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The Cold War Freeze over War Compensation in Early Postwar Japan

More than six decades after the end of World War II, the Japanese government has yet to release an estimated ¥200 billion worth of unpaid wages owed to Korean forced laborers who were brought to wartime Japan. Nor has the government disbursed an additional ¥200 billion worth of financial benefits owed to Korean and Taiwanese military servicemen. During the Allied Occupation of Japan, American authorities directed Japanese officials to compensate these Asian victims of the war effort, setting up a custody account for labor conscripts in 1946 and a foreign creditor's account for military conscripts in 1949. However, the outbreak of the Korean War destroyed any chance of monetary compensation, as the U.S. preoccupation over the new cold-war conflict effectively froze up bank accounts relating to Japan's former colonial subjects. Clarifying the historical record of American involvement in this unresolved issue of war compensation can contribute towards resurrecting efforts to reach regional reconciliation between Japan and its neighbors in Northeast Asia.

Matthew Augustine is the 2009-2010 Northeast Asia History Fellow at Shorenstein APARC, Stanford University. He received his Ph.D. from the History Department at Columbia University and his B.A. from the Politics Department at Princeton University. His research interests include military occupations, especially the U.S. occupations in Japan, Korea, and Okinawa after World War II; transnational migrations and border controls; Japan's colonial empire in the Asia-Pacific; and the history and politics of war reparations in Northeast Asia.