“The world thinks Japan is the atomic bomb victim. That is wrong,” Shim Jin-Tae, a Korean national who survived the bombing of Hiroshima during World War II, told reporters at a protest outside the U.S. embassy in Seoul.
Korean and Chinese victims of Japanese aggression during the war are demanding their voices be heard after President Obama laid a wreath at a memorial in Hiroshima, Japan Friday.
Korean victims of the Japanese empire congregated in Seoul, noting that they and their ancestors, in the case of those protesting on behalf of their late parents and grandparents, were brought to Hiroshima as slaves of the Japanese empire, the victims of a bombing on their enemies. The protest was organized by the Association of Korean Atomic Bomb Victims and assembled on Thursday. They are demanding an apology from both President Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
“Japan is the country that began the war. Koreans are the victims of the atomic bomb,” Shim, 73 years old, told the Agence France-Presse. “Japan, as a country that started the war, has never apologized.”
In addition to those who survived the bombing, the Association of Korean Atomic Bomb Victims alleges that multiple generations of descendants have been born with radiation-related birth defects, from thyroid problems to Down Syndrome. Some of these victims traveled to Japan. Speaking to the Korean newspaper Joong Ang Ilbo from their headquarters in South Korea, heads of the organization said they want compensation for their injuries – not just for the suffering they endured, but for the newer generations struggling with radiation-related conditions.
The newspaper notes the headquarters filled with “residents in their 70s and 80s walking around listlessly or sitting in the living room blankly staring out windows. Yet they did not have trouble recounting what happened when the bombs dropped more than 70 years ago.”
The group had also demanded in a letter to President Obama that he visit a park in Hiroshima dedicated to the Korean victims of the atomic bombing, an estimated 50,000 in Hiroshima. Another 20,000 Koreans, most believed to be slaves of the Japanese empire, died in the Nagasaki atomic bombing. While President Obama visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, and mentioned Korean victims specifically, he did not visit their memorial.
The South Korean government – which relies heavily on the United States for military support, particularly regarding threats from an increasingly belligerent communist North Korea – reacted to President Obama’s visit by stating that they took “notice” of President Obama’s mention of Korean victims, calling the mention “meaningful.”
The North Korean government, meanwhile, reacted to President Obama’s visit with alarm, calling President Obama “a nuclear war lunatic” and describing the history of Japan as filled with “unprecedented aggression, massacre and plunder.”
The Chinese government has taken a more aggressive stance against President Obama’s overtures to the Japanese government with his visit to Japan on Memorial Day weekend, with state-controlled media listing a number of atrocities committed against China by Imperial Japan. Foreign Minister Wang Yi issued a statement honoring the memory of those killed in the Nanjing Massacre, in which over 300,000 Chinese citizens are believed to have been slaughtered by Japanese troops. An estimated 20,000 Chinese women suffered rape at the hands of Japanese soldiers in that single incident, Chinese media reports.
“The victims deserve sympathy, but the perpetrators could never shake off their responsibility,” Foreign Minister Wang said.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying issued a similar statement, calling for Japan to “take a responsible attitude… and earnestly take history as a mirror to avoid recurrence of the tragedy of the war.”
China Daily, a publication owned by a private corporation but with strong ties to the government in Beijing, ran two opinion columns on President Obama’s visit to Hiroshima, one staunchly defending the United States’ decision to use atomic weapons in Hiroshima, and another suggesting that Japan has not yet earned the full trust of the developed world.
“The military and political justifications for the use of atomic bombs on the two Japanese cities should never be challenged,” one column, published without a byline, reads. “The victims of the bombings deserve the world’s sympathy, as do victims of the war on both sides of the fighting. Nevertheless, this should not change the consensus on the anti-fascist side about the necessity and justification for the use of atomic weapons against militarist Japan.”
The article urges those calling for the U.S. to apologize for the bombing to demand an apology from the Japanese government, instead.
In another column, author Zhou Yongsheng suggests that President Obama’s decision not to explicitly apologize is a sign that the United States “holds more fears about Japan than China and is more vigilant toward it.” Nonetheless, Zhou proclaims the visit “a diplomatic victory in the eyes of Japan’s Shinzo Abe government, because the move will reinforce Japan’s image as a ‘wartime victim.'”
In his speech in Hiroshima Friday, President Obama described the bombing of Hiroshima as an “evil” and alleged that “every great religion… [has had] believers who have claimed their faith as a license to kill.”