Politicizing Justice

Post–Cold War Redress and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission

Author: Lisa Yoneyama


How are we to understand the global proliferation of truth and reconciliation commissions (TRC) and the seemingly heightened desires for historical justice at the new century's turn? Is the rush toward redress and reconciliation but a symptom of the retreat from the political? Can transitional justice, whether in tribunals, reparations, apologies, or TRCs, suggest more than the liberal management of post-violence societies? This essay explores these and other questions by examining insights derived from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Korea (TRCK). The TRCK's idea of redress was unique in that it understood the Korean War to be an outcome of the multifaceted histories of Japanese colonialism, postliberation dictatorial regimes, the World War II military strategy of civilian annihilation, anticommunism, and the expansion of American empire. Moreover, the TRCK was a part of the broader post-1990s interrogation of cold war institutional and epistemic structures that had undermined earlier attempts to achieve thoroughgoing transitional justice in the aftermath of Japan's military and colonial aggression. The Korean War occurred at a critical juncture when cold war concerns contained both redress demands against Japan and anticolonial aspirations for a radically transformed global order. Engaging the works of Allen Feldman, Jacque Rancière, Slavoj Žižek, and others, this essay argues that, by questioning the longue durée of modern-colonial violence, the TRCK's and other post–cold war efforts for historical justice have the potential to effectively politicize the terms and distribution of justice.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: Korea
Topics: Imperialism

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December 2010
© FAO/Dinh Nam