The Trauma of History
In 1910, the Korean peninsula fell under Japanese colonial rule. For ordinary local people, being oppressed everywhere has become commonplace. This is caused by social classes and the distribution of power. Chee metaphorically argues about the history under the colonized influence to a Korean family in the article, “My Family’s Shrouded History Is Also a National One for Korea.” On the surface, life in Korea under Japanese annexation, which seems to be orderly. However, listening to his grandfather’s stories, he understands that living under occupation was unacceptable, oppressive, and painful. The Japanese government imposed colonial rule on Korea, restricted the development of Korean national capitalism, plundered Korea’s resources, Japanese was designated as the national language and prohibited the teaching of Korean, enslaved students, and put forward the idea of “Japan and Korea as one body” and tried to assimilate the Koreans (Chee n.p). In all situations, people’s memories of foreign occupation have potential effects and can provoke people’s passion. In the relationship between the colonial and colonized countries, the shadow of history often appears. This is witnessed and revealed all over the history of colonialism. The effects of colonialism were so intense as it involved the assassination of loved ones. Did people’s wounds from historical trauma eventually heal? Many things prove that the colonial past’s influence significantly harmed the original residents’ personality and dignity. In the following 35 years, the Japanese government plundered all the resources of Korea. These traumatic experiences, therefore, relate to the narrative.
As Chee’s grandfather’s narrative that he still dreamed in Japanese (Chee n.p), Japanese became the official language and brainwashed local students at school, which gives an example of the impact of colonialism on language. Most of them can speak Korean with their parents and relatives only at home. During the occupation, through his analysis of grandfather’s narrative about the life that living under the lie of the integration of Japan and Korea, the people of that generation lived in the lie of the integration of Japan and Korea, and colonialism on language is just one legacy of the Japanese occupation (Chee n.p). Seen from the outside, Japan and Korea jointly revitalized East Asia (Chee n.p). In terms of education policy, to colonize Korea forever, Japan has set the educational goal to train Korean students into subjects loyal to the empire and emphasize general education and industrial education, making the history of Korea’s so-called modernization by Japan. Even though grandfather’s “first language” was forced to become Japanese and gave him Japanese thinking, he always knew that his roots were in Korea. Therefore, grandfather complained that his father went to the United States and didn’t teach Chee in Korean because he feared that Koreans would forget their roots (Chee n.p).
In the article by Chee, he uses the book “Figuring Korean Futures” as an example that outlines re-education effort and gives an in-depth description of the post-colonial era, which echoes the 1985 trip to see Chee’s grandfather. The pain was so unbearable, and the torture that the people endured was incredible. Consequently, readers have a more profound impression of Yi Sun-sin and the dragon headship, the present Chee received by grandfather. The ship has the same or at least similar shared memories for Korean at that time, and these shared memories constitute the memory of grandfather. Chee describes it as a dark center, which relates fits in the history of grandfather’s memory. It made him hesitant to ask more. This anecdote was used between Chee and grandfather that gives readers direct visual imagination (Chee n.p). Moreover, in the copy of grandfather’s memoir, he described grandfather’s suspicions of this occupation’s end (Chee n.p). It can be seen that they can still look forward to even if there is uncertainty about the future of Korea.
Besides, one of the critical ways that Chee crafts his argument about how his family’s history aligns with Korea’s history during the occupation by incorporating primary documents and artifacts, including the ship’s model and photographs of the periods. Through observing the family possessions, she can envision a new history. Susan Sontag, a critic of photography, offers a useful framework for reading and contextualizing visual objects. In “Looking at War,” she pointed out the purpose of explicit war photography that is objective evidence of historical events. She used a similar technique that references the photograph “War Against War!” in her article. She summarized this album with more than 180 photos, allowing readers to intuitively feel from the beginning to the end of the war, from children everywhere to military cemeteries (Sontag). This fascinating writing technique makes readers think deeply about why no one believes that action can be abolished. However, the authenticity of the photo also potentially depends on the person who took the camera. The photography taken by the camera is objective, but because people take them, they are too subjective, which provide objective facts and subjective personal viewpoint synchronously through cameras (Sontag). They show many places and events; otherwise, the viewer would not see them for a lifetime. Photographs allow us to have non-stop access to anywhere we could even have non-experienced. To make photos more effective, viewers need to associate emotions with images.
The same as Chee’s grandfather, in the reality of insult, violence, injustice, discrimination, oppression, exploitation, and exclusion, people long for and dream about peace and the future world order. This is the mind of the colonized people who regard the civilization of rationalism as the universal standard of humanity. After Japan surrendered, Seoul displayed flags of occupying forces. A sign reads “Liberation of Korean Culture!” (Chee n.p). This illustration makes readers feel the excitement of the colonized people after liberation. As Sontag talks about in her article, the photograph has a deeper bite than just memory (Sontag).
Similarly, Chee used many illustrations in his writings, such as Korean students in a Japanese language class, Koreans waving the U.S. and Korean flags. The application of these photos deepens readers’ understanding and makes readers more convinced of colonial history’s authenticity. From these historical photos, audiences can easily resonate and feel the colonial’s desire for freedom and recognition of national identity. Under the narrative of nationalism, because Koreans call themselves “Korean,” they are bound to be full of hatred and hostility during the Japanese occupation based on their national standpoint. Korea’s ethnic culture has remained the same from ancient times to Yi Sun-shin; it has a strong sense of ethnic honor. This allows Korea to have its history and will not allow others like Japan to violate its sovereignty.
In Chee’s writing, Grandpa recorded the year’s scenes in his memoirs and passed both the document and history’s empathy to Chee through his memoirs. And then, Chee uses multiple photographs of the occupation period, which both grandpa and Chee is using photography as a tool that connects emotions with history. Chee did not portray too much emotion in his article. The account he described is self-evident and enough to transmit the feeling to the audience that the Japanese’s cruel behavior during the occupation. Consequently, Sontag inspires the creation objectives and subjective of the photographs and memoirs.
While studying the historical facts themselves, people began to reflect on the political, social, and cultural impacts of this tragedy and atrocities. It continued to torture the survivors of the aftermath physically and mentally and affected ordinary citizens’ daily lives in the present day. The article “Letter to My Son” by Ta-Nehisi Coates’s, conveys the background of the psychological trauma that culture brings about. Concerning grandpa and Chee, I see how attention to reflects the cultures of all races in the world have not communicated, merged, and confronted freely on an equal basis in a long time. Coates uses an anecdote to propose critical inquiry at the beginning of his letter. A remote studio host asked him about “the subject of my body though she did not mention it specifically” [Coates]. The stories that Chee and Coates are respectively telling About their trauma about the history of slavery and colonialism is the way to assert control over the body. Chee’s grandfather, one way of healing the wounds about forgetting them, one step towards healing would be to have controller autonomy over the body, which might have control over the story.
However, historical wounds are difficult to heal. In the Korean people’s traumatic memory, the occupation of the Japanese and national emotions in real life are intertwined and coexisting; However, the cruel slavery was abolished after the Civil War, it left unhealable wounds on African American slaves and their descendants. Coates is a reappearance of the trauma suffered by black families and a condensed history of African Americans. African Americans are two self-truths, Americans and blacks, and these two souls strive to merge in conflict with each other. “This realization was important… it made me understand what the loss of all our black bodies meant. No one of us was ‘black people.’ We were individuals, a one of one, and when we died, there was nothing (Coates)”. Coates gives the idea that they want to seek self-identification; they have to face up to this dual identity, review and identify with the century of black history at the same time. The tremendous spiritual trauma prevents them from identifying with account and constructing the future. Denying history is denying their identity integrity. If only entangled the oppressiveness to blacks between the social and economic heritage of the exploitation of others. This treating race as a natural reality normalizes atrocity and oppression, just like how the Japanese treat Korean in the introductory essay. Like how Coates tells his son, Chee’s grandfather used the same way to teach Chee never to forget their history. The new generation will need to integrate into the present society while remembering their past.
Storytelling is one of the most effective ways for people to convey essential truths to others. It is often a natural phenomenon that left a deep impression on people at the time or events that significantly impact their survival and development. This is also the primary way of communication between two people. In a world full of chaos and disorder, stories are given meaning, context, and understanding. Because of this, stories can stay in people’s hearts for a longer time than facts or data. Chee dexterously uses this method of storytelling with realistic photos to convey to readers the historical events he tells. From Chee’s article, it can be seen that old scars cannot heal even in the past few decades.
Brave Heart & DeBruyn, 1998; Crawford, 2013; Evans-Campbell, 2008; Gone, 2013
Coates, Ta-Nehisi. “Letter to My Son.” The Atlantic, 4 July 2015, www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2015/07/tanehisi-coates-between-the-world-and-me/397619/. Accessed 1 Feb. 2018.
Chee, Alexander. “My Family’s Shrouded History Is Also a National One for Korea.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 Aug. 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/08/27/magazine/korea-japanese-occupation surrenderww2.html?_ga=2.9220725.1178950033.1606057915-1968437798.1601289008.
Also see: Essay Help on History Homework