In February 1949, six months after the establishment of Republic of Korea, South Korean journal Kŏnguk Kongron published an interview article discussing the legacies of Japanese colonialism with Vice President Yi Si-yŏng. When an interviewer stated that current “various domestic institutions and structures” appeared as though “returning to the Japanese colonial period,” the Vice President responded: “What is wrong with using Japanese things? I think it’s fine if they are useful for us. We just need to remove certain elements they [the Japanese] had imposed on us in order to eradicate our spirits, such as the worship of the Emperor.”
This paper explores what the revival of “Japanese things” looked like in postcolonial South Korea. The paper focuses particularly on how the legacies of Japanese wartime colonial mobilization molded the legal-governmental system under the early Syngman Rhee administration. Beginning with its inauguration in mid-August 1948, the Rhee administration had struggled to uproot potential dissidents as it faced multiple popular rebellions, leftist guerrilla struggles, and border conflicts along the thirty-eighth parallel. In the throes of a quasi-civil war, the Rhee administration revitalized colonial instruments of total war and mobilization in the name of the new “national movement,” apparently modeled on the National Spiritual Mobilization Movement of the late colonial period. Through an examination of the national movement, this paper illuminates how the South Korean postcolonial state inherited certain methods and practices of colonial governmentality. I will also discuss how we can conceptualize transwar/postcolonial intersectionality within the Cold War context.