A couple of months ago, I attended a talk given by Yokota Takuya at a small liberal arts college about an hour northeast of Tokyo. Mr. Yokota’s name is probably unfamiliar to many in the Western hemisphere, but he is very well-known in Japan. In 1977, his older sister, Megumi, was abducted from Niigata, on the Sea of Japan coast, by North Korean agents acting on the direct orders of North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il. Megumi was just thirteen years old.
For ten years, no one had any idea where Megumi had gone. Her family searched for her tirelessly, traveling the length of the archipelago handing out flyers in front of train stations and trying to get media outlets to publicize her photograph. And then, suddenly, there was a break in the case. In 1987, two North Korean agents posing as a Japanese husband and wife blew up a South Korean airliner in the Middle East. The male spy committed suicide by swallowing an arsenic tablet when airport security arrested the pair in Bahrain, but the female spy was prevented from biting down on the capsule. She lived.
During her subsequent interrogation by South Korean authorities, the female spy, Kim Hyon-hui, confessed to having been trained in Pyongyang by a Japanese woman, Taguchi Yaeko, who had gone missing from Japan around the same time as Megumi. What’s more, Kim had seen Megumi in the same training compound where she was also being forced to teach Japanese language and customs to North Korean spies.
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And yet, more than forty years after they took her from Niigata, the North Korean government, headed by Kim Jong-il’s son, Kim Jong Un, still refuses to return Megumi to Japan—even though, in 2002, Kim Jong-il admitted to then-prime minister Koizumi Junichiro that North Korea had abducted Megumi and more than a dozen other Japanese nationals. (There is evidence that the number may be much higher—more than 800 disappearances from the west coast of Japan around the same time period are now thought to be due to the North’s campaign of state-sponsored terroristic kidnappings.)
At the talk in November of 2018, I asked Mr. Yokota whether he thought there was any hope that Pope Francis, who was rumored to be considering a visit to Pyongyang, might broker the return of Megumi and the other Japanese hostages still imprisoned in the North. After all, I said, South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, is known to be a devout Catholic, and South Korea as a whole is undergoing a widely-touted Catholic revival. If President Moon could persuade Pope Francis to get involved in the negotiations, there might be some hope for success, I suggested.
There are many reasons to think that a Catholic South Korea would jump at the chance to perform this humanitarian act on behalf of innocent civilians. Many South Korean celebrities, such as pop stars “Rain” (Jung Ji-hoon) and “CL” (Lee Chae Rin), are Catholic, and whenever I have attended Mass in South Korea the church has always been packed to capacity. And even though abortion remains a grave social problem in South Korea, President Moon and the bishops and faithful have been outspoken in their opposition to this evil. Would there not be strong support within South Korea for a humanitarian attempt to return innocent hostages to Japan? And wouldn’t Pope Francis be just the person to bring about such a work of mercy?
To my surprise, Mr. Yokota was cool to the idea. The other members of the audience also appeared skeptical. Later, one of the top journalists in Japan told me that such a suggestion, although commendable, had no chance of becoming reality. Other experts in Japan-South Korea relations confirmed the journalist’s assessment. Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s Catholic president, would not move to help bring the Japanese hostages home.
Why not? Yokota Megumi and all of the other abductees are average citizens who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time when North Korean operatives landed along Japanese beaches at night in inflatable boats and stalked their human prey in the darkness. South Korea and Japan are nominally allied nations, and should President Moon help his island neighbor to the east it would be a watershed moment for Japan-South Korea relations, a moment that would live in the history books forever. So why not at least try?
As I eventually came to understand, the reason that President Moon refuses to help is that, his deeply-felt Catholicism notwithstanding, his ethnic distaste for the Japanese is stronger than his religious faith. He is God’s good servant, in other words, but Korea’s first. This is the tragedy of Moon Jae-in.
Hostility Between South Korea and Japan
But the tragedy is bigger than President Moon. For, in the past twenty years or so, South Korea, while rediscovering its Christian roots (Korea is the only place where natives proselytized the people, and not foreign missionaries; Protestant Pyongyang was once referred to as the “Jerusalem of the East”), has also nurtured a troubling hatred for Japan. This hatred is driving South Korea away from the friendship with the United States and Japan that has brought the bottom half of the Korean Peninsula untold freedom and prosperity, and into the arms of the authoritarian, militantly atheistic neo-Stalinist regimes in North Korea and the People’s Republic of China.
The much bigger tragedy is that racism is trumping religious faith, and reckless peacenik-ism is blinding the South Korean leadership to the real threat posed by its immediate neighbors to the north and west. This is going to be a disaster for a country where I once lived and for which I retain an abiding fondness.
To be sure, South Korea and Japan have a contentious history. As the former keystone of the Japanese Empire (not a colony, but a fully-integrated part of Japan proper), the Korean peninsula is understandably sensitive about cultivating its own identity. This sensitivity is further heightened by the awareness that at least some of Pyongyang’s insults are true. At Panmunjom, the well-known village on the North-South border where American and South Korean troops stare down their North Korean counterparts on a daily basis, the North enjoys taunting South Korean soldiers with insults such as “lackey” and “puppet regime.” This may be harsh, but the fact is that the South really is dependent on the United States for its survival. (Though, to be fair, the North depends on China for essential resources like fuel.)
What’s more, the economic “miracle” that made Seoul shine was anything but providential—it was the result of boatloads of cash and technology arriving from America and Japan. Thus, the South Koreans’ fraught psychology when it comes to the Japanese and the US is not without cause.
But in recent decades this fraught psychology has been whipped up by operatives within South Korea and Japan who crave a reunion with North Korea on the North’s terms. One part of this operation has been the cultivation of extended outrage over the so-called “comfort women.”
Comfort Women Mythology
During the Greater East-Asia War of 1937-1945, the Japanese military allowed “comfort stations”—brothels—to be operated near garrisons and in major cities to meet the sexual needs of its troops (who hailed from the Japanese home islands as well as from the Korean Peninsula). Staffed by women from around East and Southeast Asia, the majority of the “comfort women” were Japanese volunteers, but a sizable minority were Koreans. Often sold by their destitute parents from poor farming villages (the selling of daughters to brothels was a common practice in Korea and Japan at the time), Korean “comfort women” were brought to the comfort stations by Korean brokers and then worked there under mainly Korean managers.
The point of the comfort stations was to improve troop morale while preventing venereal disease and ensuring that troops did not engage in pillow talk with local, unlicensed prostitutes, who were often paid by enemy forces to extract information from military clients. Virtually every military in the Second World War, and in every war before that, used some version of the “comfort women” system. American General Claire Chennault even went so far as to fly in disease-free prostitutes from India for his syphilis-wracked pilots and mechanics in the Flying Tigers brigade in Kunming.
However, in the 1980s a Japanese communist and convicted criminal, Yoshida Seiji, published a novel in which he described leading a detachment of Japanese soldiers around Jeju Island to round up Korean women and dispatch them to sexual slavery on the front. The Asahi Shimbun newspaper in Japan, a hard-left anti-Japanese, anti-American publication, ran with the Yoshida fable, reporting Yoshida’s wild assertions as though they were recollections of actual events.
A South Korean organization called Chong Dae Hyup, some of whose leaders have been jailed in the South for being North Korean spies, also worked to blow up Yoshida’s fantasies into an international incident. Eventually, Chong Dae Hyup succeeded in using the comfort women issue as a wedge in the US-Japan-South Korea alliance, placing a “comfort woman” statue in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and other such statues in major cities around the world.
The American press, reliably clueless about Asia, portrays the comfort women issue as a humanitarian question. While the comfort women really did exist, the issue as bandied about by activists today is nothing more than communist propaganda designed to drive the US and Japan from involvement in the Korean Peninsula and the western Pacific. When a “comfort women” statue went up in San Francisco in 2017, for example, it was thanks in large part to Russell Lowe, a PRC spy who for more than twenty years was employed by California Senator Dianne Feinstein. After he was outed as a Chinese operative, Lowe went to work for an organization that helped bring the statue to San Francisco.
As Peter Hasson reported in The Daily Caller:
Lowe now works with the Education for Social Justice Foundation, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that says it’s focused on “educating the public on the Japanese military’s ‘comfort women’ system, which forced over 200,000 girls and women from at least 13 Asian countries into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during WWII.”
“Forced … into sexual slavery,” “200,000 women”—these are baseless lies, but they very conveniently reproduce the propaganda emanating from the Japanese hard left, the pro-North Korea elements in South Korea, and the People’s Republic of China itself.
North Korean Sympathizer
Unfortunately, Moon Jae-in has also surrounded himself with these kinds of operatives. Gordon Chang, one of the most respected American experts on East Asia, has even gone so far as to call President Moon a “communist sympathizer.” On Fox News in May of 2018, Chang said:
Moon Jae-in is very pro-North Korea. He’s surrounded himself with the people who actually want North Korea to take over the South. So, I get a bit nervous when I see both Kim and Moon in the same place, because there you’ve got a North Korean and a North Korean sympathizer.
The tragedy of Moon Jae-in is thus a double one. On the one hand, Moon has allowed his ethnic hatred to override his Catholic faith. He does not follow St. Peter in refusing to see Jew and gentile, but instead cleaves to the old clannishness that once kept the Korean Peninsula isolated from the world for hundreds of years. On the other hand, Moon’s naïveté, i.e., his neo-Catholic insistence on seeing obvious enemies as friends—a Francis-like Pollyannaish obliviousness to the horrific consequences of open borders—leaves his nation wide open to the machinations of truly evil polities.
Peace on the Korean Peninsula is surely desirable. But Moon Jae-in is angling for unification, which is different. The readiest glue to hand for binding the two Koreas together is, sadly, their mutual hatred of Japan. South Korea currently illegally occupies Takeshima, a Japanese island in the Sea of Japan, and just last week a South Korean ship trained a laser-tracking device on a Japanese aircraft, later offering the improbable excuse that the ship took it for a North Korean vessel. (The incident happened in broad daylight. The Japanese aircraft was a gigantic, lumbering, jet-propelled workhorse.)
And, despite promising to stop using the comfort women issue as a political tool, South Korea continues to engage in comfort women propaganda. Indeed, the issue has now achieved the quality of religious faith in the South. On a recent visit to Seoul, I witnessed people sleeping next to the statue near the Japanese Embassy. Later in the morning, crews came to assemble the stage for the weekly Wednesday adulation session, whereat the statue is treated as a kind of goddess.
How does this relate to Catholicism? One often sees priests and nuns in attendance at the statue. And at the Franciscan Center in Seoul there is yet another statue, placed prominently in front of the main entrance and adorned with a trelliswork backdrop, replete with signage outside and information inside for visitors. I predict that it will not be long before a comfort woman statue goes up at the Vatican. It is the perfect issue for Francis—like South Korean politicians, it will help him detract attention from ongoing and systematic sexual abuse within his organization.
Even more tragically, it may all lead to war. President Moon Jae-in, a devout Catholic, is walking into a maelstrom with his attempted rapprochement with the North. And he may take the entire region down with him.
(Photo credit: Cheongwadae / Blue House / Wikicommons)