Friday, October 5, 2012

Dokdo, Senkaku, Ieodo, Kuril,... Hashima?

Some day, Hasbro will make a fortune by releasing a Far East Islands Edition of its popular Risk board game. That would require anamorphic maps where islets no bigger than shrimp farts would outsize mainland China, so that each player could place all his armies and nuclear warheads.

Impossible to list all the hotspots, but they must involve at least two nations. To name some of the biggest stars
- Dokdo (Korean, claimed by Japan)*
- Senkaku (claimed by Japan and China)**
- Ieodo (claimed by Korea and China)***
- Kuril (claimed by Russia and Japan)
- Taiwan (claimed by China and... Taiwan)
- Gushiddink-do (claimed by the Netherlands and Korea... Gus kiddin'. Well barely, actually)
- ...

No one has lived on Hashima since the mid seventies, but no one contests the fact that this speck belongs to Japan. It's just that Korea has something to say about its submission to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.

"Do you remember?"
A poster similar to this ad
(published in the NYT last may) has just
been installed on Times Square. Koreans
ask Japanese politicians to officially
apologise, like Chancelor Willy Brandt
did when he knelt in front of the Warsaw
memorial for victims of the Holocaust
Hashima is truly an amazing and spectacular site. Mitsubishi used to own this island very rich in coal: the company built industrial facilities and dwellings over the mine, closed them in 1974, and eventually ceded everything to Nagasaki Prefecture ten years ago. I remember a beautifully scary documentary, a long time ago, about this islet fully covered with abandoned concrete structures on the verge of collapse.

On Thursday****, the Korean government announced that it refused to see Hashima join the UNESCO list in 2015, because that's a place where 800 Koreans were forced into dangerous and inhumane labor, sometimes tortured, or killed. It happened during WWII, and the lucky ones who survived the ordeal were sent to Nagasaki to help clean the mess after the nuclear bombing, adding radiation to insult and injury.

The claim is not new, but new research has been delivered by a governmental agency created in 2005, the Commission on Verification and Support for Victims of Forced Mobilization under Japanese Colonialism, which already revealed last summer that, of the 7.8 million Koreans mobilized under Japanese rule (1910-1945), over 226,000 have been registered as victims.

Lately, Korean authorities have been toying with Godwin's law, and the parallel between atrocities committed across Asia under Imperial Japanese rule, and the Holocaust perpetrated by their Nazi friends in Germany. Like that "Do you remember?" campaign in the US demanding official apologies for sex slavery / "Comfort Women". In the same vein, a UNESCO listing of Hashima as a simple "industrial site" would be equivalent to the listing of Auschwitz-Birkenau under the same category.

Outrageous? Yes, because the Shoah cannot be commoditized. But certainly less outrageous than the parallel between the victims of WWII bombings in Okinawa and the victims of the Pol Pot regime*****.

And certainly less outrageous than the revisionism institutionalized within Japan's political system. Again, Japan's failure to address its duty to remember lies at the root of too many problems. And again, the longer the task is postponed, the higher the risks of fueling anger across the region (particularly since that's the very aim of the game).

I suggest Hashima be listed only if it's with a clear and full mention of all sides of the coin. Visitors should not come out marvelling about the engineering wonder, but thinking about how deep humans can dig themselves into.

I'm not sure Mistubishi will support the motion.


Seoul Village 2012
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* see all posts related to Dokdo,
** see the recent focus "Japan politics? No to Comfort women, yes to Political whoring"
*** see "Ieodo: I smell a fish" and other posts related to Ieodo
****  see Korean press, including "Hashima ― forgotten island of tragedy" (Korea Herald 20121004)
** see "Ad Nauseam: about Dark Tourism, the Blind Spots of Memory, and Free Thrashing Agreements"

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UPDATE - typo title

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