Notes: Some 3000 young Korean men were recruited by Imperial Japan as civilians to work as civilians to guard Allied POWs in Southeast Asia. The prisoners were mostly forced to build airstrips and railways for the Imperial Japanese military. These included the 415-km Thai-Burma railway, which was made famous with the movie “The Bridges on the River Kwai“. One of the more notable Korean guards working on the Thai-Burma railway was Lee Hak-rae, the last surviving Korean Class-B/Class-C war criminal from World War II who died in Japan last year in March 2021.
One term that was hard to translate into English in this article was gunzoku (軍属), which I translated as “civilian members of the military”, but this classification refers to the lowest ranking civilian employees in the service of the Imperial Japanese military. So, the status of the ethnic Korean prison guards was quite low in the Imperial Japanese military hierarchy. A lot of former prison guards argued this fact before the war crimes tribunals with varying degrees of success.
This Asia-Pacific Journal article is a good overview of Lee Hak-rae’s story.
Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) May 24, 1942
Recruitment of guards for American and British prisoners of war
Mentally guide and subdue
Expectations for the applicants’ mental readiness
Comments by Mr. Kuramo, Chief of the Military Press Department
As announced on the 22nd, the government has decided to recruit several thousand capable young Korean men to serve in the military to monitor American and British prisoners of war being held in various places. Mr. Kuramo, Chief of the Korean Military Press Department, issued the following statement on the 23rd:
Content of the Statement by the Chief of the Military Press Department
The number of American, British and Dutch troops taken prisoner by the Imperial Military in the Greater East Asia War was enormous. In the middle of all this, the colonial military forces, made up of indigenous people who were oppressed by the Americans, British, and Dutch under absolute discrimination, were sent back to their hometowns with a pledge to cooperate with the Imperial Military and its Divine Soldiers of Peace, and contribute to the establishment of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The remaining prisoners of war of the American, British and Dutch forces were placed in prisoner-of-war camps in various places, where they were forced to work under the warm supervision of the Imperial Military.
It has already been announced by the Governor’s Office that young Korean men were recruited as civilian members of the military to assist the Imperial Military in the camps for American, British and Dutch prisoners of war.
In view of the seriousness of their duties, these men were to be recruited as civilian members of the military and given about two months of preparatory training, most of whom were to serve in the south. Despite defeat, the Americans, British, and Dutch were still the ones who had ruled the world as if it had belonged to them. We must thoroughly train our mental readiness to deal with them. Winning the battles at long last, we must not let deficiencies arise in our management after the battles.
Although they may seem to be materially superior in some respects, they are actually masses of materialism with little spiritual cultivation, and it is no surprise that they were defeated in this war. In order for us to build a new order, we must absolutely denounce their European-American ideas.
Therefore, we should have the aspiration to splendidly guide these mentally retarded people and subdue them. For this reason, when selecting the personnel to monitor them, the emphasis should be placed on whether or not they have been trained in this mental readiness to deal with them. Other conditions should also be taken into consideration when asking them to proceed with seriousness.
We would like to focus on young people who are between the ages of 20 and around 35, and who have graduated from elementary school (National School). This is because they have at least learned Japanese etiquette and can speak their language well, which is the first factor to avoid being insulted by the British and the Americans. They will be treated as civilian members of the military, and when they go abroad, they will be given departure allowances and all the other benefits that come with being civilian members of the military.
Starting salaries are generally uniform across the board, but they are raised successively according to one’s ability. They can rest easy about food, clothing, and shelter for an expected period of two years. Of course, enough considerations will be made so that they will not have to worry about family members.
We hope that you will consider these conditions carefully and apply for these positions, especially if you are a young man who has applied to become a special volunteer soldier but was not accepted, or if you are a young man who is eager to study Europeans and Americans with hopes of making great strides in the future. Don’t miss out on this excellent opportunity.
The Chronicles of the Way of Japanese Wives
This is an inspirational read that depicts the noble way in which Japanese wives have protected and nurtured their families while hiding in the shadows of their husbands and children. The serialization of this story in the June issue of Women’s Club magazine has already been well received.