[KS] Collaboration

Gari Keith Ledyard gkl1 at columbia.edu
Wed Feb 3 19:02:12 EST 1999

Dear List,
	Good discussion going.  Another item for the English biblio list
is of course Bruce Cumings's <The Origins of the Korean War>, especially
Volume I with its splendid introductory chapter on the colonial back-
ground, then his wide-ranging exploration of the domestic politics of the
years 1945-1947.  But there is also a very worthwhile note addressed to
the collaboration issue in Volume II, pp. 234-236.

	I find myself sharing some of the misgivings of those who have
questioned Jacqueline Pak's formulation of collaboration as a form of
victimization.  Her explanation in the more recent message is sensible
enough, and I can see her argument.  But the whole concept of
collaborator-as-victim risks the very reductionism that she rightly
deplores.  And whether Yi Kwangsu is a legitimate case of such a profile
is a question that probably needs more research.  It was one thing that he
capitulated to Japanese pressures; many did.  I think the first attitude
that a historian must have toward such people is sympathy and a
willingness to give them the benefit of the doubt.  But giving speeches,
and giving them repeatedly, to Korean young men, urging them to join the
Japanese army or support the war effort, suggests more cooperation than Yi
Kwangsu might really have had to give.  And this is why more research is
needed.  I suspect this would apply to all who might fit Jacqueline's
paradigm.  In Yi Kwangsu's case his tragic end in wartime as an exile in
North Korea complicates the argument, because even there people will argue
whether he went with the North Koreans voluntarily or whether he was
"abducted to the north" (nappuk).  In either dimension we will probably
never get to the bottom of things, and I have always felt it more valid
and productive to emephasize his great role as a modern nationalist and a
literary pioneer.  Whether he was guilty or not has nothing to do with the
positive light in which I see his earlier writing and public activities.
	But beyond Yi's individual circumstances, the bigger issue is the
danger of exculpation of too many blatant collaborators by applying the
label of "victim" to them.  
	It is notoriously difficult to even define collaboration in the
colonial context of Japanese and Korean interrelations.  In the popular
discourse, Koreans even lack an objective term for "collaboration."
Everyone talks about "ch'inil" (or, more conspiratorially, "ch'inilp'a"),
which literally means "close to, or intimate with, Japan."  Even on that
immediate-case standard, perceptions of what constitutes that quality of
"ch'in" vary enormously.  For some, a family who sent their child to a
public school could even be seen as collaborationist.  A fortiori someone
who went to Japan for a higher education.  Yet tens and hundreds and
thousands of people did such things with no other thought in mind than of
getting ahead and improving their lives.  Everyday acts, such as opening a
bank or postal savings account or sending a telegram, usually required
dealing in the Japanese language or, from 1939 on, having a Japanese name. 
In thousands of situations people submitted to "going along" in order to
avoid humiliation or even physical consequences.  To see this as a
strategy for survival is much more germane to the actual colonial
experience than raising the issue of qualifications for victimhood.  And
to link such cases indiscriminately with some of the more blatant cases of
businessmen actively cooperating with the Japanese authorities in order to
get loans so that they could profit by manufacturing war materiel does not
advance, in my opinion, the understanding of modern Korean history. 
Victimhood links too many and too much.  It exculpates those who suffered
nothing, while tagging those who had nothing on their mind but getting
through the day with a banal lable that hides rather than elucidates their

Gari Ledyard
Columbia University in the City of New York



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