The Koreans in Second World War Philippines: Rumour and History

Article excerpt

Introduction

The impulse that led to the research that resulted in this paper was to find out if a long-standing rumour about the Koreans in Second World War Philippines--that the Koreans were 'more cruel' than the Japanese--is supported by facts. Those who believe the rumour cannot substantiate it. Some who do not believe it argue that there were few Koreans in the Philippines during the war, while others assert that there were none at all. (1) Consulting Philippine history textbooks and other major history books has proven useless because they do not mention the Koreans at all. (2) Beyond the history texts, in works by specialists on the Second World War and the Japanese Occupation of the Philippines, Koreans are mentioned only in passing. These writers debunk the allegations, but do not adequately argue against it, simply claiming that there were few Koreans in the Philippines during the war.

It is imperative to clarify this rumour because it is so widespread and has persisted from the 1950s to the present. Whenever Second World War atrocities are mentioned in the Philippines, the Koreans are blamed as the perpetrators and described as being 'more cruel than the Japanese', despite the absence of Koreans in most historical accounts of that period. Clarification would contribute to the removal of this negative image, if it is established that what is rumoured is not true. If the facts confirm the rumour, the negative image would be justified, but it would be based on real evidence. On the other hand, research may unearth a mixture of the confirmation of some aspects of the rumour and the denial of others. Whatever the outcome, it would contribute to a more accurate picture of the role and conduct of the Koreans during the war.

The urgency of verifying this rumour also lies in the growing closeness of present-day Philippine-South Korean relations, as seen in the increasing number of Koreans who come to the Philippines to learn English, to study or do research in universities, and to work or invest. As people-to-people relations between the two countries expand, knowledge of each other's history becomes relevant. It is best to anchor such knowledge on solid evidence rather than on hearsay.

The case of a graduate student from South Korea who came to Manila in 2010 to do research may be cited to stress the point. The student conducted interviews for her research on the Japanese Occupation, and one of the interviewees told her point blank that 'it was the Koreans who were more cruel than the Japanese'. The Korean student narrated this experience to her Filipino adviser at the University of the Philippines, and asked if what she was told was true. (3) This is only one case, but it is not hard to imagine that it has happened before and will keep happening. And if asked if the rumour is true, where will one turn to for a credible and substantial answer?

There is a dearth of scholarship on the Koreans who were tried of war crimes in the Philippines. Aiko Atsumi names and gives voice to a few Koreans she was able to interview. (4) One of them was Kenyo Ohara, a soldier who served in the Philippines, and was convicted of a war crime and first imprisoned by the post-war US Military Commission in Manila, and then transferred to Sugamo Prison in Tokyo. Through Atsumi's interview with Ohara, we also get a glimpse of a senior Korean military officer who was also convicted by the US Military Commission in Manila, namely Shiyoku Kou. Atsumi writes that a third Korean was also tried by the Americans in Manila, but she does not name him. (5)

Since Atsumi's book is largely based on interviews with former Korean prisoners of war, she could not give details about Kou, who had been found guilty and executed by the American war tribunal in Manila in 1946. Details about Kou are found in Shihei Yamamoto's account in Shiyoku Kou chujo no shokei [The execution of Lieutenant General Shiyoku Kou]. …