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Koreans in the Imperial Japanese service

Discussion in 'War in the Pacific' started by JCFalkenbergIII, Jun 22, 2008.

  1. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    1. Soldiers and Civilian Employees for the Military

    Japan started conscription of Koreans in 1944, as it neared defeat in the Pacific War.
    Leaders of Japan had long hesitated implementing a conscription system in Korea after the annexation of the Peninsula in 1912 fearing that, once armed as a part of the Japanese military, Koreans might revolt at any time.
    Nevertheless, they had no choice but to introduce conscription there, given both the expansion of the war against China and the start of the Pacific War, actions entailing an urgent need for securing sufficient manpower to carry out the war. Some also insisted, "It is not appropriate to carry out this war only at the expense of Yamato people (ethnic Japanese) because if the war kills only Yamato people yet leaves Koreans, they will, together with their formidable power to reproduce themselves, pose a serious threat in the future" (An Outline of the History of the Army System, Masao Yamazaki).
    On July 2, 1937, just before the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Japanese troops stationed in Korea (called the Korean Troop) recommended setting up "a system requiring Korean men to voluntary enlist for military service" in response to an inquiry from the Ministry of the Army (An Opinion on Korean Enlistment, the Korean Troop's Headquarters secret documents). Accordingly, the Japanese military, assuming conscription would be introduced in the decades to follow, set up an enlistment system for Koreans on April 3, 1938 (The Army Ordinance for Special Enlistment System)
    Initially, the Army Special Enlistment System targeted "those who are better-off than average and ideologically solid" (the Korean Governor-General's Office's Guideline for Implementing the Korean Enlistment System) -- namely those from middle and upper classes, which tended to be friendly to Japanese rule. The military planned to train and educate these individuals as loyal subjects of the Emperor, then using them as soldiers, as well as making them a leading force for the Kominka Movement, an assimilation policy of the government to make loyal subjects of the Emperor out of Koreans through the destruction of their ethnic identity. However, it turned out that these wealthier Koreans were for the most part unwilling to enlist. To make matters worse, the Governor-General's Office was intent on securing ten times the number of enlistees actually needed, announcing the number of sign-ups in each province to encourage further enlistments. Pressured by this, local offices of each prefecture and county resorted to imposing quotas on each myon (village) under their jurisdiction.
    "Should this end in failure," expressed Colonel Kaname Kaita, a professor at the Army Training Institute for Enlisted Soldiers of the Governor-General's Office of Korea, "it would leave grave concerns for the future of the Peninsula." Operating under this acute sense of crisis, the Japanese authorities interpreted the number of enlistments as "the barometer of patriotism," which would result in desperate measures at the bottom of the administrative system, the myon : blackmailing new graduates, putting pressure on families by detaining the father, or tricking them into enlisting by falsely informing them that doing so was just a formality.
    In 1943, the government abolished a conscription moratorium on Japanese students, and those majoring in Law and Humanities were immediately drafted into military camps. Before this, however, de facto student conscription had been conducted for Koreans in the form of forced enlistment.
    "The Regulation for the Emergency Recruitment of Special Enlistees of the Army" was announced in Korea on October 20, 1943. It was effectuated on the same day and schedules were set forth as follows: application documents should be submitted by November 20th; examinations should take place by December; and those admitted should be enrolled in camps as active soldiers by January 20, 1944.
    Unfortunately for the Japanese government, however, few students enlisted despite the desperate efforts made by the government, including pressuring them through their relatives. By November 10th, there were less than 200 enlistees out of 2,830 qualified men. This led Kuniaki Koiso, the Governor-General of Korea, to announce on the same day that everybody without exception should enlist. He organized a rally for Korean students at Meiji University on November 14th to rouse them into enlisting. Moreover, he checked to see if all students from each region and province actually enlisted; published newspaper articles such as "Students from Kaeson All Enlisted!"; and mobilized Korean intellectuals including Yu Jin-O and Lee Kwang-Soo for campaigns to encourage enlistment. Newspapers were running articles such as "Suspicion and Hesitation Are Absolutely Unacceptable," and finally on November 21st -- a day before the deadline -- the Mainichi Shinpo press ran on its front page an article claiming "Non-Enlistees Are Non-Japanese." Ultimately, the situation intensified so much that actual penalties were set -- it was decided on November 21st that those who did not enlist would be put under "strict training" and then sent to work in coal mines or at other jobs involving heavy labor.
    In this way, Korean students were cornered into unwilling enlistment. In the end, the final numbers of enlistees, including those who submitted documents after the deadline, reached 2,034 out of 2,830 qualified individuals.
    With the outbreak of the Pacific War on December 8, 1941, and ever-expanding front lines, Japanese rulers found themselves in need of troops on an unexpectedly huge scale. Moreover, the intensification of the war also increased the need for labor in war industries, forcing the military authorities to maximize manpower to increase production to maintain human resources, even at the expense of the number of soldiers on the front lines.
    To avoid attrition of ethnic Japanese as much as possible, it was thus concluded, "Using other races as soldiers...is the most urgent task" (Consideration for National Human Resources in Relation to the Great East Asian War, January 20, 1942, Army Ministry of Procurement Section). Accordingly, for Korea, the government abolished the existing enlistment system, introducing conscription in 1944 for the purpose of rapidly securing a massive number of Korean soldiers.
    The Tojo Cabinet decided on May 8, 1942 to introduce general conscription in Korea in 1944, which was approved as A Reform Bill for Military Duties by the Imperial Diet, to be implemented from August 1, 1943. As a result, the Korean Governor-General's Office was assigned the task of transforming Korean youth into loyal Imperial subjects through whatever means necessary by the scheduled start of conscription two years later. The Office set up special youth training centers in each myon, assembling by force those age pools of potential soldiers to teach them Japanese, as well as give them military and spiritual training as Imperial subjects.
    The first physical examination for the draft was held from April 1st to August 20th of 1944, involving 206,057 Korean conscripts. Those passed for active service were inducted from September 1, 1944 to May 1945, to be sent to front lines both in- and outside Korea. The numbers totaled about 130,000, including about 69,000 who passed with the highest classification, and another 62,000 with a second-A classification. Along with these individuals, those who passed as the first group of supplemental soldiers were also inducted and allocated (The 85th Imperial Diet Session, explanation material for the Financial Bureau Chief, August 1944, the Governor General's Office in Korea). The draft examination in Korea was conducted by the Kuwantung Army, and attended by 13,000 people. The second examination was held from January to May of 1945.
    However, unlike enlistees who were able to receive training at Army recruit training centers for six or twelve months, these conscripted Koreans, recruited in an emergency situation, tended to speak no Japanese and continued escaping during transportation to their assigned camps. As the war turned increasingly hopeless, the fears of the Korean Governor-General's Office and the Japanese military authorities increased, expressing, "(Korean soldiers) might riot at any time," (Katsuyama Kousou, Kuniaki Koiso, Korean Governor General) or that "(they) might revolt in collaboration with British and Americans against us at the front lines" (Secret Operation Diary, July 30, 1945).
    The more they felt threatened, the harder they tried to eradicate the ethnicity of Koreans, believing they were inadequately Japanized. Imperial education was intensified while discrimination against them in barracks escalated.
    Gunzoku: Civilian Employees in the Military

    As the war against China expanded, Japan became increasingly desperate for labor to maintain the munitions industry as well as to support production and distribution of military procurements, transportation of soldiers, and construction of military facilities. The government had to extend total control over manpower and material resources from its mainland to its colonies, organizing them as commissariats.
    This led to the enactment of the National Mobilization Law in April of 1938 and consequently, the National Requisition Ordinance in October 1939, which provided a legal basis for the forced requisition of labor.
    "Gnzoku" refers to those who freely chose to work for the Army and Navy as civilian employees. However, from 1941 Koreans were drafted for this work through the National Requisition Ordinance, and some were forcibly relocated via "recruitment" and "official mediation" in the same manner used to procure coal miners.
    Gunzoku were divided into three ranks : bunkan (civilian officers), koin (employees), and yonin (laborers). This last group was referred to variously, such as gunpu (in Okinawa) and kouin (the South Sea Islands), depending on the location and type of job. It was this lowest rank that most Koreans were drafted or recruited into, and only few, including some of those working as POW guards in Southeast Asia, were ranked as yoin.
    From the beginning, the Japanese military fell far behind in the development of the commissariats division. In 1941, men counted in the commissariats division stood at only 25% of those in fighting divisions in the Army. The figure went even lower to 20% by 1944, with 25% for civil construction and 20-21% for the rest by 1945 (A Short History of Mobilization during the Chinese Incident and the Great East Asian War). Engineering and transportation troops were disproportionally neglected and the Army constantly rejected the introduction of catering vehicles, insisting on the soldiers cooking for themselves with their mess kits. Military requisition on the battlefields mostly depended on local procurement, through the constant confiscation or looting of local households as well as the abusive issuance of gunpyo (military currency). This caused local residents under Japanese occupation tremendous damage.
    As for the Navy, there was not even a formal system similar to the engineering troops of the Army. On the front lines and in occupied areas, each Navy fleet would organize preparatory troops consisting mainly of unskilled Korean and Taiwanese laborers, who dealt with the construction of base camps, ports, airports and other facilities as well as the policing of local communities (Navy Facilities, War History Series ). It was not until February 1994 that these troops were incorporated into the Navy and manned with many gunzoku.
    The primary reason forcing Japan to incorporate so many Koreans into its military organization as gunzoku was the difficulty in securing further labor from the mainland as the Japanese workforce had to be sent to the front lines due to the expansion and seemingly endless nature of the war.
    A second reason was the high risk of working in battlefields and occupied areas exposed to enemy attack and local resistance, situations for which civilian workers were unprepared. In a modern military, these tasks should be carried out by professional soldiers for the construction of facilities. However, division of the Japanese military was so poorly developed that it had to rely on gunzoku, who were neither trained nor equipped as proper soldiers. Yet, the government did find a solution to the problem of securing labor for dangerous work in the use of expendable Koreans and Taiwanese by means of forced labor.
    According to the Explanatory Documents for the 86th National Diet Session, 88,241 Korean gunzoku had been mobilized by the end of September 1944, with 31,783 of them drafted through the National Requisition Ordinance. The figure included 3,323 Koreans drafted for guarding POWs on the Army's request, and 32,248 Koreans drafted for naval civil projects in the south at the request of both the Navy and the Army after 1941. These men were widely scattered, from Japan, Manchuria, and China to the South Seas.
    These drafted Koreans increased in number from the fall of 1944. According to postwar statistics collected by the Second Demobilization Bureau in the Ministry of Health and Welfare, the total number of Koreans mobilized from 1941 reached 154,907, with 70,424 for the Army, and 84,483 for the Navy (Conditions of the Korean Residents in Japan, 1953). Considering the inadequacy in the confirmation of deaths and the recordkeeping of names, the above figures seem to understate by far the actual count.
    In 1944, about 3,700 workers were mobilized in Kyong Sang Puk Do to be sent to Okinawa as military laborers.
    Based on the Guidelines for the Labor Reinforcement Measures issued in October 1943, the government started full enforcement of the National Requisition Ordinance in Korea in September 1944. The application of the law was expanded from the military to include civilian requisition.
    During the war in China and the Pacific, many Koreans were sent by force or fraud to the front lines, where they were subjected to subhuman living and working conditions as gunzoku. Many were killed or maimed during unarmed exposure to enemy attack, an inevitable result of the Japanese war policy.
    It is true that these Korean gunzoku were "legally" drafted under the National Requisition Ordinance and served under the military, based on labor contracts. Still, considering the countless violations of these labor contracts and other legal abuses by the employer (the state), they were on the whole forced to do slave work, which had been banned internationally. In so doing, the Japanese government destroyed local production by depriving each Korean family of its main workforce, and together with its policy of strict assimilation, destroyed the cultural base of Koreans in order to erase traces of their ethnicity.

    II-4: Koreans in the Japanese Military
     
  2. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    Interesting article, JC.
    There's been several stories about Koreans under the Japanese military here in the Philippines. All that I heard from my elders is anecdotal and try as a might, I haven't really unearthed any documentation about this.
    However, there is a common thread in all there recollections.
    They claim that many Koreans drafted into the Japanese Army were usually more brutal to Filipinos than the Japanese themselves. My elders explain that this was so because since the Koreans were brutalized by the Japanese and that Filipinos were the convenient outlet for some emotional release by these individual Koreans. Take note, I say individual Koreans because this is not to meant to be racist against Koreans as a whole. I have several Korean friends but somehow, I feel that raising this issue with them is not appropriate. Maybe by putting this here, I may be able to learn a thing or two about this.
     
  3. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    It is intersting to note that quite a few Korean veterans of the Imperial Army with military knowledge were on both sides during the Korean war.
     
  4. Falcon Jun

    Falcon Jun Ace

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    Yes. Koreans would've been in both sides of the war. If I recall correctly, Kim Il Sung was served as a major in the Soviet Army. Do you have any info on Koreans serving on the US side, JC? Aside from the KATUSAs in the 1950s Korean war, I haven't yet found any.
     
  5. JCFalkenbergIII

    JCFalkenbergIII Expert

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    So far no luck in finding any. Or at least in any groups. Perhaps individuals may have served in the US military.
     
  6. perfected

    perfected recruit

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    Thought I'd resurrect this...

    My grandfather(South Korean) was conscripted in the Japanese Imperial Army and fought in Okinawa. He's deceased now, but my mother did pass on a few stories. Would anyone have any idea how I could go about finding out what unit he was in etc... I know that he and surviving members of his unit were captured by the Marines and sent to Hawaii as POW's. After some time they were sent home to Korea. I would think there might be some documentation of this?
     
  7. sansindio

    sansindio Member

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    It was true that Korean combat troops under Japanese Imperial Army were more brutal and rapist (no offend to my Korean Friends) compared to the genuine Japanese Imperial Army or Marines as per my late father. This is because some recruited Koreans were not educated compared to their Japanese counterpart which was more refined and humane.
     
  8. perfected

    perfected recruit

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    I would suggest it had less to do with education, and more to do with maltreatment at the hands of the Japanese. My grandfather and others from his village were conscripted under penalty of death... theirs and their families. They were given Japanese names and forbidden to speak their own language. They were routinely beaten and/or executed. As you may well know, the Japanese Army was not typically well fed, conscripts even less so. They were basically slaves.
     
  9. T. A. Gardner

    T. A. Gardner Genuine Chief

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    Japanese regular army officers typically referred to their men as "cattle" and treated them as they saw fit.
     

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