This dissertation demonstrates how the decolonization of Korea became a foundational historical event not only for colonized people but also for metropolitan society. Despite the recent emphasis on the need to treat metropole and colony as one analytical field in the new studies of empire, scholars have yet to fully approach decolonization as a mutually constitutive process that restructures both metropolitan and colonial societies. Historians have often understood the post-1945 transformation of Japan from imperial power into nation-state as simply the product of the U.S.-led reconstruction of a defeated Japan and the Japanese “embracing” of the occupation – to use the words of John W. Dower’s Pulitzer Prize-winning work, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II. In a radical departure from the scholarship that operates within the U.S.-Japanese relational binary, this dissertation explores how the political dynamics of decolonizing Korea under U.S. and Soviet military occupations shaped the formation of a postwar Japan under U.S./Allied occupation.
In order to maintain a focused line of inquiry through the complexity of the aftermath of the Japanese empire, I position the Korean colonial migrant population in Japan, or the so-called “Korean minority question,” as the primary methodological site. With such an analytical focus, this dissertation poses a key set of different questions that turn our attention to the transnational and global processes involved in dismantling the Japanese empire. First, how did the problem of repatriating both Korean colonial conscripted workers from Japan and Japanese colonial settlers from Korea shaped the reimagining of Japan as a “mono-ethnic nation” out of the “multi-ethnic empire”? Second, how did post-1945 everyday encounters between Japanese and Koreans, between the defeated and the liberated, frame the Japanese “embracing” of defeat and colonial independence along with U.S./Allied occupation? And third, how did the politics of Korean diasporic nationalism in former metropolitan Japan become a flashpoint for U.S. global Cold War interventionism and communist containment? I argue that the “Korean minority question” became the crucible of nation- and race-making, global and regional anti-communist political alliances, and grassroots international solidarity in postwar U.S./Allied-occupied Japan.
Part I: The Collapse of the “Multi-Ethnic” Empire and After, 1945-1947
CHAPTER 1 - Unendurable Subjects: Race and Violence in the Birth of a Pacifist Nation
Chapter 1 demonstrates that the birth of a pacifist Japan was deeply intertwined with the everyday racial violence that Japanese people enacted against now-liberated Koreans in Japan. Defeat made Japanese people extremely uneasy about their status in a future racial hierarchy vis-à-vis those whom they had been treating as an “inferior” race under the Japanese empire. Everyday encounters between Japanese and Koreans, between the defeated and the liberated, became rapidly infused with racial tensions in both Japan and Korea in the wake of Japan’s defeat. Particularly, the problem of repatriating both Korean conscripted workers from Japan and Japanese colonial settlers from Korea added fuel to the mounting mutual antagonism in both societies. Korean conscripted workers brought back to Korea their immediate memories of the harsh treatment they had experienced in metropolitan Japan, and they often ended up avenging themselves on the Japanese colonial settlers remaining in now-liberated Korea. Simultaneously, the forcible repatriation of Japanese colonial settlers from Korea and the stories of their doomed fate in the inverted colonial world resulted in fomenting Japanese hostility and violence toward Koreans in Japan who were now performing “liberation” on Japanese soil.
CHAPTER 2 - Racializing the Postwar Crisis: Democratization and the Remaking of the “Korean Problem” in Japan
Chapter 2 analyzes how “race” was reformulated in Japanese political discourse and became the central signifier for a postwar social crisis in Japan that combined with the crisis of the hegemony of the old regime. By analyzing numerous private letters sent by Japanese people to General Douglas MacArthur, this chapter explores how the Japanese government’s making of the “Korean problem” framed the people’s understanding of their post-defeat hardships. The initial U.S.-led democratization of Japan encouraged the rise and resurgence of Japanese democratic forces and facilitated the crisis of the hegemony of the Japanese “old guard,” who had been the guardians of the Emperor-centered imperial “national polity” and conglomerate(zaibatsu)-dominated capitalist economy. The Japanese old guard government started to racialize the social crisis by associating the presence of the Korean minority in Japan with food scarcity, skyrocketing inflation, and the rampant blackmarket economy. This racialized view of social problems provided Japanese individuals with a meaning with which to interpret their own suffering and hardships in the war-torn country.
Part II: The Cold War Comes to U.S./Allied-Occupied Japan, 1948-1950
CHAPTER 3 - Liberation Betrayed: Zainichi Korean Search for Self-Determination and the Cold War
Chapter 3 demonstrates how the “Korean problem” in Japan became a flashpoint for U.S. global Cold War interventionism and communist containment in East Asia. The question of how to define the legal status of Koreans in Japan became a critical locus of political struggles between zainichi Koreans (Koreans in Japan), the Japanese government, and U.S. policy-makers over the meaning and scope of Korean liberation. Koreans in Japan understood liberation as autonomy from Japanese sovereignty and framed their “liberated people” status as a space for self-determination on Japanese soil. On the other hand, the U.S./Allied Occupation (SCAP) limited their “liberated people” status to the “privilege of repatriation” with the primary objective of reducing the Korean colonial migrant population in Japan as much as possible. U.S. military officials in Korea tried to convince SCAP of the possible significant consequences of treating Koreans in Japan as “liberated people” for occupation policy in Korea, as they found that the SCAP’s “unsympathetic handling” of Koreans in Japan was feeding “anti-American propaganda” in Korea. Moreover, the Japanese government and police denied the Koreans’ “liberated people” status and strove to retain control over the formerly colonized Korean subjects. As the U.S.-Soviet Cold War rivalry developed on the Korean peninsula, U.S. policy-makers in both Washington and Tokyo began to approach Korean social movements in Japan through the lens of Cold War politics. This chapter shows how the joint U.S.-Japanese crackdown on Korean demonstrations protesting the closing of Korean schools in April 1948 epitomized a crucial convergence between the Japanese “postcolonial” problem and the U.S. global Cold War agenda.
CHAPTER 4 - Containing Zainichi Korean Leftists: The “Reverse Course,” Japanese and South Korean Anti-Communist Regimes, and the “Korean Problem” in Japan
Chapter 4 analyzes the transnational linkages of anti-communist politics in South Korea and Japan. This chapter shows that the “Korean problem” in Japan became a locus of possible mutual collaborations and postcolonial frictions between the anti-communist governments in the former metropole and colony. Both the South Korean Syngman Rhee and Japanese Yoshida Shigeru administrations emerged as significant “collaborators” for the U.S. cold war strategy of communist containment in Asia. Their anti-communist politics in South Korea and Japan took shape simultaneously and became intertwined in the practice of containing Korean leftist movements in Japan. However, although both South Korean and Japanese governments shared the common agenda of diminishing the predominance of Korean leftists in Japan, their relations drifted between postcolonial tensions and anti-communist cooperation. This chapter unravels the complexity of the intertwined and contentious political landscape of Japan-South Korea relations, where conflicting postcolonial and Cold War temporalities coexisted side by side.
Part III: The Korean War Comes to U.S./Allied-Occupied Japan, 1950-1952
CHAPTER 5 - Fighting the Korean War in Japan: Revolutionary and Counter-Revolutionary Struggles and Blurred National Boundaries
Chapter 5 demonstrates how the Korean War brought the two separate national entities of Japan and South Korea into the same field of vision and practice in the revolutionary and counter-revolutionary struggles in U.S./Allied-occupied Japan. This chapter also argues that U.S.-Japan-South Korea’s attempts to contain Japanese and zainichi Korean Communist solidarity resulted in undermining the very foundation of the nascent liberal democracy of postwar Japan. Zainichi Korean Communist leaders mobilized massive “antiwar” campaigns to oppose UN (U.S.) military intervention in Korean affairs and tried to sabotage the U.S. remaking of Japan as a rear base for the Korean War. The zainichi Korean Communist leaders also participated in Japanese Communist revolutionary movements, believing that the Communist seizure of power in rear base Japan would be the only way to defeat the ongoing UN military “invasion” of their nation. SCAP and the Japanese government viewed anti-war protests as Moscow-directed international communist offensives and made determined efforts to silence any zainichi Korean and Japanese dissident voices by criminalizing anti-war leaflets and protests as “an act prejudicial to the occupation forces.” In parallel with such criminalization, SCAP, and the Japanese and South Korean governments were also working closely on the possible mass deportation of Korean anti-war radicals to South Korea.