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How Japan Should Respond to BTS’ Non-Apology Over the A-Bomb T-Shirt

Jason Morgan, Reitaku University

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In pictures that started appearing online in October, Jimin of the Korean boy band BTS is shown wearing a t-shirt featuring a mushroom cloud from one of the two atomic bombings of Japan. The shirt bears the slogan “Patriotism Our History Liberation Korea” printed over and over.

 

The reaction to this shocking endorsement of an attempted genocide was compounded when the Simon Weisenthal Center also pointed out that BTS members “posed for a photo shoot wearing hats with the Nazi SS Death Head logo,” and that “flags appearing on stage at their concert were eerily similar to the Nazi Swastika.”

 

“It goes without saying,” the Simon Weisenthal Center continued, “that this group, which was invited to speak at the UN, owes the people of Japan and the victims of the Nazism an apology.”

 

It would be bad enough if it was just a matter of a pro-atomic-bombing shirt making it past thousands of pairs of eyes as it got designed, produced, distributed, marketed, wholesaled, retailed, and discussed online. The problem here is with South Korea itself, not simply with a segment of its garment industry.

 

South Korea’s Cultivation of Bitterness and Hatred

 

That such a shirt exists in the first place is another reminder that South Korea has traded a once-great culture for a pathology.

 

From the endless shakedown of Japan over the comfort women issue and the bogus Gunkanjima claims, to the recent lawsuits over Japan’s having mobilized labor during wartime (as did every other wartime country), South Korea has been at pains to advertise to the world that it has stopped functioning as a nation-state.

 

Instead, it has become little more than a laboratory for cultivating bitterness and resentment toward Japan.

 

It is this that keeps Koreans from apologizing to Japan, even when a Korean person glorifies atomic bombings and attempts to re-popularize the symbolism of the Third Reich.

 

True to form, despite the horrific nature of the shirt — to say nothing of the use of Nazi symbols in the past — the South Koreans at first issued no apology at all. After the outcry over the shirt failed to subside, and after show cancellations began cutting into BTS’ cashflow, BTS mouthed a non-apology by saying they were sorry that a concert they had planned to give in Japan had been cancelled.

 

Neither BTS nor its management team apologized for glorifying one of the 20th century’s worst atrocities. All they were sorry for was that the show couldn’t go on.

 

In fact, though, the “make Japan apologize” show has been going on, for decades.

 

In response to endless South Korean bullying, Japan has chosen the appeasement route, apologizing time and again for things that happened, and often for things that didn’t.

 

 

South Korea’s Endless Transgressions and Provocations

 

The contrast is striking. Prime ministers and other government officials in Japan have issued unequivocal apologies — to South Korea and many other countries — for wartime suffering, even when it was not Japan’s fault.

 

But when South Korea is in the wrong, their sense of self-righteousness prevents them from acknowledging their errors and owning up to them.

 

Many in the South Korean media argue that the BTS endorsement of atrocities is different because it is the work of one private citizen and not the South Korean government. This argument is shortsighted and overlooks the role of South Korean officials in a host of outrages committed in just these past few years.

 

  • And the comfort women statue near the Japanese embassy in Seoul remains in place, even though in December 2015 the government of South Korea promised to stop harassing Japan over the comfort women issue. Moreover, countless copies of the statute have cropped up throughout South Korea and in the United States, Australia, Canada, and elsewhere.

 

South Korea has apologized for none of this.

 

BTS Offenses the Latest South Korean Shakedown

 

By the same token, BTS members refused to apologize for celebrating the violent deaths of their fans’ great-grandparents in one of the most heinous and craven attacks in human history.

 

BTS management did not see fit to suggest to Jimin that he might want to think twice about wearing such an offensive article of clothing in the first place. But it issued an apology in the United States — which is beyond ironic, given that it was the Americans who used the atomic weapons against Hiroshima and Nagasaki — but not in Japan.

 

Japan, which has apologized ad nauseam, continues to be told by South Korea (and by certain American academics who have made a career out of demanding more apologies) that it still has not apologized enough. Yet South Korea, which never apologizes, is offended when anyone asks it to do so even once.

 

This apology gap is now more than annoying. It is dangerous. Any further apologizing by Japan to South Korea or any other East Asian country that has perfected the art of the Nagatacho Shakedown only emboldens irresponsible regimes and destabilizes the region.

 

Japan Should Start Playing Hardball

 

The BTS incident should be the long-overdue wake-up call for Japan that South Korea is not a normal nation-state and cannot be viewed as a strategic partner. South Korea is too badly infected with hatred of Japan to contribute to a working relationship.

 

It is time for Japan to stop hanging its diplomatic hopes on rapprochement through apology, and to start playing hardball with those who understand nothing else. Apologies are the solvents of statecraft and Japan must refuse to trade any longer in that bad currency.

 

Here is the hard fact that must underlie Japan’s badly-needed regional realpolitik: Japan can survive without South Korea, but South Korea cannot survive without Japan (or the United States, which is also fundamentally rethinking the necessity of the military alliance with South Korea). South Korea must wake up and realize this, or suffer the consequences of its own actions.

 

Regardless of which path South Korea chooses, it is high time for Japan to stop apologizing, and to start fighting back.

 

 

Author: Jason Morgan