The conversations between Doc Hata and K highlight the cultural and political tensions between the Japanese and Korean peoples. The reader gets a whiff of tension when Doc Hata recounts how he explained to K that he and his fellow comrades had taken up arms to defend the Asian way of life. K noted wryly that the lifestyle they sought to defend was, in reality, the Japanese lifestyle. Her comment demonstrates the strong cultural influence of Japan in the region, and it also recalls Doc Hata’s own preference to consider himself Japanese and not think about his Korean ethnicity or early upbringing. In addition to the cultural tension between Japan and Korea, K also draws attention to political tensions. When she told Doc Hata about her father’s ultimately failed attempt to broker a deal related to Japanese colonists in Korea, she referenced the historical fact that Korea had submitted to Japanese rule and occupation since 1910. Japan enjoyed cultural and political dominance throughout Asia, placing Korea in a subordinate and relatively powerless position. This geopolitical reality is reflected in the power dynamic between Doc Hata, a representative of the Japanese army, and K, a Korean woman forced into sex slavery.
Captain Ono’s critique of Doc Hata’s insufficient ability to act echoes Sunny’s complaint in Chapter 6 that her father lives a life made of gestures. Recall that Sunny complained about how Doc Hata uses gestures of goodwill to cultivate a sterling reputation. According to Sunny, his goodwill always has the ulterior motive of making him look good, and because of this, it has a coercive function. Doc Hata’s gestures give him the appearance of kindness, but they frequently remain unsubstantiated by actual selfless expressions of care. Many years prior, Ono made very similar points about Doc Hata’s conduct. Ono claimed that Doc Hata consistently failed to take strong action and so appeared insubstantial, like someone making vague gestures rather than moving with clarity and fully embodied self-possession. Ono cited the vagueness of Doc Hata’s gestural character as a reason why he would never become a surgeon, who must work with confidence and precision. Although they spoke at different times in Doc Hata’s life and in very different contexts, both Captain Ono and Sunny make a similar critique of Doc Hata’s character, representing that Doc Hata has not evolved much since his days in the army.