Why did many Koreans “voluntarily” enlist in the Imperial Japanese military during WWII? Partly due to ominous Japanese government edicts like this one in 1943 threatening Korean students with worse treatment under punitive conscription for missing the deadline to voluntarily enlist


On October 20, 1943, the government of Japan-occupied Korea selected certain groups of male students in Korea, like liberal arts college students, to be targets of recruitment into the Japanese military, and it gave these students one month to voluntarily enlist. One day before the deadline, 30% of those students still had not voluntarily enlisted, so this edict was published in the Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo) newspaper in Seoul on November 19, 1943 to push the remaining students to enlist, threatening them with “special training” under punitive conscription, and spewing death cult propaganda calling on them not to want life and not to fear death, and to obey and martyr themselves for the Emperor. There are mentions in this edict of the Bougainville campaign, which ultimately ended in defeat for Japan. In September 1944, Japanese government did follow through on their threat to implement punitive conscription, but the war ended before these punitive conscripts had a chance to enter the battlefield.

(my translation)

November 19, 1943 Gyeongseong Ilbo (Keijo Nippo)

Choose one of two paths
Don’t carry the shame of being an unpatriotic student
One day left until the day of destiny

Whether it be glory or shame, the day of destiny that will forever determine the lives of students in the Korean peninsula is only one day away.

On October 20, the great path to military service, which had shone so brightly in the 3,000-year history of Imperial Japan, was stunningly extended to the students of the Korean Peninsula, after the honor was bestowed on the students in Japan proper. The martyrdom of the nation and the devotion to loyalty that sprang up in the hearts and minds of the Korean peninsula’s students finally coalesced into a fervent volunteerism. They closed their books, threw away their pens, and changed their school uniforms into military uniforms. The melancholy students of the nation rising up with determination to destroy the ugly enemy, the United States and Britain, numbered six hundred and ninety. The dignified appearance of the students of the Korean peninsula, clicking their heels as they passed through the glorious military gate in the crucible of patriotism that burned through the Korean peninsula, was truly reassuring and powerful.

However, according to the reports of volunteers received by the Japanese Korean army from various schools in Korea by 3 p.m. on the 17th, the number of volunteers was less than 70% of the total number of qualified applicants. Although I dare not doubt your enthusiasm, this is definitely not a figure to be proud of. We firmly believe that in the remaining one day, all the students on the peninsula will finish volunteering themselves, and that not a single person will be left out.

Students, Governor Koiso has given you words of encouragement: “The Governor is convinced that all you students will go into battle”. What strong words of compassion and trust in you! But your conscience surely shall not allow you to betray the spirit of the nation, which is unparalleled in the 3,000-year history of Imperial Japan, as you have been studying to find the truth in your academies.

However, as the Governor has pointed out, if any of you dare not volunteer for this honorable request of the nation, you are nothing but “unrighteous fake students” and “ingrates” who should be spat upon. Do you have the courage to take this stigma in stride? Do you have the courage to accept this stigma, to be branded as fake students, to be thrown into the waste basket of society as ingrates, and still have hope to live in this world?

Will you unintentionally miss this opportunity and remain outside of the battlefield, or will you intentionally put yourself in the battlefield? How will this turn out?

Students, your schools are about to be shut down. No matter how much you try to stay in your ivory towers and devote your youthful passions to the pursuit of truth, remember first that the means to do so are about to be lost. The academies have already gone into battle in accordance with the demands of the nation. In addition, for those students who do not volunteer, there is already a big order being prepared for national conscription. Moreover, this conscription is not a general conscription, but rather a training conscription especially for those who lack the qualifications to become imperial subjects. Are you willing to be branded as non-imperial subjects for not going to war? Certainly not, you must certainly be imperial subjects. Is there anything more humiliating than being a male student who has to undergo special training to become an imperial subject?

You must reconsider and reflect. The drums of determination are now sounding from the front lines of the south seas. The sound of the guns off Bougainville Island has struck our ears, and the smoke of the gunpowder has filled our nostrils, urging us to make a great resolve to ceaselessly shoot. The triumphant songs of victory off the coast of Bougainville Island have brought 100 million of us to the summit of excitement. The world’s ears were astonished, and a brilliant glow was released on the history of world warfare. But what is hidden behind this great victory?

Under the great sovereign, what do we see in the precious heroes who do not fear death, who do not want to live, but obey and become pillars of the nation’s defense, martyring themselves for their country with loyalty and fidelity? Behold the brave fighting and good planning of our soldiers just singlemindedly shooting the enemy without ceasing. What is more, the enemy, undeterred by fatal damage and insolent in its iron strength, is still biting down on our strategic battle line, and is relentlessly repeating a total counterattack. Look at the vigorous war spirit of the frenzied enemy. Look at the enemy’s boundless war potential. As a nation of 100 million people, who can fail to be inspired by this pathetically brutal battlefield?

Students, the decisive battle continues. At this time, at this moment, beyond the south seas, the bloody battle between our two countries is being repeated to the death. It is we, young men, who will follow the heroic spirits to the front lines of battle. We will brandish our swords and take our guns to pierce the enemy. There is no other way to describe the true spirit of Japanese men.

Students of the Korean peninsula, rise up now. The time has come for you to stand up against the enemy. The nation waits for you to rise up, and the people pray for your determination. The whole peninsula and the mountains and rivers are waiting for you.

Students, will you conquer and make the glory of the Korean peninsula, which is entrusted to you, shine even brighter? Or will you drop out of the line of fire and die in the shame of being a non-imperial subject? Choose one of two paths. The day of destiny is only one day away. Students, reflect! Students, reconsider!

(my transcription into modern Japanese orthography with punctuation marks modified and added for clarity)

Source: https://archive.org/details/kjnp-1943-11-19

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昭和十八年十一月十九日 京城日報