The U.S. took Japanese children as young as 9 to the Korean War that broke out in 1950, according to top-secret documents from the National Archives and Records Administration.
Researchers from the Mainichi Shimbun obtained the files from the United States National Archives and Records Administration in January after learning that Japanese people traveled to the Korean Peninsula during the conflict.
At least 60 Japanese civilians were reportedly brought to the war, and 18 of them were under 20 years old.
Four of those 18 young fighters then took part in actual combat, including a 12-year-old who claimed to have killed North Korean soldiers.
The documents, which come in 843 pages, included interviews of the 60 civilians, as well as their personal information, fingerprints and writing with photographs. One of them was a 13-year-old who lost his parents in the Hiroshima bombing.
Of the 60 people, 48 were said to be working as staff at U.S. military bases in Japan. Twelve of them were minors.
In their recorded remarks, many claimed that a superior officer at their base asked them to go to Korea.
“Three of the minors who weren’t base workers reportedly said they were there as ‘mascots’ for the U.S. military,” the Japanese newspaper said.
An orphaned 9-year-old said that he was taken by American forces in Shimane, southwestern Japan.
The findings emerged ahead of the 70th anniversary of the Korean War on June 25. When asked for a comment, Japan’s Ministry of Defense reportedly stated, “We are not aware of all the facts, and we are not in a position to respond.”
It’s unclear why Japanese children were ultimately taken to the conflict. According to James Brown, a professor of international relations at Temple University in Tokyo, he speculated that perhaps American soldiers who “‘adopted’ orphans simply believed that it would be best to take them.”
The troops could have chosen to leave the children with an uncertain future in post-war Japan. That being said, the idea of a 12-year-old “[ending] up in a front line fighting North Korean troops is a completely different matter,” he continued, adding to the situation’s controversial nature.
“I’m sure the opening days and weeks of the war were chaotic, but the US military had fought its way through the Pacific war not long before and this was a professional army,” Brown told the South China Morning Post. “It is difficult to understand how things were so chaotic that kids of 12 were fighting alongside professional soldiers.”
The Korean War lasted from June 1950 to July 1953. Approximately three million civilians from both the North and South sides died in the violence.
Feature Images: Left: U.S. Marines move out over rugged mountain terrain while closing with North Korean forces; Right: B-26 Invaders bomb logistics depots in Wonsan, North Korea.