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Misao Nakayama’s Dec. 30 letter, “Korean workers not used as slaves,” and Susan Menadue-Chun’s Jan. 6 letter, “Deafness to survivors’ stories,” represent two extremes. Menadue-Chun is right to point out that most Chosenese (Japanese nationals with registers in Chosen, the name for “Korea” when it became part of Japan) were probably not as happy with their lot as Nakayama seems to believe.

However, Nakayama more truthfully describes the variety of ways that Chosenese embraced their status as Japanese. To characterize Chosenese who came to Japan’s prefectures as “slaves” insults the majority who freely migrated, and distorts the status of most of those who were brought over as conscript laborers. Why — if there was “nothing to return to in Korea” — did about two-thirds of all “Koreans” in the prefectures at the end of World War II return to the Korean Peninsula?

Because most of those who returned had been conscript laborers who had no reason to stay? Whereas practically all who stayed were those who had chosen to come?

Menadue-Chun’s statement that “In 1939 proud Koreans were stripped of their surnames” is not true. Like many generalizations about “colonized Korea,” it fails to accurately characterize the many ways that Chosenese officials and families accommodated the choices provided by the Government-General of Chosen ordinances aimed at incorporating prefecture family law into peninsula registers.

Finally, why should having knowledge about “the atrocities [Japan] committed against others” in the past be a prerequisite for expressing empathy for the Japanese nationals abducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea?

william wetherall