lengths to which a colonial regime would go to maintain control, even in the face of impending defeat.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) June 17, 1945
Peninsula’s Volunteer Fighting Corps: Inquiring with Mr. Harada, the Planning Section Chief of the Governor-General’s Office
In recent days, we are engaged in production and defense, and if an emergency arises, we will take up arms and swords to charge at the enemy. The long-awaited path for our peninsula’s Volunteer Fighting Corps has been opened. Military, government, and civilians are united, and the 26 million residents are truly united in becoming Specialized Attack Units. What kind of fighting spirit will ignite among these Volunteer Fighting Corps, and what capabilities will be demonstrated? We ask Mr. Harada, the key person in the formation of the Volunteer Corps, for the full picture.
They shall now rise up to guard the Imperial Nation: Fervent Vows for the Volunteer Corps
The homeland is now in the middle of becoming a heated battlefield. Why should we allow our precious homeland, protected since the time of our ancestors, to be conceded to the vile enemy? It is our honorable duty as Imperial subjects to fight to protect our homeland and our workplaces. Is that not our most intense desire? Now, even the Korean peninsula is embodying the basic righteousness of all citizens who are becoming soldiers befitting a divine nation to form the Volunteer Fighting Corps.
Old and young, men and women, each citizen is burning with loyalty to annihilate the American devils and protect the Imperial nation. We take pride in our steadfast national organization in the countryside, factories, and various regions. Should the enemy ever set their hideous feet on our peninsula, we, the Volunteer Corps members, will rise up under the Grand Mandate to destroy the enemy. Upon the news of the formation of the Volunteer Fighting Corps in the peninsula, a total uprising is pledged in workplaces, regions, and schools, guiding the surging fighting spirit in various areas.
Patriotic Groups to Remain But Placed Under Military Command During Combat
**Q: How is its organization different from mainland Japan?
**A: It has a centralized structure. In other words, there is a general headquarters.
**Q: What about its operational aspects?
**A: We have established a leadership section that emphasizes the unique circumstances of Korea. Responding to the needs of the Imperialization Movement, we emphasized the spirit and cultural guidance of the general populace and organized our structure accordingly. We have carefully incorporated remaining functions from the previous organizations of the Federation such as the Women’s Association and Youth Groups. In the aspect of leadership, considerable consideration is given to these unique circumstances of Korea, and careful planning is done accordingly.
**Q: When will the organization be fully established?
**A: Given the urgent war situation that demands the quick establishment of defense organizations, we aim to finalize its structure from the headquarters to the grassroots level by early July. Grand and fervent founding ceremonies will be held at various levels (cities, towns, townships, team units) to invigorate the spirit.
**Q: Who will be excluded from the Volunteer Corps, which includes males from 12 to 65 years old and females from 12 to 45 years old?
**A: The Volunteer Corps is a national organization, so everyone should be included. However, those who are physically unable, or pregnant, will not be able to become Volunteer Corps members in practice.
Foreigners are excluded
**Q: What about foreigners?
**A: They are entirely excluded due to the nature of the Volunteer Corps. However, we will consider them separately for labor.
**Q: Will various groups like the boys’ corps, youth corps, reserve corps, and girls’ corps be organized within regions or job sectors, or separately?
**A: They will be organized within regions and job sectors, and they will be formed as the need arises. They are not permanent organizations, but rather they are emergency organizations.
**Q: So, are they optional organizations? They do not necessarily need to be established?
**A: They must be organizations where public sentiment is strong. They are not bound by any laws or regulations. Therefore, while the form of the organization is not prescribed, every citizen should join their respective corps, as they are all part of the battle line.
**Q: What about the age requirements for each member of the boys’ corps?
**A: Further announcements will be made.
**Q: What will be the relationship between the Volunteer Corps and the Student Corps which will be formed in the future?
**A: Student Corps will serve under the Volunteer Corps.
**Q: What kinds of people should be chosen to be deputy commanders, advisors, and counselors of the general command and the provincial commands, and the deputy commanders of the regimental units? I think the problem lies in how these people are selected. I think it is necessary to appoint bold personnel in order to prevent the organization from becoming a bureaucracy.
**A: Those who assume these positions must be the best leaders, so their selection is extremely important. We will not let this organization become a bureaucracy. The reason for placing a government official in command or as a captain is to integrate the organization with the administrative structure, so that the execution of orders can be swift and thorough. Moreover, their personalities are to be based on the will of the people, so the commanders and captains should be able to discern public sentiment. Therefore, the selection of the deputy commanders, advisors, counselors, and others will be skillfully appointed from among the government officials and ordinary civilians. So, I hope that these mid-level people will readily assume leadership positions without hesitation.
The leaders will be government officials and ordinary civilians
**Q: Who will be selected for the leadership sections and committees? Will they be selected from government officials or ordinary civilians?
**A: Both. Especially for the leadership sections, they must be powerful, so we are selecting them from both groups. It is not just ordinary civilians like before in the Federation. This is where we aim to differ from the Federation.
**Q: Which national organizations will be disbanded for the formation of the Volunteer Corps? Just the Federation, Women’s Associations, and Youth Corps?
**A: Only those three for now. Military Support Associations, Labor Employee Support Associations, and Education Associations, among others that rely on this, are not national organizations but special-purpose groups, so they will continue to exist. Other groups with various names like associations, youth, and patriotic organizations are optional groups and are not national organizations, so they will naturally remain and join the Volunteer Corps separately by region or job sector.
**Q: What will happen to the functions of the Korean Federation of National Power?
**A: Preparations for its dissolution are already underway from today. So, in effect, its central functions have ceased, but until the Volunteer Corps is formed, the provincial and town Federations will continue to operate, so their connections with Patriotic Groups will not be severed until then.
**Q: What will happen to the Federation staff?
**A: Appropriate measures will be taken, and we intend to assist them in finding jobs as much as possible.
**Q: What will happen to Patriotic Groups when the Federation disappears and the Volunteer Corps is formed?
**A: We will strengthen the Community Associations and Patriotic Groups as terminal administrative structures. The top-down structure will clearly be Prefecture, District, Community Association, and Patriotic Group, in this order. As this becomes the foundation for the Volunteer Corps, the administration and the Volunteer Corps will become inseparable, and the command and order system will be unified. The name ‘Patriotic Group’ will remain the same.
Implementation of Combat Training
**Q: What about the Civil Defense Corps?
**A: For the time being, they will be left as they are. However, when the structure and content of the Volunteer Corps are established in the future, they will be incorporated into the Volunteer Corps’ security teams. The Civil Defense Corps was established by Imperial decree, so its structure cannot be arbitrarily changed. Until a new decree is issued, it will keep its previous name, but in reality, it will operate as a security team within the Volunteer Corps.
**Q: Who will give the orders for guidance?
**A: For the labor force, the prefecture, town (eup), and township (myeon) leaders will be in charge. For firefighting and air defense, the police station chiefs will take command.
**Q: What will happen to veterans?
**A: Their individual cases will be handled on a per-Volunteer Corps basis. However, the continuity of the Veterans Association itself is still uncertain.
**Q: Under whose command will they be when transitioning to a combat posture? Who will be the team leader in this case?
**A: When transitioning to a combat posture, they will, in principle, be under military command. The team leader at that time will be the original Volunteer Corps team leader.
**Q: When the Volunteer Corps enters actual combat, they will need combat skills. How will continuous training be conducted?
**A: Of course, appropriate training will be necessary. This must be done in consideration of their completion of regular job duties, so that they refrain from working into the night. Therefore, adjustments will be made for the timing and methods so that training does not interfere with production.
**Q: How will that be done?
**A: Necessary adjustments will be done, and the details will be decided by the mid-level structure.