The Other Topic (Recruitment of Korean soldiers in 1938)

I have another paper topic to figure out soon for a class on comparative history of colonial rule in the twentieth century. I got numerous ideas just by reading the two primary sources listed in my previous posting, but I needed to find something comparable to other colonial cases, related to my interest in ‘youth’ and Kominka, and manageable as a short-term research project.

I first started to look at the struggle between socialist youth mobilization vs Japan’s imperial mobilization in Tokyo and Seoul, and then shifted to the role of Korean students studying in Japan. However, both require extensive research and there are a lot written on these issues in Korean. I probably won’t have time to read them before May. Another issue that I should look into at some point and popped up frequently in 高等外事月報 was the issue of 志願兵制度(volunteer soldier system) which was implemented in 1938. 

The reason why it looked interesting is that some local Korean politicians and Korean students demanded the implementation of 徴兵制 (military conscription) in Korea as one of three obligations as Japanese citizens (the other two were education and tax). I first thought it was odd that Koreans demanded military conscription. 高等外事月報 also regards their demands as 要注意(attention-required) remarks. So I got a hypothesis that by serving three obligations as Japanese citizens, these Koreans tried to attain ‘rights’ as Japanese citizens, e.g. political suffrage and local autonomy.(But my focus will shift later).

In thinking about the logic and consequence of the volunteer soldier system, there are many fragments of facts that need to be interpreted in a coherent way. Here are some of them: 

  • One is the demand by Koreans (labeled as “pro-Japanese” today) for the conscription in Korea. I read monthly 特高月報 and 特高外事月報 (both by the Japanese police on Japan’s domestic situation) reports between 1936-1938, especially the section on 朝鮮人運動の状況 (the situation of Koreans’ movements in Japan). Here as well, Koreans in Japan demanded the conscription system in Korea and celebrated it around Japan when the volunteer soldier system was implemented.
  • In the 流言蜚語 (rumors) section of 高等外事月報 at the same time, the Japanese police arrested a number of Koreans who commented “it is a stupid idea to volunteer as soldiers and fight for Japan” in Korea.
  • There were three~hundred times as many farmer peasants who applied to the volunteer soldier system as the number of spots available, and the number of applicants increased over years.
  • 朝鮮軍 was disappointed by the fact that “Koreans don’t understand the purpose of this policy.” (maybe because there were only peasants applying?)

There will be more facts that I need to consider but I turned to secondary sources to see how historians make sense of them. As a starter I read 宮田節子「朝鮮民衆と皇民化政策」and Brandon Palmer’s dissertation “Japan’s mobilization of Koreans for war, 1937-1945.” They are helpful in bringing information together, but I think they are a bit teleological in interpreting the intention of the Japanese authority. I’ll write about the historiographical problem next time.

Category(s): History, Japan, Korea, Military

2 Responses to The Other Topic (Recruitment of Korean soldiers in 1938)

  1. Great topic. I know that on the Taiwanese side there was definitely a feeling among the “pro-Japanese” that adding military service to the obligations of education and tax would help make them more “legitimate” Japanese citizens. There is a well-known short story written by 周金波 whose title is in fact, “志願兵.” I haven’t yet read it myself, but it was often criticized as being “collaborationist” literature.

  2. Oh good. I should read that, too. I’m facing the typical problem for historians in distinguishing what people believed in from the propaganda/rhetorical exchange.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *