JPRI Critique, Vol IV, No. 10 November 1997
The Dilemma of North Korea's Japanese Wives
by Yong Mok Kim

To Mine or Not to Mine
by Patrick Lloyd Hatcher

The Dilemma of North Korea's Japanese Wives
by Yong Mok Kim

North Korea, hard-pressed by its shortage of food and deteriorating economy, has begun talking with both the United States and Japan. The Japanese-North Korea negotiations over formal diplomatic relations have not received as much news coverage as the U.S.-North Korea talks. But Japanese and North Korean Red Cross representatives quietly met in Beijing last month, and after four days of hard bargaining it was announced on September 9 that North Korea would start allowing small groups of Japanese wives who live in North Korea to visit their relatives in Japan. If both sides can work out a format and the necessary logistics, the first group of ten to fifteen Japanese spouses is scheduled to arrive in Japan sometime during October.

Between 1959 and 1963, Japan repatriated to North Korea some 80,000 Korean residents then living in Japan. Many of these Koreans had been forced to work in Japanese factories (and as so-called 'comfort women') during the war, when Korea was a Japanese colony. Openly discriminated against, the Koreans led despised and wretched lives among the Japanese. In the early 1960s, statistics indicated that as many as 40% were unemployed and another 30% were unskilled laborers in construction work or factories.

After the creation of the Democratic People1s Republic of Korea in 1948, a pro-North Korean group, the General League of Korean Residents (Cho-soren) was founded in Japan. Ardent and dedicated North Korean agents urged the downtrodden Korean residents in Japan to repatriate themselves to North Korea, where they would be welcomed in a 'workers paradise,' with their livelihood and children1s education guaranteed by the North Korean government. They were also assured that after three years they could return to Japan if they wished, for a visit or longer. Since at that time South Korea was in its last years under the strongman Syngman Rhee, who refused to deal with the problem of the Koreans residents in Japan, many of the Koreans felt they had no choice but to go north.

Among the 80,000 Koreans who returned to North Korea were some 1,861 Japanese wives who chose to be repatriated with their husbands. Marrying a Korean had already alienated these women from their own families and friends, and the lure of a good education for their children further motivated them. However, soon after their settlement in North Korea, rumors about their actual lives in North Korea began to leak back to Japan through visitors, hearsay, and letters to relatives. Their background as Japanese caused the North Korean authorities to be suspicious of them, and their unfamiliarity with the Korean language and prevailing life style often led to their being discriminated against. Many were banished to remote areas and some wound up in North Korean political reeducation camps. One estimate is that as many as two-thirds of the 1,861 wives are missing or have never been heard from.

So far, North Korea has refused to provide the Japanese Red Cross with a comprehensive list of the surviving Japanese wives, many of whom must now be in their sixties and even seventies. At the snail's pace at which North Korea is prepared to let them visit Japan (the first announced group included only ten to fifteen names), only a few lucky ones will be able to do so. There is also widespread speculation in Japan that those wives who are chosen will be carefully screened politically and will behave and speak under strict North Korean supervision and instruction.

Already there is trouble over what to call the wifely visits. North Korea opposes the use of the term kikoku, meaning return to one's native country, instead of the term for temporary visitor. North Korea has also reportedly proposed calling the first group a North Korean government delegation! At the same time, North Korea clearly wants to normalize relations with Japan, which it hopes will lead to increased food and economic aid. It will be interesting to see whether a group of elderly, homesick wives returning to their families will help or hinder this rapprochement.

YONG MOK KIM has taught Asian History at USC and Cal State, Los Angeles, and is now a business consultant.

To Mine or Not to Mine
by Patrick Lloyd Hatcher

When Jody Williams and the International Committee to Ban Land Mines were jointly awarded the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize the American President did not call to offer his congratulations. Instead, the current administration remains determined not to sign the treaty outlawing land mines that will be ratified in Ottawa in December. Why does the U.S. government consider this treaty such a bad idea?

According to Bernard Brodie, the legions of the Roman Republic used a form of land mine two thousand years ago. Notwithstanding the fact that the last three administrations have spent billions updating America's arsenal, the U.S. military wants to continues this practice. We are told that to dispense with a weapon that now kills or maims mainly civilians--about 26,000 annually--will endanger American troops.

The best reason the Clinton administration can come up with is the defense of South Korea, an ally that, according to Washington, has nearly one million land mines seeded along its mountainous border with North Korea--about one mine per northern soldier. Almost 700,000 South Korean troops along with 37,000 Americans defend this border. Conjuring the worst case, the Clinton administration says that without land mines these defenders could be overrun and Seoul taken. But is this at all likely when North Korea is beset by famine, medical supplies are nonexistent, its former allies have deserted (Beijing recognized South Korea in 1992), and spare parts and maintenance for its weapons, along with morale, must surely be at a low level.

Washington's policy wonks recall for us the fearsome forces of Saddam Hussein. Similar hordes are said to be poised to kill for Kim Jong Il, and if they pour south, their lead elements will be spearheaded by tanks. But a mine is not the only way to disable a tank, and mines did not destroy the Iraqi tanks in the Persian Gulf War. In fact, General Norman Schwarzkopf scoffs at the need for mines and supports the treaty to ban them.

Mines are meant to slow down and break up a massive frontal attack. But South Korea, unlike Poland, does not sit astride the north European plain. Instead, Korea's mountains channel invaders into narrow north-south invasion routes, which dictate massed artillery, airpower, and high-tech weapons. Moreover, the South Korean military today is not the constabulary of 1950. It outguns the north with more modern weaponry and conducts more field exercises where actual bullets are fired and airplanes are flown. The proper comparison for South Korea's military is the Israeli Defense Forces.

Some argue that South Korea needs land-mines as a form of early warning. The shadow of the surprise attack of June 25, 1950, continues to haunt our historic memory. But surely the U.N. forces stationed in the Demilitarized Zone can count on more than the noise of mines exploding to warn them that the enemy is approaching. Satellites (in August 1992 a South Korean satellite was launched from Kourou, French Guiana), signal intelligence, and the vaunted Korean C.I.A. have the mission of early warning, giving allied troops time to come to a heightened alert status. An unchallenged U.S. fleet is nearby, B-52s wait on Guam. Compared to that, what can land mines matter?

The fact is that the Clinton administration made a strategic error in initially boycotting the land mine talks organized a year ago by Canada. Late to join, in September of this year the U.S. found delegates from 100 nations meeting in Norway ready to approve a treaty to outlaw land mines. The treaty will be signed this December in Ottawa and go into effect once 40 nations have ratified it. One of the last to get on board was Boris Yeltsin. Even Japan, usually America's yes-man on Asian defense matters, has promised to sign on. The treaty gives signatories ten years to get rid of mines; the U.S. wanted nineteen years in Korea, as well as the right to booby-trap tank mines there.

But why does the Clinton administration insist on 19 years instead of 10? In the 1960s the U.S. decided to put a man on the moon; ten years later he was there. Surely an acceptable defense weapon to replace land mines could be developed in a decade. And where is it written that the U.S. military will remain in Korea for nineteen more years? If this turns out to be the case, it will be the longest American expeditionary forces have remained anywhere, especially for a police action. Does Secretary of State Albright's October 31 announcement that the U.S. will double the money it spends on clearing mines from old war zones mean that the administration thinks it can buy its way to the high moral ground on this issue? With one hand we take the mines out, while with the other we will put them in.

Hiding behind the notion of greater security for the American troops won't wash either. As in the cold war days with the Berlin Brigade, the American 2nd Infantry Division is in Korea as a trip wire, deliberately placed in harm's way. It is supposed to get bloodied in any invasion, thereby triggering automatic American retaliation. The logic here is that Pyongyang knows this and hence won't invade. But you can't have it both ways: if there is no American blood spilled (thanks to all those land mines), then where is the credible deterrence?

Amazingly, in the hawkish Reagan years the U.S. moved to control the use of antipersonnel mines through the Convention on Conventional Weapons. But, like most international meetings, the Geneva-based operation moved at glacial speed while civilian mine casualties skyrocketed. Even in the supposed no-man's land of the Korean DMZ, at least 35 people have been killed and 43 injured by land mines since 1992. And these casualties were not infiltrating North Koreans but South Korean farmers injured by mines washed into civilian areas by heavy rains. Clinton suggested that Jiang Zemin was not on the side of history when it came to democratic freedoms. But Clinton himself would be wise to change his mind on the subject of land mines while there is still time to do so gracefully.

Patrick Lloyd Hatcher is a retired U.S. Army colonel who served as an infantry officer in South Korea. His latest book is North Atlantic Civilization at War (M.E. Sharpe, 1997). He also spoke at both the San Francisco and Chicago conferences of JPRI.

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