Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Tadashi Saito

【#208】 Loyalty of Lt. Gen. Ko Shiyoku

Tadashi Saito / 2013.08.22 (Thu)

August 19, 2013

        Among those honored by Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine are about 50,000 from Korea and Taiwan, including Army Capt. Fumihiro Mitsuyama from Korea who sang Korean traditional song Arirang on the eve of his suicide attack in Okinawa, and Navy Senior Engineer Lee Tengchin, elder brother of former Taiwanese President Lee Tenghui, according to "Yasukuni Jinja no saijin tachi " (Deities Enshrined at Yasukuni Shrine) by historian Ikuhiko Hata. They also include Army Lt. Gen. Ko Shiyoku from Korea whom I pick up here.

Executed as war criminal
        Ko Shiyoku, who preferred to call himself as Ko Shiyoku in Japanese rather than as Hong Sa-ik in Korean, was born in 1889 at a farming village near Seoul in Korea. His family was poor. He went to the Korean Military Academy and was ordered to study in Japan in the year before Japan's annexation of Korea in 1910. Ko entered the Japan Central Military Preparatory School and the Imperial Japanese Army Academy. He then became the only Korean outside the Korean Imperial Household to graduate from Japan's Army War College and was promoted to lieutenant general. As a quartermaster of the 14th Army Group led by Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, however, Ko was ruled guilty of abusing prisoners of war and executed in the Philippines in September 1946.
        Shichihei Yamamoto, who is known for having developed unique theories about Japanese people, authored "Ko Shiyoku Chujo no Shokei" (Execution of Lt. Gen. Ko Shiyoku).
        Yamamoto, who himself underwent U.S. forces' interrogation as a suspected war criminal, devoted the book to analyzing 3,000 pages of military tribunal records written in English to discuss why Ko was brought to the scaffold. In the book, Yamamoto patiently followed the due process of the military tribunal and frequently explained Ko's personality apart from the tribunal records. While reading the records and conducting relevant interviews, Yamamoto might have had deep interest in the lifestyle of Ko.
        It may be difficult to quote such episodes in detail from the voluminous book. But I would like to cite some that are difficult for me to forget.

A proud Korean
        Even at the core of Japan's Imperial Army, Ko persisted as a Korean. His Japanese indicated strong Korean accents. But he proudly described such Korean accents as natural for a Korean. He asked his children to identify themselves as "Korean Ko" when introducing themselves to others. He refused to change his name to a Japanese one.
        When the war ended, his entourage told him: "Korea will become independent. You may return to your home and play an important role." Then he answered: "I still wear Japanese military uniform. As far as I wear the uniform, I would like to be loyal to the uniform. So, I have never thought of such thing."
        Ko remained silent at his military tribunal in Manila, as did former Prime Minister Koki Hirota at the Tokyo Military Tribunal. He refused to side with his American lawyers who tried to prove him not guilty of war crime and asserted that as Koreans were long oppressed, any Korean commander even at any high position was virtually disregarded in Japanese forces.
        Ko left no written will. As a Christian Japanese soldier read the Old Testament for Ko before he went to the scaffold, Ko told the Japanese soldier: "You are young and should take care of yourself. Return to Japan in good spirits." This was his last remark.
        Ko must have been free from a post-war defeat Japanese mental climate where "kichiku bei-ei” (satanic, brute Americans/Britons) was promptly replaced with what Shichihei Yamamoto called "kichiku nihongun” (satanic, brute Japanese Army).

Tadashi Saito is Director, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.