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Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II / Edition 1

Race for Empire: Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II / Edition 1

by Takashi FujitaniTakashi Fujitani
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Race for Empire offers a profound and challenging reinterpretation of nationalism, racism, and wartime mobilization during the Asia-Pacific war. In parallel case studies—of Japanese Americans mobilized to serve in the United States Army and of Koreans recruited or drafted into the Japanese military—T. Fujitani examines the U.S. and Japanese empires as they struggled to manage racialized populations while waging total war. Fujitani probes governmental policies and analyzes representations of these soldiers—on film, in literature, and in archival documents—to reveal how characteristics of racism, nationalism, capitalism, gender politics, and the family changed on both sides. He demonstrates that the United States and Japan became increasingly alike over the course of the war, perhaps most tellingly in their common attempts to disavow racism even as they reproduced it in new ways and forms.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520280212
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 07/20/2013
Series: Asia Pacific Modern , #7
Edition description: First Edition
Pages: 520
Sales rank: 915,037
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.20(d)

About the Author

T. Fujitani is the Dr. David Chu Professor in Asia-Pacific Studies and Professor of History at the University of Toronto. He is the editor of Perilous Memories: The Asia Pacific War(s) and is the author of Splendid Monarchy: Power and Pageantry in Modern Japan (UC Press).

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Race for Empire

Koreans as Japanese and Japanese as Americans during World War II

By T. Fujitani


Copyright © 2011 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-95036-8


Right to Kill, Right to Make Live

Koreans as Japanese

Go get slaughtered and we promise you a long and pleasant life.

MICHEL FOUCAULT, "The Political Technology of Individuals" (1988)


In its official history of thirty years of Japanese rule in Korea, the Government-General of Korea noted that a fundamental transformation in the state 's understanding of "population" had taken place since the beginning of the Sino-Japanese War in 1937. Previously, the population problem had been understood as a matter of an excess—that is, concerned with such issues as the imbalance between a surplus population, on the one hand, and available food and employment on the other. However, because of the wartime need for "human resources" and future demands for "limitless [population] growth," this worry had been totally reversed. "In this way," the history stated, "now the weight of the population problem has shifted from what has been a surplus population problem to its complete opposite, a problem of population deficit."

Although the Government-General's description of the state 's new notion is deceptively simple—we formerly had too many people, and now we do not have enough—this reconceptualization of the Korean people as an object of study and intervention had profound and in some ways ironic repercussions that may be appreciated by first considering what Michel Foucault has called "bio-power" and "governmentality." According to Foucault, a fundamental transformation in the exercise of power over the lives and deaths of populations emerged in the eighteenth century and then took hold in the nineteenth. In an older historical moment, as typified by the rule of a transcendent sovereign, power over life and death had operated primarily through a negativity. The sovereign exercised his power through the right to kill—or, put the other way, by allowing subjects to live. But particularly from the nineteenth century on, this old right came to be complemented by one with exactly the opposite character. In contrast to the negative logic of the right to take life, the new mode of power, which Foucault called bio-power, is exercised by making others live—by a productive or positive logic. This bio-power is a "power that exerts a positive influence on life, that endeavors to administer, optimize and multiply it, subjecting it to precise controls and comprehensive regulations." Thus power comes to be concerned with matters such as mortality rates and the ratio of births to deaths. It targets living human beings, gathers knowledge about them, constitutes the min their aggregate as populations, and then seeks to enhance their health, sanitation, birthrate, longevity, and so on. It makes them live and prosper through such measures as public hygiene, charitable institutions, welfare funds, old age pensions, insurance, urban planning, and more. Population became a political problem and a target of regulation.

Similarly, for Foucault it is precisely the discovery of the population as the ultimate end of government that characterizes what he calls governmentality, or how governing is thought about and how power is exercised in the modern period. Here it is not the rationality of government in and of itself that is of primary importance "but the welfare of the population, the improvement of its condition, the increase of its wealth, longevity, health, etc.; and the means that the government uses to attain these ends are themselves all in some sense immanent to the population; it is the population itself on which government will act either directly or through large-scale campaigns, or indirectly through techniques that will make possible, without the full awareness of the people, the stimulation of birth rates, the directing of the flow of population into certain regions or activities, etc." Under this regime of governmentality, three modes of power—sovereignty (operating primarily through laws and achieving its paradigmatic form in the transcendent king), discipline (as constituted through schools, armies, factories, and so on), and government—operate together to manage and make the population prosper in aggregate.However, within this triangular ensemble of power it is above all "government"—in its broad sense of guiding conduct through a vast and deep assemblage of authorities, technologies, and knowledges and of operating through the mobilization of desires and interests—that becomes preeminent. To further clarify, when Foucault says that "government" operates through positive techniques of the "conduct of conduct," he means that government "consists in guiding the possibility of conduct and putting in order the possible outcome."

But how are these sweeping Foucauldian claims about bio-power and governmentality relevant to analyzing the understanding of population under the Japanese wartime regime? On the one hand, we must recognize that from early on in Japanese rule, the colonial government manifested some concern, albeit with limited scope, to enhance the lives of the colonized population and to discipline them through such means as education and the distribution of medical knowledge and care. In fact, in recent years scholars of colonial Korea have produced excellent work demonstrating how modern understandings of the body, health, medicine, reproduction, and sanitation in Korea were produced and circulated—understandings that could have led to policies designed to nurture and expand the Korean population. More generally, scholars in Korea, Japan, and the Anglophone world have pointed to the "developmental" or, following Foucault, "governmental" or "disciplinary" aspects of Japanese colonial rule in Korea and elsewhere within the Japanese colonial empire. Such interventions have been a welcome addition to the long-dominant view that Japanese colonialism worked only through a modality of power characterized by sheer brutality, repression, exploitation, and negativity.

On the other hand, such measures proceeded fitfully and unevenly, at least until the 1930s. As some skeptics of the concept of colonial modernity have already argued, under Japanese colonialism the great masses of the Korean people were more excluded from than incorporated into those apparatuses and institutions that have been identified with modernity, disciplinization, and government, beginning with schools, factories, hospitals, prisons, and so on. Along these lines we can note that even as late as 1941, one researcher found in his study of some rural villages that "[a]pproximately 42.7 percent of women had given birth on their own without the assistance of midwives[;] ... 31.7 percent of all births were stillbirths, and 35 percent of babies died before age one." The Government-General determined that in 1930, only 1.3 midwives were available to serve every 10,000 Korean women, while the comparable figure for women in the Japanese metropole was 18.7.9 Similarly, a 1926 directory of physicians practicing in Korea lists just 1,212, of whom a mere 40 specialized in gynecology. Moreover, researchers have long noted the GGK's only half-hearted attempts to establish a variety of social and welfare services for Koreans during the colonial period. The education of the Korean people as Japanese national subjects was at such a low level that in 1936, only about 8 percent of the total population had any competence in the Japanese language; not until 1938 did the GGK announce a plan to begin universal elementary school education for Koreans (in 1946).

Furthermore, while prior to the 1930s there had been surveys of the Korean people and their customs, reports on laborers, examinations of limited numbers of Korean bodies, and so on, even as late as the final years of the war the colonial government still found itself scrambling to put Korean household registers in order. In other words, the colonial state had not established one of the first foundations for constituting the population into the foremost object of government—namely, a technology to account for it, to know it. The state could not even determine the precise number and whereabouts of Korean people living in the colony, let alone in Manchuria, metropolitan Japan, China, and elsewhere.

Such facts and figures, and many more that could be cited here, indicate that while there may have been some ambiguity about whether the Korean people were understood as a population worthy of education, life, health, reproduction, and happiness, for most of the colonial period the great masses of the Korean people were more outside than inside the regime of governmentality and bio-power. Or, put differently, they were included in the sense of being largely placed in the zone of exclusion. In practice, power was still exercised primarily in its negativity—by the power to take life and by a strategy of limiting or suppressing the activities of those deemed dangerous, such as communists and ethnic nationalists. Through most of the colonial period, Japanese colonialism operated primarily through the racialized exclusionary logic of colonial difference; at best, it allowed what might be called "zones of indifference" or "undecidability," in which Koreans might be allowed to languish, starve, or even die—or, conversely, through which a few might pass into the inside. Here it is also important to keep in mind that, as Foucault explains, "killing" does not "mean simply murder as such, but also every form of indirect murder: the fact of exposing someone to death, increasing the risk of death for some people, or, quite simply, political death, expulsion, rejection, and so on": in other words, acts deducting from life.

With regard to these "zones of indifference" or "undecidability," my point is that ambivalence about the necessity of nurturing a native educated elite and a reliable pool of laborers led to uneven and limited incorporations of specifically targeted segments and individuals within the Korean population into the apparatuses and institutions associated with modern governmentality. But the Korean people as a whole was not constituted as a "population" in the Foucauldian sense—that is, as an entire population whose individual and aggregated lives could be considered objects of positive intervention and regulation.

However, once the logic of total war transformed the population problem into one of lack, the policies 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, birthrate, longevity, education, and general well-being. I do not mean to suggest that the efforts to enhance the lives of Koreans made by the colonial authorities equaled the measures taken for the metropolitan Japanese population. And of course various social services offered them, including medical care, were on the whole far inferior to those available in the metropole. Nor did this transformation result in the disappearance of sheer power in its negativity—that is, the right to take life, as exercised directly by the emperor's officials, the police, and laws.

Nevertheless, what we can perceive in an abundance of official documents and policies of the period, especially from 1937 on, is a new commitment to improve the health, education, and welfare of the Korean people. Whether the intentions of colonial administrators and others serving in unofficial organizations supporting the state were noble or sincere does not concern me here. For now, it is enough to note that they acted as if their charge was to work harder to nurture the lives of the Korean people and that when they noted improvements in indices measuring the health, wealth, and happiness of the Korean people, they argued for the necessity of doing more.

And what about the matter of racism or discrimination? Foucault is again suggestive. Under the bio-political regime, racism—understood both narrowly and most broadly as discrimination against all those considered inferior in a normalizing society—operates in the determination of who must live and who must die. It creates caesuras as it fragments the biological field of the human to identify threats to the population, whether internal or external. It distinguishes between those who will foster the life and welfare of the population, and therefore must be made to live, and those who hinder the life and welfare of the population and must be made to die. It necessitates the killing or expulsion of those considered threats so that the population can thrive. In the face of war, a determination had to be made about how to locate Koreans in relation to the Japanese metropolitan population. Were they to be considered a threatening Other that had to be kept apart from the metropolitan core of the Japanese population, treated like slaves and exposed to death, or even exterminated in the manner of the Nazi Holocaust? Or were Koreans to be reconstituted as a subpopulation worthy of being made to live because they could help foster the life and welfare of the metropolitan Japanese population?

There was no absolute resolution of this problem, but as the population shortage in Japan and its colonies came to be felt with increasing acuity through the war years, the ruling elite accelerated the demand that Koreans be made to live and prosper as a part of the Japanese population. The war years, in other words, were a transitional moment in the passage of Koreans from the outside to the inside of the "Japanese" population, a shift managed by the logics and technologies of bio-power and governmentality. Hence as the war progressed it became increasingly imperative to disavow racist feelings toward Koreans. And paralleling this passage from the outside to the inside we find a transformation in the type of racist discrimination against Koreans—that is, a movement from an unabashed and exclusionary "vulgar racism" to a new type of inclusionary and "polite racism" that denied itself to be racist even as it operated as such.


The military provides a particularly compelling site from which to witness this passage, since the more the Japanese empire came to depend on the Korean population for soldiers and sailors, the more difficult it became to exclude them from the nation—in both the conventional meaning of a political community and in Foucault's bio-political sense of a population. According to a late November 1937 Korean Army document signed by its chief of staff, KunO Seiichi, the Korean Army had carefully considered the question of Korean participation in the military since at least 1932. Yoshida Toshiguma, who was at one time head of conscription for the Korean Army, also indicated in his insider's history of Koreans in the Japanese military that in April 1937 Kawagishi BunzaburO, commander of the Twentieth Division (under the Korean Army), communicated his views on the matter to Koiso Kuniaki, commander of the Korean Army (later governor-general of Korea and then prime minister). According to Kawagishi, conferral of the military obligation upon Koreans could contribute to their formation into good "imperial subjects." This statement was followed in May of the same year by an informal inquiry from the War Ministry's Military Preparations Section (choboka). Then, in June 1937, the central authorities asked the Korean Army to draft an opinion on this matter and it did so the following month, recommending that Koreans be allowed to volunteer on a trial basis. The Government-General (headed by Minami Jiro) also enthusiastically supported the volunteer system, because it believed that such a move would facilitate its administration of the colony. Thus, according to these sources, serious consideration of Korean military service had begun shortly after the massive invasion of Manchuria in September 1931 (the "Manchurian Incident" or the beginning of what historians sometimes call the "Fifteen-Year War"). However, actual establishment of the volunteer system had been sparked by an inquiry from the War Ministry just before the 7 July 1937 escalation of all-out war with China (the "China Incident"), and concrete policy had been formulated around that time through communications among the Korean Army, the War Ministry, and the Government-General.

According to Yoshida, even after July 1937 War Ministry officials still overwhelmingly believed that the recruitment of Koreans was premature. However, considerable efforts on the part of the Korean Army's high officers and the Government-General alleviated their fears. For example, Commander Koiso sent officers on his staff to Tokyo on multiple occasions to report on the Korean situation and invited War Ministry officials to visit Korea to observe the actual conditions of various social classes. By Yoshida's account, Pak Yong-ch'ol—a wealthy Korean businessman and the honorary consul-general of Manchuria, who had graduated from the Japanese Military Academy and served in the Japanese Imperial Guard Cavalry—was recruited as local guide for at least one War Ministry official.


Excerpted from Race for Empire by T. Fujitani. Copyright © 2011 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Preface and Acknowledgments

Note on Romanization and Naming

Commonly Used Acronyms

Introduction: Ethnic and Colonial Soldiers and the Politics of Disavowal

Part One: From Vulgar to Polite Racism

1. Right to Kill, Right to Make Live: Koreans as Japanese

2. “Very Useful and Very Dangerous”: The Global Politics of Life, Death, and Race

Part Two: Japanese as Americans

3. Subject to Choice, Labyrinth of (Un)freedom

4. Reasoning, Counterreasonings, and Counter-conduct

5. Go for Broke, the Movie: The Transwar Making of American Heroes

Part Three: Koreans as Japanese

6. National Mobilization

7. Nation, Blood, and Self-Determination

8. The Colonial and National Politics of Gender, Sex, and Family

Epilogue: “Four Volunteer Soldiers”


Selected Bibliography


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