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A Hall of History Forgives Nothing

S. Korea's Independence Hall leaves Japan smarting over its occupation

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In a valley an hour and a half from the South Korean capital of Seoul, it's easy to understand why Imperial Japan's era of colonization and aggression remains unforgotten and unforgiven.

The statues, monuments, and pavilions that make up South Korea's Independence Hall, including displays on Japanese interrogation methods that seem inspired by Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum, may do more to nurture animosity than explain history.

Lim Jin Mook, a 10-year-old seeing the exhibits with his parents, says the life-size dioramas leave an impression. "When I saw the torture scenes, I felt the Japanese were really bad," he says. He's not interested in visiting Japan, either. "I might see more scenes like that."

If little Jin Mook had come to Japan over the weekend, he would not have seen torture, but he might have witnessed how history continues to contort the relationship between the two most industrialized countries of Asia and America's main allies in the region.

Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto and South Korean President Kim Young Sam, meeting in southern Japan, tried to focus on the positive. But before they could begin talking about their future - such as the World Cup soccer competition the two countries will co-host in 2002 - they had to talk about the past.

Mr. Hashimoto apologized at the summit's opening because his spokesman had made comments a day earlier that hinted at a social rationale for the Japanese military's use of sex slaves during World War II. Most of the women forced into front-line brothels were Korean.

The comment demonstrates to many Koreans that the Japanese government has never convincingly apologized for the brutalities its soldiers committed when Japan invaded and colonized the Korean peninsula, the Chinese region of Manchuria, and other parts of Asia. In recent years, Japanese prime ministers have said apologetic things, but conservative politicians and academics have often made comments that undermined the impact of the official contrition.


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