Korean boy band BTS at the 32nd Golden Disc Awards on January 10, 2018. Photo: Wikipedia
Korean boy band BTS at the 32nd Golden Disc Awards on January 10, 2018. Photo: Wikipedia

Is this a problem that only K-pop band BTS should apologize for? The bottom line of a recent article in The Guardian titled “BTS should apologize to Japan and Nazi victims, says rabbi” was that many Japanese and Germans were reminded of past torments by the group’s attire, including the A-bomb design on a T-shirt worn by one of its members.

The interviewee in the article said an official apology of the band’s agency was required.

A couple of days ago, Big Hit Entertainment (the manager of BTS) issued an official statement that the group had no intention of hurting those who suffered from the atomic bombing of Japan at the end of World War II. Fine, the apology was called for, because regardless of the reasons, BTS still bear the responsibility for reminding the Japanese of their painful past.

But why did that painful past happen? Why did the historic atomic bombings occur?

I don’t want to deny that the decision to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was one of the worst choices of mankind. However, it is important to remember that Japan was aggressively pursuing imperialism back then. So this tragedy of mankind, the atomic bombing, was caused by Japan, which was a war criminal. Thus it is hard for me not to feel that the order of apology should be reversed.

So let’s think again. Is this a problem that only BTS should apologize for? Is it reasonable to require that the assailant apologize to the victim?

I am not trying to advocate for BTS at all. But now that BTS have apologized, Japan must also look back at its own historical mistakes seriously. Yet the behavior of Japanese political leaders to date has only caused international anger. Rather than reflecting upon and apologizing for their nation’s war crimes, Japanese leaders have paid visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, where “Class A war criminals” were buried, thus paying tribute to them.

A couple of months ago, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe sent ritual offerings to the shrine, raising more international outrage. Yasukuni Shrine still serves as a holy place for right-wing forces to justify Japan’s imperialism.

However, when we look at Germany, another war criminal, there is a society that Japan could pay attention to and learn from. Stories of Nazi war criminals being caught 70 years after the end of the war still get touted in the media, and human-rights groups are still pursuing Nazi criminals who are 80 or 90 years old. Germany is showing a strong will to bring all those war criminals to justice. This is the difference between the faces that the two countries that caused World War II in the past are presenting today.

So let’s think again. Is this a problem that only BTS should apologize for? If Japan wants an apology for the deaths of a large number of Japanese civilians by the atomic bombing, it is a good idea to apologize first for the mistakes made during the Japanese imperialism in the past.

Again, BTS’s apology was very appropriate and the right choice. Seven Korean young people sincerely apologized to those who might have felt uncomfortable because of the A-bomb design on the T-shirt. And they promised that this would never happen again. It is a “beautiful picture” indeed.

However, to make this picture more beautiful, Japan’s own determination to apologize for its own wrongs, and putting that apology into action, are necessary.

There is a sage Korean proverb: “You get angry at others for your  own mistakes.” So, Japanese society, please think again. Is this a problem that only BTS should apologize for?

Chang H. KIM

Chang H. KIM is a research fellow at The Cairns Institute, Australia. He serves as Director of the Korean Association of Human Resource Development in South Korea. He is a frequent contributor to leading media outlets in South Korea. He tweets at twitter.com/ChangKIM_PhD

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