In the spring of 1981, I was assigned to help bury the bodies of prisoners who had perished during the previous winter, when the frost-hardened earth had made timely interment difficult. As with any detail, the work was carried out after school; but since it was considered somewhat unusual, we were rewarded with a few noodles to supplement our ration of corn. This would have sufficed to make interring bodies a desirable detail, but the work offered another very practical advantage. The burial team could strip the corpse of its last remaining clothes and either reuse them or barter them for other essentials. But the fringe benefits came at a price. Since Korean tradition requires that people be buried on a height, we had to carry the bodies up a mountain or to the top of a hill. We naturally preferred the hills at the center of the camp to the steep mountain slopes near Yodok’s perimeter. Their proximity allowed us to follow tradition without traversing tens of kilometers. But the neighboring hills eventually became overcrowded with corpses, and one day the authorities announced we would no longer be allowed to bury our dead there.
We thought the order had been given for health reasons, but we soon found out how wrong we were. I was walking back to the village with my team one evening after a day of gathering herbs up in the mountains, when we were overtaken by a terrible stench. As we walked on, the odor grew stronger and stronger until we finally came upon the cause. There were the guards, bulldozing the top of the hill where we’d buried so many of our dead. They actually dared to set upon corpses! They didn’t even fear disturbing the souls of the dead. An act of sacrilege held no weight for them compared to the possibility of growing a little more corn. As the machines tore up the soil, scraps of human flesh reemerged from the final resting place; arms and legs and feet, some still stockinged, rolled in waves before the bulldozer. I was terrified. One of my friends vomited. Then we ran away, our noses tucked in our sleeves, trying to avoid the ghastly scent of flesh and putrefaction. The guards then hollowed out a ditch and ordered a few detainees to toss in all the corpses and body parts that were visible on the surface. Three or four days later the freshly plowed field lay ready for a new crop of corn. I knew several people from my village who were assigned to plant and weed it. Apparently, it was horrific work. Since only the larger remains had been disposed of during the initial cleanup, the field-workers were constantly coming upon various body parts. Oddly enough, the corn grew well on the plot for several years running.
Monthly Archives: October 2005
One of the most affecting aspects of the Jewish experience in Inquisition-era Spain was how many Jews professed to have adopted Christianity but in secret maintained the rites of Judaism. Ann Althouse has a terrific post on a 21st-century tangent of this story: Some present-day Latino residents in the United States are discovering that, despite their Catholic heritage, they are the descendants of those Iberian Jews. The comments at Ann’s site are quite interesting, too.
One of Ann’s commenters notes that the hidden infidels who fled the Spanish Inquisition to the New World after 1492 were just as likely to have been Muslim as Jewish.
August 9, 1945, Thursday
This morning Nobukazu went off to Gôra and returned in the evening. When he finished dinner, he had to leave again–this time to board a nine o’clock train to Karuizawa, his school’s evacuation site. And so after he finished dinner, he left the house. It was about seven.
The same sort of strange bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima three days ago was dropped on Nagasaki today, and it was wiped out. This bomb possesses extraordinary power. Photographs showed that Chinese ideographs written in black on signs at train stations had burned, and it was explained that white things wouldn’t burn. Up to now, we’ve been ordered not to wear white garments, not even when it was hot, because they were easy for enemy planes to see. Now we’re warned not to wear black garments because they burn easily.
So what in the world is safe for us to wear? We don’t know anymore. The thought of a single aircraft destroying a large city in an instant is driving us to nervous breakdowns, and I feel as though we have no choice but to die or go crazy. I can’t help but hate those responsible for placing human beings in this situation and continuing the war. At this point, continuing the war will save neither us nor our country. When one comes to this point and when those responsible realize that they have no escape and contemplate the punishments they will surely receive, I believe they will continue the war because they simply don’t know whether or not fighting until the last Japanese falls is a good idea. In this country, where human morality is based on the relationship between masters and followers, we submit to our leaders’ will and simply do as we are told. Because ours is a country in which each person lacks any kind of individuality and because our citizenry doesn’t realize that they themselves have the power to revere their own individuality, we have fought this unprofitable war right up to the present, muttering all the while, “We will win, we will win.” At the very start of the war, Japanese declared in unison, “Today we take pride in our good fortune to be born a Japanese.” I myself could only lament “my misfortune at being born a Japanese today.”
If Japanese had not been cursed by this sort of feudalistic thinking, I believe we could have expected our country to have ended the war sooner than Germany or Italy did. At the beginning of the war, I predicted that we would lose in the way that we have and worried about it. My arguing that we should have stopped the war at Singapore was an earnest and heartfelt plea. Those of us who thought this way were called traitors; our beliefs were regarded as unthinkable; and we were seen as potential spies. I blamed this on the ignorance fostered by feudalistic thinking. No matter what, I can’t accept the fact that my own life has been taken from me for the sake of the lawless promoters of this feudalistic way of thinking, and I am not happy about it.
The diarist, Takahashi Aiko, was born in Tokyo in 1894, but her family immigrated to the United States in 1916 or 1917. There she met Takahashi Shôta, a physician practicing in Little Tokyo in Los Angeles. They married in 1922 and had two children, Nobukazu and Emii. In 1932, the family returned to Tokyo, where Dr. Takahashi opened a practice. During the war they lived in Hiroo, “a fashionable area in central Tokyo not far from Sacred Heart Girls High School, where their daughter was a student. Takahashi and her husband may have chosen Sacred Heart because they were Christians” (p. 161).
UPDATE: The Marmot and Coming Anarchy have long and relatively well-informed comment threads about questions of effectiveness and war-criminality with regard to both fire bombing, atomic bombing, and other attempts to win the war as well as end it.
My uncle was the [Yodok camp] distillery’s technical chief for seven years. No one had ever held the position for that long, and only the handful of detainees who worked in the guards’ office or in the bachelors’ kitchen ever enjoyed as many privileges. To land such a job, a prisoner needed to win the protection of a guard, which is what my uncle somehow managed to do. His ascent had begun with the unpleasant surprise of being called on to serve as an informant. My uncle was not overjoyed at the prospect but was afraid to refuse. He also knew that if his reports were sufficiently useless, he would be cut loose from the duty in no time anyway. As it turned out, my uncle’s reports were not bad, though, just innocuous. This avocation earned him a few packs of cigarettes and some extra food, but more importantly it gave him the chance to befriend a guard, whose good word later helped him get the job in the distillery. My uncle’s degrees in biochemistry, which gave him a competence in matters of distillation, no doubt also influenced the authorities’ decision. After becoming lord of the alcohol bottles, my uncle wielded enormous power and prestige in the camp, though his position was mined with countless dangers and intrigues. Security agents were always dropping by to ask for a bottle on the sly, which left my uncle with a very dubious choice. If he refused their request, the agents had no shortage of ways to exact their revenge; if he relented, he could run into serious trouble during the next production audit.
His work also came under the daily supervision of a security agent who was assigned to the distillery, a man not likely to forgive irregularities. My uncle had to play it slick, fulfilling his substantial clandestine distribution while making everything appear on the up and up. Pressured by a number of different guards–some of whom were rivals–my uncle had plenty to keep him up at night. One day he was called before a camp official who wanted him to admit he’d given alcohol to a colleague who ran the distillery. My uncle firmly denied the charges, guessing correctly that the interrogation stood on little but rumors and suspicions. The official wasn’t so easily put off, however, and at one point he suggested the sweatbox might help stir my uncle’s memory. The thought was almost enough to make him confess, except that a confession would land him in the sweatbox all the faster–and as a confirmed criminal, rather than a mere suspect. Moreover, the guards compromised by his confession would become his sworn enemies and make him pay for their troubles. He would also risk a transfer to Senghori or to one of the other camps of no return. So he kept his mouth shut. Toward 3:00 a.m., the tone of the interrogation changed. The official suddenly stood up, perfectly calm, and led him out of the office. Outside, he turned to my uncle and said, “Your silence is appreciated. Keep it up!”
Yodok and the hard-labor camps did have several points in common, the first of these being the snitches. During the first days and weeks of our detention, my father and uncle felt most oppressed by the physical demands of forced labor and the looming threat of punishment. The slightest wrong move, it seemed, could mean extra work or a stint of solitary confinement in a sweatbox. This fear, they soon realized, was the consequence of the network of snitches that pervaded the camp. The informants were at every turn. There was no one to confide in, no way to tell who was who. The veteran prisoners sometimes laughed at my father and uncle because of all the naive questions they asked, which only made them more depressed. The only advice their fellow prisoners could offer was to have patience: they would learn to pick out the snitches soon enough. Until then, they would do well to keep their thoughts to themselves. The camp’s common wisdom turned out to be true. Within a few months, we all developed a sixth sense–a snitch radar, if you will–that told us who could be trusted and who could not. Yet a snitch is not necessarily a bad guy. The prisoner is usually picked for the job without being asked his or her opinion, and, in most cases, the honor is not one for which he or she is proud.
My impression, during my year in Ceausescu’s Romania (as a privileged foreigner, not a prisoner!) was that many of the Romanians who befriended us, and thus had to report periodically on our activities, were among the more interesting and entertaining of our small circle of local acquaintances there. The building manager who lived just across the hall from our apartment, however, was a complete sleazeball. I went out of my way not to ruffle his feathers.
Bobby Valentine, manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines (and nicely profiled by Japundit), sounds just a bit pumped up after seeing his team take the Japan Series in 4 straight games, outscoring the Hanshin Tigers by 33 to 4. The Asahi Shimbun reports his challenge to both Japanese and North American pro baseball.
NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Prefecture–Bobby Valentine is nothing if not ambitious.
The 55-year-old manager of the Chiba Lotte Marines issued a challenge Wednesday to the winner of the World Series: “Let’s do battle in a real World Series.”
Valentine, who on Wednesday became the first foreigner to manage a team to a Japan Series title, says the level of play in Japan has risen to that in North America and the time has come for a best-of-seven series between the Japanese champions and the World Series champions….
The Marines swept the Tigers in four games to claim their first championship in 31 years. Valentine says his club has what it takes to compete against either of this year’s World Series combatants, the Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros.
“(Lotte) is as good a team as I’ve ever managed,” Valentine said. “I don’t like to rate the teams I’ve managed, but it compares very favorably to the teams playing in the World Series.
“The White Sox have a little more power than us, but so did Softbank [Hawks] and so did Seibu [Lions],” he added, referring to the two teams the Marines beat in the Pacific League playoffs.
“The only reason I am saying this is because I am the only person to have managed in both the World Series and the Japan Series,” Valentine said. “I’ve watched our guys all year and I’ve watched the two teams in the World Series on TV and the level is equal. The competition would be great, it’s time to do battle.”
The Japan Times adds more player reaction.
Valentine’s players also think a champion-versus-champion showdown would be beneficial.
“I would like to play against the major league champions,” said Lotte pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi, the winning pitcher in Game 3 of the Japan Series. “The (Chicago) White Sox have home-run hitters with (Paul) Konerko and (Joe) Crede. Some matchups would be more problematic,” Kobayashi admitted.
Former Fukuoka Daiei Hawks star Tadahito Iguchi, now with the White Sox, would worry Kobayashi more than anyone, he said.
“He hit me pretty good,” Kobayashi said. “I faced him enough.”
According to Lotte outfielder Benny Agbayani, who played for Valentine’s New York Mets in the 2000 World Series, the biggest winners if such a series were to take place would be the fans.
Jack Gallagher reports in the Japan Times on the quick demise of the once-brash upstart Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. (I prefer to call them the Igloos, which sounds much the same in Japanese.)
Last fall, the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles emerged on the Japanese pro baseball scene as the first expansion team in 50 years and optimism abounded that a new era in the game had dawned.
The Eagles hired the first non-Japanese general manager ever in American Marty Kuehnert, then brought rookie manager Yasushi Tao out of the television booth to lead the team.
They marketed the club like it had never been done before here.
The term “fan service” was actually brought into the lexicon and seemed certain to have an impact on how pro baseball teams in Japan treated their supporters.
These moves were definitely not out of the traditional Japan pro baseball textbook and had the establishment feeling a bit uncomfortable, to say the least.
Eagles owner Hiroshi Mikitani seemed to be the face of the future. A 38-year-old business magnate who was determined to drag the game into the 21st century.
But, lo and behold, a funny thing happened on the way to changing history.
The more time passed, the more the Eagles began to look like the other 11 franchises in Nippon Pro Baseball….
[T]he team did not enjoy the benefit of an expansion draft — where they could choose players from the existing NPB teams — like new franchises do in Major League Baseball.
No, the Eagles were constructed almost entirely from the leftovers of the merger between the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes and the Orix BlueWave.
The only two true stars the team had were ace pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma and outfielder Koichi Isobe, who refused to play for the Orix Buffaloes — the team created by the merger.
The results were predictable.
The Eagles finished their inaugural season with a record of 38-97-1, the worst mark in the NPB in 40 years.
Read the whole sorry story, if you have any interest in Japanese baseball.
UPDATE: And here’s another sad story by Gallagher about the nasty treatment of foreigners by Japan’s sports media.
The website of the Royal New Zealand Artillery Old Comrades Association contains a lot of military memoirs from the days when New Zealand had more of a military than it does now. Here’s a tale recorded in April 2001 by former Captain John Masters MC from his days on the border of Malaysia and Indonesia.
It was 1965 in the jungles of Borneo. In the tropical rain forest we lived in a constant sauna. The temperature was the same at 2 in the morning as it was at 2 in the afternoon.
As a young subaltern, my first independent command on active service was small, but we were certain we were elite. Well, after all, we were Royal Horse Artillery.
My single gun crew were all Glaswegians. The Sergeant was a big taciturn Kentishman. I had a battery surveyor, a signaller and a gleaming, well-oiled 105mm howitzer which we made no effort to camouflage. We fired it regularly in support of C Coy, 3 RAR with whom we co-habitated on a little ridge a few feet above the mangrove swamp, and we believed in advertising our presence. Thus we spent three months, never more than fifty miles from the Equator, and never more than fifty feet above sea level.
After seven weeks of this untroubled existence (stress-free because we were forty miles across untracked virgin forest from Battery HQ, and the BSM) we were to be visited in our base by the Director Royal Artillery. He was a wonderful old fellow out from London to visit the only Regiment in the British Army, which was on active service that year. We assembled in our immaculate gun-pit, stripped to the waist and in our Hats, floppy, but with polished brass and our boots gleaming.
My last briefing to the troops, as the General’s helicopter landed, was to tell them to speak when spoken to. “Don’t hesitate to say what you think if he asks you a question.” I was well aware, of course, that Sergeant Smithers had already threatened dire things if anybody moved a muscle.
The dear old chap was overweight and drenched with sweat, but he carefully inspected us all, had a word to each, and then stood us at ease. He then asked if there was anything he could do for us.
Gunner Wilson, the layer, was from the Gorbals. Even after many weeks he was still blue-white in colour. Somewhat flat-chested and with a rather prominent adams apple, he did not look too capable of much initiative in such circumstances. He was however, as I was well aware, the Regimental featherweight champion. I had seen him very effectively deal with a well-muscled Australian who took him at face value, in two rounds.
Well, Gunner Wilson immediately snapped to attention, cleared his throat, and, looking fixedly into the middle distance, belted out, “Sir, when our beer comes in it is too hot.” Sgt. Smithers seemed to lose two inches in height, his jaw muscles slackened into rictus, and his eyes rolled to heaven.
The DRA blanched, but only slightly. He wasn’t a General for nothing. He knew he could do nothing for Gunner Wilson, but, with only the barest pause, he came up with a response none of us ever forgot. Reaching back to his subaltern days on the Indian sub-continent, he said, “Well, I remember, when we had that problem we would hang the bottles in the trees, and the breeze would blow, and cool our beer.”
There was a frisson that rippled through the little group in the gun-pit. An eyelid flickered, a face muscle twitched, but they were British, by God. Unlike any bunch of Kiwis who would have fallen about laughing, they held themselves erect until the General’s helicopter lifted off. Then they fell about.
For the rest of our tour, the answer to any question, or the reaction to any complaint was “Just hang it in the trees, and the breeze will blow, and the beer will be cool.” I loved the Brits.
via Japundit, by a very circuitous route
Fraser Weir’s A Centennial History of Philippine Independence, 1898-1998 gives an account of Islam’s arrival in coastal Southeast Asia in the 14th and 15th century, closely followed by the arrival of the first Portuguese and Spanish Christians.
Regular coastal trade in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea linking Mesopotamia and the Indus valley dates from at least the time of the Assyrian Empire (729-612 BC). Arab and Persian merchants are reported in the southern Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton) in the 8th century AD. However, after Mahmud of Ghazni’s invasions of the Indus valley (997-1030), the Sword of Islam added a vigorous religious and political dimension to the commerce.
On his return to Venice from the court of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo noted in 1292 that Pasai in northern Sumatra had converted to Islam. The Sultan of Pasai, the first Muslim ruler on Sumatra, died in 1297 and Pasai returned under Majapahit’s Hindu ambit in 1350. Despite this reverse, Islam was moving steadily through the archipelago.
Islamic inscriptions in Malaya date from 1326. A Muslim scholar, Mukdum, from Malaya is reported in the Philippine’s Sulu archipelago in 1380. In 1400, the northern Sumatran province of Aceh converted to Islam.
When Majapahit captured the Sri Vijayan capital Palembang in 1377, a prince of the royal house, Parameshwara, escaped to Malaya. In 1402 he chose the choke point where the Straits of Malacca narrow to 53 km in width to found his new capital, Melaka. Parameshwara moved quickly to protect his fledgling state. He sent a mission to the Emperor Zhu Di (Yong Li) seeking Ming protection from his Majapahit enemies. Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) arrived at Melaka in 1409 with the Ming’s Dragon Fleet. Parameshwara paid a personal visit to Beijing in 1411 to cement his alliance with the Ming Empire.
In the same year as a Muslim mission was attracting converts far to the east on Ambon in the Moluccas, Parameshwara announced his conversion to Islam in 1414 and proclaimed himself Sultan of Malacca. The appeal of Islam was strong. The Sultanate’s arch rival, Majapahit converted in 1447. Hindus who wanted to retain their faith were under siege. From mid-century on, Javanese Hindus concentrated on the island of Bali where they have succeeded in preserving their religion to the present day. In 1475 the Moluccan islands of Ternate and Tidore converted to Islam.
Through the 15th century the upstart Sultanate of Malacca grew from strength to strength. It successfully repelled overland and seaborne attacks from the Thai Empire in 1445 and 1456. The Sultan Mansur Shah put down the Thai’s peninsular allies Kedah and Pahang in 1459. Finally in 1498, by the efforts of its Admiral Hang Tuah, Malacca had secured the monopoly. All the trade in the Straits, and especially the spices from the Celebes and the Moluccas, moved under its protection and through its markets.
Considering that in over a thousand years, Buddhism and Hinduism had barely made an impression east of Borneo, for Islam to have travelled the length of the archipelago from Sumatra to the Moluccas in under two centuries is remarkable. As a religion, Islam had popular appeal. The Hindu and Buddhist religions had been used mainly to deify the rule of the Rajas. Islam offered its converts a personal salvation.
Islam was also carried with the mobility of the merchant community. The landed Hindu-Buddhist Rajas were content to let the trade come to them and tax it as it passed through their ports. Lacking a fixed land base, the Islamic merchants followed their commercial instincts knowing that the best profits on the trade were to be made at source. The trail of conversions led straight to the spices.
Perhaps most important of all, Islam brought with it gunpowder, firearms and cannon. Recalling how smartly the Sultan of Malacca accepted the new faith and how quickly others followed his lead, access to the new weapons may have been restricted to the faithful. The religion’s rapid progress through the islands may have been, at least in part, an arms race.
The year that the Sultanate of Malacca finally consolidated its hold on the Straits was fateful. That same year, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope from Portugal with four ships, crossed the Indian Ocean and landed on 27 May 1498 at Calicut on the Malabar coast. Indian Hindus and Portuguese Christians shared in common a deep animosity for Islam. In 1510, Affonso de Albuquerque, the Viceroy of India, by treaty with Krishna Deva Raya, the Emperor of Vijayanagar, secured the port of Gao [sic] as a naval base for Portuguese operations in the Indian Ocean.
Albuquerque had already learned of Malacca’s strategic importance to the spice trade. The very next year, in 1511, he took with him eighteen Portuguese warships from Gao [sic] and ended the Sultanate of Malacca. The loss of Malacca shattered the Islamic trade network at a blow. From so far away, though, Portugal was operating at the very limit of its power and was never quite able to rebuild the trading network it had destroyed. Ten years later, the Portuguese were greatly alarmed to see Magellan’s flagship Victoria returning to Spain – westward from the Philippines.
Growing up, I was never aware of my uncles’ disaffection with Kim Il-sung: I was too young to imagine such a thing was possible. Looking back now, their transformation seems telling: the silence of one, the alcoholism of the other, my father’s sudden obsession with music. They were each running away from reality, avoiding the words that might indict the political system or, worse yet, the parents who had brought them to live in it. My father was learning all the popular international songs by heart. He knew “Nathalie” and “La Paloma.” To our great joy, he also sang us the famous “O Sole Mio.” I now realize this was his way of escaping the military marching music and the glory hymns to Kim Il-sung.
I mentioned that he had been married to a woman whose family also had returned from Japan. Many marriages took place within this immigrant community, which proves just how difficult integrating into Korean society really was. The former Japanese residents, especially the young ones, had grown up in a different culture. This made communication with North Koreans difficult. Neighbors and security agents never let slip an opportunity to remind them that they were no longer in Japan, that they should express less originality, that they should show more respect for the laws.
Having been exposed to the wider world, my parents, like most former Japanese residents, felt superior to the people who never left North Korea. Their payback was being viewed as strangers. The old enmity between Korea and Japan also played against us. To many people, my family’s former immigration to Japan seemed more important than its decision to come back. The family’s material advantages were also the cause of barely veiled jealousy. As part of the next generation, I always felt profoundly and unequivocally Korean–indeed, North Korean. Yet, even as a young child, I sensed the chasm that separated my parents from their neighbors. My mother’s accent, which bore traces of her years in Japan, was the cause of constant laughter among my friends. Every time she got home from work and called me back inside, they would mimic her voice, making me blush with embarrassment. Finally I asked her not to do it anymore. I think I hurt her feelings, but she didn’t say anything, and from then on, whenever she wanted me to come home, she walked over to where I was playing and gave me a little tap on the shoulder….
As the family’s situation worsened, Japan became an ever-expanding reservoir of idealized memories, nostalgic images, favorable dispositions. My family was once again a family of uprooted emigrants. That feeling of nostalgia is still in the family, but with every generation its object continues to shift. My grandfather lived in Japan full of longing for his native Cheju Island. My father lived in North Korea and was nostalgic for Japan. And me, I sit recalling my life’s story in Seoul, gnawed at by the Pyongyang of my youth.