HAPCHEON (South Korea) • A small delegation from South Korea plans to gather around an obscure monument in Hiroshima when United States President Barack Obama visits the city this week, according to a New York Times report yesterday.
The monument is dedicated to the South Korean victims whom few remember. While most of the estimated 220,000 victims of the atomic bombs that the US dropped on Japan in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were Japanese civilians, some 40,000 to 50,000 of them were Koreans. They were in the cities against their will as forced labourers, or had settled there after fleeing deprivation in their occupied homeland.
The survivors who managed to return to South Korea after the war were shunned and denied medical care. Some were banished to leper colonies, said the New York Times.
They seek an apology from Japan, the US and even from their own government in South Korea.
"If there is anyone he must apologise to, isn't it the innocent non-Japanese victims like the Koreans?" said Ms Lee Su Yong, 88, whose parents took her to Hiroshima in search of food when she was seven.
"We Koreans didn't start the war. Most of us were there because the Japanese forced us to be there."
According to the report, Ms Lee now lives in a special nursing home for survivors in Hapcheon, a hilly southern county where about a quarter of the 2,580 registered South Korean survivors still alive today live.
Unlike the comfort women, whose cause the South Korean government championed, survivors of the atomic bombs suffered a political handicap for they were victims of an attack by the US - South Korea's most important ally. It was taboo to criticise the US, even decades after the war, said the report.
Many families of the South Korean survivors are tormented by the belief that radiation exposure caused genetic defects that survivors passed on to their children and grandchildren.
Ms Han Jeong Soon, 57, told the New York Times that she blames genetic defects passed down by her parents for the bone disease she suffers from and her son's cerebral palsy.
"For others, the atomic bomb marked the end of the war and liberation. For us, it was the beginning of new pain and the start of a never-ending war."