- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 16, 2005

SEOUL — In unprecedented joint events, Koreans from both sides of the divided peninsula yesterday celebrated the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and their liberation from 30 years of Japanese domination.

Korea’s liberators, however, did not participate in ceremonies.

Although Soviet troops fought the Japanese in the peninsula’s north in the closing days of the war and U.S. troops accepted the Japanese surrender in the south, neither military was honored. It was a contrast to the welcome France gave Allied nations during D-Day commemorations last year and Moscow’s V-E Day commemorations in May.

“It’s natural: Do Americans look at the French role in American independence?” said Andrei Lankov, a Russian specialist in Korean affairs who teaches at Seoul’s Kookmin University.

“In national foundation myths, foreigners do not get credit,” he said.

Nearly 300,000 U.S. soldiers were killed or wounded in the four-year Pacific campaign against Japan. U.S. soldiers still garrison the base in central Seoul that they took from the Japanese army in the war’s dying days, providing critical defensive support for South Korea against the North.

The Korean celebrations mirrored the still-conflicting passions in the region over the titanic struggle that ended six decades ago.

Across Asia, the focus yesterday was less on U.S. and Allied victories than on the smoldering debate over whether Japan had done enough to atone for its role in the war.

Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi apologized again for his country’s invasion and colonization of its neighbors. He refrained from visiting a Tokyo shrine that China and other Asian countries say glorifies Japanese war criminals.

“Our country has caused great damage and pain to people in many countries,” Mr. Koizumi said in a statement.

“We humbly accept these historic facts and would like to express once again our deep reflections and heartfelt apology. … We will not forget the terrible lessons of the war, and will contribute to world peace and prosperity,” the statement said.

Editorials across Asia and protests in Hong Kong and Beijing in recent days have castigated Japan as the anniversary neared.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan said he hoped Japanese leaders would “not do anything that might hurt the feelings of the peoples of the injured nations.”

Although Mr. Koizumi did not visit the Yasukuni Shrine — his previous visits have been condemned across East Asia — two of his Cabinet ministers, 47 Japanese legislators and thousands of war veterans thronged to the site yesterday.

In the Koreas, many tend to blame the Allies for the postwar division of the peninsula.

South Koreans and delegations visiting from the North for “Liberation Day” focused on local independence fighters, even though armed Korean resistance collapsed well before the war began. Koreans were recruited, often forcibly, as soldiers, laborers and sex slaves for Japanese military brothels.

Both North and South Korea have prickly relations with their island neighbor, while the potent nationalism spawned under colonization promotes a historical view that overlooks embarrassing facts.

Japan annexed Korea from 1910 until the 1945 surrender. Koreans recall the period with intense bitterness.

A typical view of Japanese atrocities is on display at Seoul’s Seodaemun Prison History Hall, where graphic exhibits depict Japanese torturing Korean independence activists.

A North Korean delegation visited the museum yesterday. One member said, “I think Japan is truly a cruel enemy of our people, and we cannot live together under one sky.”

The North Koreans also paid respects to Korean independence fighters at Seoul’s National Cemetery, where Korean War dead lie, and at a memorial hall dedicated to Kim Koo, a figure in the nationalist movement of the 1930s and 1940s.

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