Victory over Japan day has never been a big celebration for me during my life time, but it takes on new significance being in Korea. I have only seriously talked to a very few people here about their feeling towards Japan, but most still hold an animosity toward them lingering from the Japanese occupation during most of the first half of the 20th century-even some who weren’t even living at the time. It was our victory over Japan that won South Korea’s freedom from a very brutal and oppressive occupation that lasted most recently for over 35 years.
These feelings were prolonged by the lack of U.S. sensitivity to the Korean’s attitudes toward the Japanese occupation as the U.S. military leaders enlisted the help of some of the Japanese officials who had been in control in Korea, as well as Korean’s who were viewed as Japanese “puppets” or sympathizers, during U.S. assistance in Korea following the end of the war. It took several years following the defeat of Japan to really cleanse the Korean government of the last vestiges of the occupation.
Remnants of the Japanese occupation remain here on USAG Yongsan where I am stationed. Many of the older buildings were built by the Japanese to house their military and government infrastructure. While the insides have been sufficiently remodeled and updated, the exteriors remain pretty much as they were during the first half of the 20th century though most symbols and references to Japan, if ever prominent, have long since been removed from view. (A pretty good article about the remaining structures can be found here.)
So for most Americans 14 August will come and go without much thought to our Victory over Japan 70 years ago, but for many Koreans it represents liberation and freedom from decades of oppression.