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Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II (review)

From: Journal of Korean Studies
Volume 17, Number 2, Fall 2012
pp. 427-431 | 10.1353/jks.2012.0024

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

With John Dower's landmark study War without Mercy as a representative exception, the majority of comparative works involving Japan's wartime and postwar affairs generally turn to the German example to examine how the two vanquished nations fought and remember World War II, as well as how they reconcile their less honorable behavior over this period. T. Fujitani, in his quest to trace racial change toward minorities under total war conditions, creatively offers a different comparison: that of Japan's Korean minority and the United States' Japanese minority. His consideration of these histories through a variety of cultural, social, and economic spheres finds the majority in both cases replacing an exclusionary "vulgar" racism with an inclusionary "polite" racism. Tracing this change, he explains, allows us to "utilize the two sites of soldering as optics through which to examine the larger operations and structures of the two changing empires, which were based on the nation-state form, as they struggled to manage racialized populations within the larger demands of conducting total war" (p. 6).

Key to this change was the total war environment that required the belligerents to efficiently "manage and maximize every available resource" (p. 9). Available manpower could not go underutilized by barring Korean and Taiwanese participation or interning Japanese Americans in concentration camps. Fujitani explains these efforts as Japanese attempting to reconfigure Koreans as a population, that is (in Foucauldian terms), a body of individuals whose "aggregated lives could be considered objects of positive intervention and regulation." He explains:

[O]nce the logic of total war transformed the population problem into one of lack, the politics of the metropolitan and colonial governments toward their colonial subjects in Korea began to shift dramatically. Now, like "metropolitan Japanese" [Naichijin] Koreans were to be made to live. They were to be targeted as living human beings and constituted in their aggregate as a major subpopulation, and the purpose of government would be to enhance their health, sanitation, birthright, longevity, education, and general well-being.

(pp. 38-39)

Foucault's quip—"Welcome to the nation, go get slaughtered and we promise you a long and pleasant life" (quoted on p. 77)—surely is appropriate here, if we might add: "and do join us in Yasukuni!"

Fujitani uncovers other supportive efforts that the Japanese planned to extend at this time to narrow gaps that had for so long strained their relations with colonized people. The salaries and status of the two peoples were to approach equality after the Japanese made Koreans eligible for the hardship stipends that the colonizers had enjoyed from 1910; from April 1945 peninsular Korean males joined their Japan-based compatriots (who had been voting since 1928) in gaining suffrage rights; from 1946 Korean children were to be included in Japan's compulsory education program. Japan's defeat in the war, however, prevented the realization of many of these ambitions. Peninsular Koreans never did cast a vote in a Japanese election and their children never benefited from the compulsory education to which their Japanese counterparts had been subjected since 1871. Japan's imposing military service on a people before integrating them into the state's compulsory education system reversed the sequence of Meiji Japan that compelled a subject to obligatory military service only after the state required him to attend school.

Fujitani differs from those who argue that Japan's incorporation of Koreans into its Japanese military resulted from its desperate and increasingly untenable, hopeless military situation. He agrees with Japanese colonial officials who after Japan's defeat testified that the motivation behind promising Koreans these basic rights was because "it had become necessary to meet some of the colonial demands," rather than because "they were about to lose the war and that their promises would become meaningless" (p. 67). He argues that Japan's decision was predictable rather than unique. Most governments nurture "the life of populations to turn them into efficient workers and soldiers" (p. 73). Still, we might speculate over Japanese sincerity. True, the war had turned decisively away from Japanese favor by the time Korean conscription commenced but it had not yet reached the hopeless situation of March 1945, when Allied planes began bombing Japanese...

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