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Probing Deeper into the BTS T-Shirt Controversy






The Korean media seems to think the issue has been settled when the production company handling the popular boy band BTS (Bulletproof Boy Scouts / well known as Bangtan Boys) apologized for a band member who wore a T-shirt depicting the mushroom cloud from the nuclear bomb dropped on Nagasaki.


The South Korean media gave this impression when it gave prominent play to the band’s sellout concert in Tokyo after the incident.


In playing down the issue, the media, in effect, dismissed the horrified reaction of Japanese fans as nothing but the influence of right-wing elements. Koreans did not necessarily understand the anti-Korean sentiment it sparked in Japan and a feeling that it is time for Koreans to “give it a rest.”



Further, the Korean media presented the Japanese reaction as mere quibbling linked to a recent South Korean Supreme Court ruling on wartime “forced” labor.


However, a succession of other recent events have caused anger in Japan, including the voiding of the 2015 Japan-South Korea agreement on compensation for the “comfort women” and the South Korean refusal to allow Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships to fly the “rising sun flag” at the International Fleet Review in October.


The South Korean media has not conveyed to the Korean public what the Japanese sentiments are on these issues.



Not the First Time


The BTS T-shirt incident was not the first time Koreans ignored both Japanese sentiment and international common sense with respect to the use of nuclear weapons. There have been repeated incidents like this.


For example, there is the long running Korean musical, The Last Empress, which also had a number of performances outside of Korea. At the beginning of the musical there is a depiction of the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima. The musical is a depiction of the life of the last Korean empress (variously Myeongseong or Myung-Sung) who was assassinated by Japanese agents as part of a power struggle in Korea between pro-Japanese and pro-Russian factions in 1895. The musical sends the message that the bombing of Hiroshima was righteous retribution for the alleged Japanese barbarism.



Another example is the film Battleship Island, that became an issue in 2017.  It depicts a fictional uprising staged by Koreans made to work at the Hashima coal mine in Nagasaki, popularly known as Battleship Island. The film depicts the workers as successfully escaping the island and, as they do, a mushroom cloud can be seen rising over Nagasaki.


As with the T-shirt worn by the BTS band member, the message is that “the nuclear bombings brought our liberation” — a reading of history common in South Korea.


This view of history has given rise to unfounded assertions in the South Korean press. In May of 2016 when Barack Obama made the first official visit of a sitting United States president to Hiroshima, there were many statements of protest in the Korean mass media. His visit was interpreted as exonerating Japan from its wartime responsibility.


The Obama visit to Hiroshima was a memorial to victims, a number of whom were Korean, and at the same time a warning about the threat to all mankind presented by nuclear weapons. In addition, in conjunction with the visit by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it was a statement on U.S.-Japan friendship.  


The issue is the same with the Rising Sun Flag on Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships. The South Koreans depicted it as “the flag of war criminals” — the only ones to do so.




The U.S. and Japan were at war with each other, yet have managed to overcome wartime animosity and develop good relations. South Korea was not in fact a war-time belligerent, yet it keeps disrupting from the sidelines with snide comments and claims about Japanese war responsibility. There can be no mistake in thinking that there are serious deficiencies in history education and historical consciousness in South Korea. This is manifested first and foremost in the South Korean media and is the basis for ongoing irrational criticism of Japan that is completely at odds with international society.


It must be unimaginable for other countries to do something comparable to the placement of comfort women statues in front of Japanese embassies and consulates. This is evidence of the degree to which Koreans use patriotism to justify acts against Japan that go against international norms.


In the background of the BTS T-shirt controversy is a Korean sense that no matter how far words or actions are removed from international common sense, they are permissible if Japan is the target.



(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)




Author: Katsuhiro Kuroda, The Sankei Shimbun






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