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  • Rethinking Historical Injustice and Reconciliation in Northeast Asia: The Korean Experience
  • Tobias Hübinette (bio)
Rethinking Historical Injustice and Reconciliation in Northeast Asia: The Korean Experience, edited by Gi-Wook ShinSoon-Won ParkDaqing Yang. London: Routledge, 2007. 266 pp. $160.00 cloth; $40.00 paper.

Truth and reconciliation processes to settle and overcome colonial pasts, Cold War dictatorships, and civil war atrocities have recently proliferated in many different countries around the world, including South Africa, Australia, Argentina, Chile, El Salvador, Guatemala, Sierra Leone, and Rwanda. The Nigerian writer and Nobel literature laureate Wole Soyinka has called this recent phenomenon a “fin de millenaire fever of atonement,” as if humanity wanted to enter the new millennium by leaving behind the bloody legacy of what the British historian Eric Hobsbawm has dubbed “the age of extremes” or the “short 20th century” (1914–1991) without having too much bad consciousness. For Europe, the end of [End Page 195] the Cold War was both symbolically and in practice the final end of the Second World War, and accordingly the continent is today dealing with different investigations regarding Nazi crimes and collaborators, financial compensation for slave laborers during Fascist regimes, and restitution issues for former anticommunists in Eastern Europe, while academics and activists alike are in the process of rethinking the full meaning and scope of the Holocaust. Furthermore, problems related to Europe’s former colonial empires also continue to haunt the continent, resulting in, for example, an apology by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair for the 1919 Amritsar massacre in India, and a belated economic compensation to the Second World War veterans from the French colonies, while my own country, Sweden, has apologized both to the Saami indigenous minority for centuries of colonial oppression, as well as finally admitting its complicit role in the Holocaust and the Nazi plundering of Europe.

In Northeast Asia, however, neither the consequences of the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War nor the legacies of the Japanese colonial empire have been sufficiently reconciled and rectified, and this was the reason why the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University convened a conference on the problem in 2004, whose papers have now been collected in the anthology Rethinking Historical Injustice and Reconciliation in Northeast Asia: The Korean Experience, published by Routledge in 2007, and edited by Gi-Wook Shin, Soon-Won Park, and Daqing Yang, who together have also written the introduction and an epilogue. In relation to and in comparison with the ongoing reconciliation and justice processes in other parts of the world, the fourteen contributors to this timely, updated, and well-informed and balanced publication try to understand why reconciliation has not been achieved in Northeast Asia in the same manner as in Europe by looking at the specific Korean experience and perspective and by making use of the American philosopher David Crocker’s distinction between thick and thin reconciliation processes, with the Northeast Asian case definitely falling into the latter category. Within the framework of the contemporary Northeast Asian setting, including rapid industrialization and economic growth, political democratization and the rise of a civil society, and regional integration concomitantly with the rebirth of ethnic nationalism, the first part of the book takes up previously censored and subjugated domestic events in modern Korean history such as the “comfort women” issue (Chunghee Sarah Soh and Hideko Mitsui), the Korean forced laborers of imperial Japan (Soon-Won Park), the massacres and atrocities committed against alleged “communists” before and during the Korean War (Dong-Choon Kim and Tae-Ung Baik), and the South Korean involvement in the Vietnam [End Page 196] War (Kyung-Yoong Bay), several of which are hotly debated and still considered to be highly controversial in today’s Korea. While the “comfort women” issue has been heavily exploited by patriarchal ethnic nationalists, as Chunghee Sarah Soh so convincingly shows, and thus is a wellknown problem today in spite of the covering-up of Korean complicity, new uncomfortable facts regarding the massacres committed by the Syngman Rhee government with the guidance and perhaps even the approval of the U.S. army, are continuing to be published both by Korean social movements media and...


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