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U.S. military documents featuring Korean POW testimony discovered at U.S. National Archives

This photo shows one of the documents containing testimony on Japanese rule and wartime mobilization from Korean civilians. (Mainichi)

Documents containing testimony on Japanese rule and wartime mobilization from Korean civilians who had been with the Imperial Japanese Army prior to their capture as prisoners of war (POWs) by U.S. Forces toward the end of the Pacific War have been discovered at the U.S. National Archives, and are expected to reignite debate regarding forced laborers and so-called "comfort women."

The Asian Women's Fund -- established by the Japanese government in 1995 and run through 2007 in an effort to resolve the "comfort women" issue -- set up a committee on gathering historical documents, which in 1997 found the responses given by the POWs during investigative research in the U.S. The documents subsequently went missing, but were located again this year when Waseda University professor Toyomi Asano, who specializes in Japanese political history, together with the Mainichi Shimbun, found in March the documents containing the U.S. military's questions and other related information.

After the U.S. military interrogated around 100 Korean prisoners, they chose three whom they transported to an interrogation center at Camp Tracy in California for further questioning. The documents indicate that the three prisoners were asked 30 additional questions on April 11, 1945.

Both the names of the interrogators and the prisoners are indicated on the documents, and the answers given by the three prisoners are compiled as single answers. The preamble to the prisoners' answers states, "The general anti-Japanese feeling of these Koreans is the same as almost all of some 100 PoW questioned by the interrogator," adding, "It is probably that some Koreans are opportunists but these 3 appear to be very sincere in their statements which may be considered reliable."

As for questioning regarding so-called "comfort women," the three prisoners were asked, "Do Koreans generally know about the recruitment of Korean girls by the Japanese Army to serve as prostitutes? What is the attitude of the average Korean toward this program? Does the P/W know of any disturbances or friction which has grown out of this program?"

The three prisoners are recorded as having responded, "All Korean prostitutes that PoW have seen in the Pacific were volunteers or had been sold by their parents into prostitution. This is proper in the Korean way of thinking but direct conscription of women by the Japanese would be an outrage that the old and young alike would not tolerate. Men would rise up in rage, killing Japanese no matter what consequence they might suffer."

In response to a question about the procedures through which Korean laborers were sent to Japan Proper, and whether they arrived in Japan Proper voluntarily or were conscripted, the three prisoners said that "Korean men (had) been conscripted to work in Japan since 1942," and that they knew people "working in coal and iron mines, and building airfields." They also said that "they were always required to do the worst type of work such as was found in the deepest and hottest part of a mine." Meanwhile, they said they were allowed to correspond with family, but that "all mail was censored."

Much of U.S. military interrogations of POWs were of Japanese nationals, and testimonies given by Koreans are rare. Among interrogations of "comfort women," there is a report compiled through questioning of Korean "comfort women" who were captured in Burma (present-day Myanmar) as the result of U.S. military psychological operations (PSYOPs). The most recently discovered documents are an extension of that report, and are believed to have been an effort by the U.S. military to feel out the level of Koreans' defiance toward Japanese colonial rule with an eye to seizing the Korean Peninsula.

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