Updated December. 09, 2013 07:00
A massive earthquake measuring 7.9 in Richter scale hit Kanto province in Japan right before noon on Sept. 1, 1923. Amid a wide variety of wild rumors circulating, the Japanese government declared martial law. Due to rumors, the Japanese military and police massacred some 666 Koreans in Japan (according to reports on Koreas Dongnip Shinmun or Independence Newspaper), 474 Chinese and Japanese labor activists. Since the Japanese government thoroughly concealed the incident, circumstantial evidence of massacre of Chinese people was only revealed as recently as in the 1970s.
The Japanese government has constantly denied the governments involvement and avoided "state responsibility" for the incident. At the request of ethnic Koreans in Japan, the Japanese lawyers association in 2003 recommended then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi that the Japanese government admits to state responsibility for the massacre, and investigates and finds the cause of massacre, while submitting a report on their investigation. Tokyo has yet to reply, however.
Amid this situation, the list of people killed during the earthquake disaster that was recently discovered at the Korean embassy in Japan holds very important historical significance. The report is believed to have been drafted during the President Rhee Syng-man administration while the embassy was preparing for a Korea-Japan summit in 1953 after the breakdown of a summit in 1952. The report does not include all Korean victims, but the list of 290 victims is significant in that it was the first state record on the incident. The issue is here what Korea should be doing from now.
With discovery of the record as turning point, the government should exert more efforts to discover more historical records. As widely known, conservative rightist forces in Japan demand the deletion or revision of descriptions of historical facts in textbooks that reveal Japans war of aggression and its responsibilities as aggressor during modern era, including Nanjing Massacre and military comfort women. By raising issue with inaccuracy of statistics, they seek to increase doubt about historical incidents and spread their distorted recognition of history. The massacre following the Kanto earthquake is one of such incidents. But the newly discovered report can be utilized as powerful data with which to refute Japans bid to distort history, because the document includes the method of massacre and places as well as the list of victims.
Discovery and compilation of materials on historical incidents is basic preparatory work not only to achieve reconciliation and prosperity in the Northeast Asia region but also to strengthen the logic to refute Japans distortions of history and denial of responsibility. Study of history is very important as evidence, with which to get the aggressor admit to official facts, apologize and compensate. By cooperating with countries in Northeast Asia, including China where other victims of the incident belong, Korea should spearhead dialogue and study on history. There are many uncertain matters to clarify in the massacre of Chinese people following the Kanto earthquake as well. President Park Geun-hye recently proposed the publishing of a "joint history textbook on Northeast Asia." During her visit to China in June, Park agreed on the establishment of a Korea-China Joint committee on humanities exchange, and if historical data sharing and research cooperation is implemented through the committee, it could become the first step toward the publishing of a joint history textbook.
Attention should also be paid to ethnic Korean historians in Japan. Until Koreas liberation from Japan in 1945, the massacre following the Kanto earthquake was thoroughly concealed, and no attempt was made to find the facts. However, due to efforts by ethnic Korean historians in Japan, materials in Japan were discovered in many cases, and those researchers who discovered and studied related materials on the massacre since the 1950s made important contributions to the discoveries. Thus far, no memorial stone or cenotaph has even been erected to remember and honor the victims of the massacre following the earthquake. The South Korean government needs to cooperate with ethnic Korean peoples network in Japan, and demand Tokyo to submit materials. It should also exert efforts to inscribe in the memorial stone that the perpetrator of the massacre was Japanese state authorities and civil militia.