10 years have passed since I started this blog. And some people began to realize something is wrong with South Korean claims.
I told you so in 10 freaking years ago.
CAN KOREA HANDLE THE TRUTH ABOUT JAPAN’S ‘COMFORT WOMEN’?
South China Morning Post
15 JAN 2017
With its recall of two diplomats this week, Japan appears to have upped the ante in its long-running dispute with Korea over its use of wartime sex slaves, reigniting enmities over an issue that had until recently seemed tantalisingly close to a conclusion.
And standing in the way of what might have been a watershed moment in diplomatic relations between the two countries? The statue of a teenage girl.
Rewind just a year and it appeared Seoul and Tokyo had reached a measure of closure over wartime Japan’s use of what were euphemistically known as “comfort women” – the reportedly hundreds of thousands of women, mainly from Korea, recruited to serve in its military-run brothels during the second world war.
But any lingering such notions were dispelled when Nagamine Yasumasa, the ambassador to South Korea, and Morimoto Yasuhiro, the consul general in Busan, returned to Japan on January 9.
That move, prompted by Tokyo’s displeasure over statues symbolising “comfort women” in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul and consulate in Busan, was the first high-level diplomatic recall by Japan since August 2012, when South Korea’s then president, Lee Myung-bak, visited the disputed islets of Dokdo (known as Takeshima in Japan).
Yet chances of the two countries putting the issue behind them had once, albeit briefly, seemed so promising. On December 28, 2015, Japanese Foreign Minister Kishida Fumio and South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se struck a landmark deal in which Tokyo agreed to pay 1 billion yen (HK$67 million) to the surviving victims and issue a formal apology.
For its part, South Korea agreed to consider the matter resolved and to speak with relevant organisations about the removal of the comfort woman statue in front of the embassy. So when Japan paid the 1 billion yen and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologised, hopes of closure on the issue – and a new era for Japanese-Korean relations – did not seem so far-fetched.
South Korean self-immolates over ‘comfort women’ deal with Japan, as PM Abe urges Seoul to remove new statue
Except Korea then decided that Abe’s apology did not go far enough and therefore the matter was not resolved. Not only does the statue in front of the Seoul embassy remain standing, it now has a sister. In December 2016 – one year after that “landmark deal” – a replica of the statue was installed outside the Japanese consulate in Busan. That statue was briefly confiscated by police, as the group that installed it had done so without a permit, but it returned after a flood of protests from the public.
Tokyo asked for both statues to be removed, but Seoul replied that it had spoken to the civic groups involved and had no further responsibility. This led Tokyo to recall the diplomats and Woo Sang-ho, floor leader of the Minjoo Party of Korea, to suggest that, rather than remove the statues, Korea should return the 1 billion yen.
Since then, public opinion on each side of the debate has hardened, and what had seemed like a watershed moment now appears more like a stalemate.
The United States seems to have backed Seoul in the deadlock, with Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday commending Korea for faithfully implementing its side of the 2015 agreement.
Yet it may be that much of the blame for the deadlock lies not with the former aggressor, Japan, but with its victim.
“Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely,” the English poet John Milton said in his polemic Areopagitica, which begins by paying respect to England for overcoming the tyranny of Charles I.
Similarly, any criticism of Korea should begin with an acknowledgement of the admirable distance it has travelled from the stupid and corrupt leadership of the Joseon era, the maniacal raping and pillaging of Japanese colonialists and the bloodthirsty dictatorships of its early democracy. Korea has come a long way and deserves a great measure of respect as a free and open society, but as Milton puts it, the freedom to speak must be paired with the freedom to know.
For this reason, it is perhaps telling that in this debate, one party refuses to entertain dissenting views, while the other at least consents to look at all the evidence.
While Japan considers other views – modern awareness of the “comfort women” issue began with the Japanese writer Senda Kakou – the Korean government is hostile to any voices that depart from its narrative. This should be a red flag.
Reconciliation cannot wait for the ‘comfort women’ victims of wartime Japan
Park Yu-ha, a professor of Japanese literature at Seoul’s Sejong University, published a book in 2013 titled Comfort Women of Empire, in which she detailed a nuanced history that included not only sex slaves, but prostitutes. She criticised Japanese right-wing extremists, argued that Japan should take responsibility for its actions, explained how its past attempts to do so had failed and described the role Korean collaborators played in trafficking Korean women for financial gain. In February 2015, the Korean government ordered her to redact 34 passages. In January 2016, a Korean court ordered her to pay 10 million won (HK$65,000) each to nine former comfort women for defamation.
This should be weighed alongside the scandal regarding Korea’s state-authored textbooks that depict the dictator Park Chung-hee in a favourable light. One might reply to this that Japan, too, has its own textbook scandal, involving books that depict its wartime atrocities in a favourable light, but those textbooks were created by a private right-wing group and were only ever used by 0.02 per cent of Japanese middle schools.
If anything, the textbooks are evidence of Japan’s freedom of speech – as are the schools in Japan that openly teach North Korean propaganda, something that would be illegal in South Korea. Officially, this illegality is because the South is still technically at war with the North, but there are plenty of other examples of Korean censorship. The country banned Japanese manga until 1998, restricted Japanese music until 1999 and restricted Japanese film until 2004. In 2014, the Korean song Uh-ee by the K-pop group Crayon Pop, was banned because it contained a Japanese word, pikapika (sparkling).
Restrictions on free speech – of which Korea seems fond – tend to injure and blur the truth.
Given this, it’s worth returning to the issue of “comfort women” to consider what ought to be a basic, objective, fact – the number of Korean victims involved.
South Korean ‘comfort women’ continue to fight sex slavery accord with Japan
The Korea Herald has repeatedly cited “up to 200,000 women, mostly from Korea”, and this is in line with other Korean sources. But this number deserves more attention than it tends to get.
In The Comfort Women: Sexual Violence and Postcolonial Memory in Korea and Japan, Chunghee Sarah Soh, a professor of anthropology at San Francisco State University who specialises in issues related to gender and sexuality, says the widely cited figure of 200,000 comes from a 1981 essay in the Hanguk Ilbo by Yun Cheong-ok, a professor of English literature who claims that of 200,000 “volunteers” only 50,000 to 70,000 were sent to the front lines to become comfort women.
Yun “did not reveal the source of the figures given in her essay”, Soh says. She tells us a writer named Kim Teok-seong used the same figures a decade earlier in an article in Seoul Sinmun, and provides an excerpt.
South Korean former ‘comfort women’ Gil Won-ok and Kim Bok-dong, who were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during the second world war, attend a weekly anti-Japanese demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Photo: AFP
South Korean former ‘comfort women’ Gil Won-ok and Kim Bok-dong, who were forced into sexual slavery for Japanese soldiers during the second world war, attend a weekly anti-Japanese demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Photo: AFP
“From 1943 to 1945 approximately 200,000 Korean and Japanese women were mobilised as cheongsindae [comfort women for the Japanese military],” Kim wrote. “The estimated number of Koreans among them is between fifty and seventy thousand.”
In other words, according to these sources, not all 200,000 were used as comfort women, and even of those that were, not all were Korean. On the other hand, Kim makes no mention of recruits prior to 1943, when most comfort women survivors say they were recruited.
Learn from the past to build a better world, ‘comfort women’ historian urges young Chinese
One way or the other – whether too high or low – the often-cited 200,000 figure is highly questionable.
Yet any such suggestion would be shouted down in Korea, or never even heard, creating an echo chamber of opinion. This does an injustice not only to truth and Korean democracy, but to the victims, as well.
As the diplomatic battle with Tokyo continues, Seoul’s best weapon isn’t the outrage of the public, but a forum in which all ideas can be heard and openly defeated, or accepted.
“There can be no denial of the tragic victimisation of forcibly recruited women,” Soh concludes, adding that “it was Japan’s colonialism that undoubtedly facilitated the large-scale victimisation of tens of thousands of Korean women”.
And the “Park Yu-ha”‘s case.
Disputing Korean Narrative on ‘Comfort Women,’ a Professor Draws Fierce Backlash
DEC. 18, 2015
New York Times
South Korea — WHEN she published her book about Korean “comfort women” in 2013, Park Yu-ha wrote that she felt “a bit fearful” of how it might be received.
After all, she said, it challenged “the common knowledge” about the wartime sex slaves.
But even she was not prepared for the severity of the backlash.
In February, a South Korean court ordered Ms. Park’s book, “Comfort Women of the Empire,” redacted in 34 sections where it found her guilty of defaming former comfort women with false facts. Ms. Park is also on trial on the criminal charge of defaming the aging women, widely accepted here as an inviolable symbol of Korea’s suffering under colonial rule by Japan and its need for historical justice, and she is being sued for defamation by some of the women themselves.
The women have called for Ms. Park’s expulsion from Sejong University in Seoul, where she is a professor of Japanese literature. Other researchers say she is an apologist for Japan’s war crimes. On social media, she has been vilified as a “pro-Japanese traitor.”
“They do not want you to see other aspects of the comfort women,” the soft-spoken Ms. Park said during a recent interview at a quiet street-corner cafe run by one of her supporters. “If you do, they think you are diluting the issue, giving Japan indulgence.”
The issue of the comfort women has long been controversial, and it is difficult to determine if the version of events put forward by Ms. Park — who critics say is nothing more than a mouthpiece for Japan — is any more correct than many others that have been offered over the years. Yet, for decades, the common knowledge Ms. Park is challenging has remained as firm among Koreans as their animosity toward their island neighbor.
In the early 20th century, the official history holds, Japan forcibly took innocent girls from Korea and elsewhere to its military-run brothels. There, they were held as sex slaves and defiled by dozens of soldiers a day in the most hateful legacy of Japan’s 35-year colonial rule, which ended with its defeat in World War II.
AS she researched her book, combing through a rich archive in South Korea and Japan and interviewing surviving comfort women, Ms. Park, 58, said she came to realize that such a sanitized, uniform image of Korean comfort women did not fully explain who they were and only deepened this most emotional of the many disputes between South Korea and Japan.
In trying to give what she calls a more comprehensive view of the women’s lives, she made claims that some found refreshing but many considered outrageous and, in some cases, traitorous.
In her book, she emphasized that it was profiteering Korean collaborators, as well as private Japanese recruiters, who forced or lured women into the “comfort stations,” where life included both rape and prostitution. There is no evidence, she wrote, that the Japanese government was officially involved in, and therefore legally responsible for, coercing Korean women.
Although often brutalized in a “slavelike condition” in their brothels, Ms. Park added, the women from the Japanese colonies of Korea and Taiwan were also treated as citizens of the empire and were expected to consider their service patriotic. They forged a “comradelike relationship” with the Japanese soldiers and sometimes fell in love with them, she wrote. She cited cases where Japanese soldiers took loving care of sick women and even returned those who did not want to become prostitutes.
The book sold only a few thousand copies. But it set off an outsize controversy.
“Her case shows how difficult it has become in South Korea to challenge the conventional wisdom about comfort women,” said Kim Gyu-hang, a social critic.
Ms. Park’s book, published in Japan last year, won awards there. Last month, 54 intellectuals from Japan and the United States issued a statement criticizing South Korean prosecutors for “suppressing the freedom of scholarship and press.” Among them was a former chief cabinet secretary in Japan, Yohei Kono, who issued a landmark apology in 1993 admitting coercion in the recruitment of comfort women.
Japan’s Apologies for World War II
Even then, however, Mr. Kono noted that the recruiting had been conducted mainly by private agents working at the request of the Japanese military, and by administrative and military personnel. For outraged South Koreans, the caveats rendered the apology useless.
This month, 190 South Korean scholars and cultural figures issued a statement supporting what Ms. Park had tried to do in her book, if not everything written in it. They called her indictment an “anachronistic” attempt to “keep public opinion on comfort women under state control.”
But others said the talk of academic freedom missed the main point of the backlash. This month, 380 scholars and activists from South Korea, Japan and elsewhere accused Ms. Park of “exposing a serious neglect of legal understanding” and avoiding the “essence” of the issue: Japan’s state responsibility.
Their statement maintained that state agencies of Japan, like its military, were involved in the “hideous crime” of coercing tens of thousands of women into sexual slavery, a view shared by two United Nations special rapporteurs in the 1990s.
Yang Hyun-ah, a professor at the Seoul National University School of Law, said that Ms. Park’s most egregious mistake was to “generalize selectively chosen details from the women’s lives.”
“I wish her expelled from the country,” said Yoo Hee-nam, 87, one of the nine former comfort women who sued Ms. Park, shaking her walking stick during a news conference.
MS. PARK, who is divorced with a son, grew up in South Korea and graduated from high school there before moving to Japan with her family. She attended college in Japan and earned a Ph.D. in Japanese literature from Waseda University. She touched on the subject of the comfort women in an earlier book, “For Reconciliation,” which reflected her broader interest in healing the tortured relations between the two countries.
She began writing her latest book in 2011 to help narrow the gulf between deniers in Japan who dismissed comfort women as prostitutes and their image in South Korea. That gap appears to have broadened under President Park Geun-hye of South Korea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, who have been accused of trying to impose their governments’ historical views on their people.
Last year, Mr. Abe’s political allies went so far as to advocate a reconsideration of Mr. Kono’s 1993 apology.
Ms. Park said she had tried to broaden discussions by investigating the roles that patriarchal societies, statism and poverty played in the recruitment of comfort women. She said that unlike women rounded up as spoils of battle in conquered territories like China, those from the Korean colony had been taken to the comfort stations in much the same way poor women today enter prostitution.
She also compared the Korean comfort women to more recent Korean prostitutes who followed American soldiers into their winter field exercises in South Korea in the 1960s through ’80s. (The “blanket corps,” so called because the women often carried blankets under their arms, followed pimps searching for American troops through snowy hills or built field brothels with tents as the Americans lined up outside, according to former prostitutes for the United States military.)
“Korean comfort women were victims, but they were also collaborators as people from a colony,” Ms. Park wrote in one of the redacted sentences in her book.
But she added that even if the Japanese government did not directly order the women’s forced recruitment and some Korean women joined comfort stations voluntarily, the government should still be held responsible for the “sin” of creating the colonial structure that allowed it to happen.
Ms. Park said she had no reason to defame comfort women.
After Korea’s liberation in 1945, she said, former comfort women erased much of their memories, like their hatred of “their own parents and Korean recruiters who sold them.” Instead, she wrote, they were expected to serve only as a “symbol of a victimized nation,” a role foisted on them by nationalist activists to incite anti-Japanese feelings and accepted by South Koreans in general.
“Whether the women volunteered or not, whether they did prostitution or not, our society needed them to remain pure, innocent girls,” she said in the interview. “If not, people think they cannot hold Japan responsible.”
You can find a good summary of her book here.
Apr.25,2015 13:12 KST
Recent Japanese magazine report accuses South Korea of being a perpetrator on the comfort women issue
“That Turkish bath was a ‘welfare center’ set up by the South Korean military exclusively for South Korean troops.”
Did South Korea run prostitution facilities similar to the Japanese military’s “comfort stations” in Saigon and other cities during the Vietnam War? This question is drawing new attention after a Japanese magazine report on the discovery of records suggesting so by the US National Archives and Records Administration (NARA).
At one level, the report comes across strongly as an attempt to draw attention away from Japan after South Korea’s persistent efforts to demand action from Tokyo to resolve the issue of “comfort women” forcibly mobilized as sexual slaves to the Japanese military. But the issue warrants investigation by the South Korean government – and if the allegations prove true, a serious effort should be launched to resolve the matter.
“Spring special” edition on Apr. 2 by the Shukan Bunshun weekly newsmagazine
The report in question was printed in an extra-large “spring special” edition on Apr. 2 by the Shukan Bunshun weekly newsmagazine, one of the leading forces in promoting anti-Korean sentiment in Japan. The article was written by Noriyuki Yamaguchi, chief of the Washington bureau of the Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS). Yamaguchi explained that he wrote the piece after hearing advice from an acquaintance he met before taking his post in the US capital. “There are unconfirmed reports that the South Korean military operated ‘welfare centers’ all over South Vietnam during the war,” he recalled the friend telling him. “If it’s possible to support this with data from the US government, then that makes South Korea ‘perpetrators’ on the comfort women issue. If President Park Geun-hye and the South Korean public can regain their objectivity and approach the comfort women issue seriously, then the situation could change.”
Yamaguchi proceeded to track down White House and State Department diplomatic documents from the war through different branches of the NARA, as well as trial and crime records. In July 2014, the long and difficult process paid off when he finally located a letter sent to Gen. Chae Myeong-sin, the South Korean military’s first commander in Vietnam between 1965 and 1969, by the US military command stationed in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City). While it did not indicate the exact date the US military wrote it, Yamaguchi said the surrounding circumstances suggested it would have been written “between January and April 1969.”
According to the article, the letter makes reference to the illegal diversion of large amounts of US supplies by the South Korea military in Vietnam. One of the places mentioned as a backdrop for the crime was a “Turkish bath for South Korean troops” located in central Saigon. The letter also reportedly refers to “acts of prostitution taking place” and “Vietnamese women working” at the Turkish bath. “While it is a welfare center exclusively for South Korean troops, US troops are also able to make special use for a fee of US$38 per visit,” the letter is quoted as saying.
After inquiring with US veterans who were aware of the situation in Saigon at the time, Yamaguchi heard reports that the “Turkish bath” there was a prostitution facility, as well as accounts that “the Vietnamese women who worked at the facilities were all very young and came from farming villages.”
Concluding the piece, Yamaguchi writes, “If President Park Geun-hye truly sees the comfort women issue as a human rights issue rather than a tool for domestic politics and diplomacy . . . then she will take the lead in investigating [the allegations] as with the example of the South Korean comfort women. Otherwise, [South Korea] would be proving to the international community that it is a country that ignores truths that are inconvenient to itself and refuses to confront history.”
Distasteful as it may be, the argument is also difficult to refute. Now it’s time for Seoul to sit down with Vietnamese authorities to find out the truth not only about the civilian massacres that took place during the Vietnam War, but also about the extent of military authorities’ involvement in operating and managing “welfare stations” for their troops – and to take appropriate follow-up action.
By Gil Yun-hyung, Tokyo correspondent
But, Korean demagogue continues… forever. And Koreans are kept being ignorant.
FEB 1, 2017
The final version of South Korea’s state-issued middle school history textbook has added to a section about the history of a statue installed in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul representing “comfort women,” claiming that some were mass-murdered by fleeing Japanese troops.
An earlier version did not have the mass-murder description.
It also said that a citizens’ group has held rallies each Wednesday since 1992 to demand Japan resolve the issue of comfort women who were forced to provide sex for Japanese troops before and during World War II.
Additionally, the final version says the statue was installed in front of the embassy to mark the 1,000th rally by the group.
The added descriptions came after the education ministry solicited the public for opinions after the initial draft was released in November. The additions reflect an apparent call for stronger wordings on the comfort women issue.
And no one can stop it.
NOV 29, 2016
Drafts of state-authored history textbooks that the South Korean government plans to introduce next year highlight the wartime mobilization of Korean “comfort women” who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels, Lee Joon-sik, deputy prime minister and education minister, has announced.
The textbooks, Lee told a news conference, also clearly demonstrate human rights violations and the responsibility of the Japanese government on the comfort women issue.
The books, which will be for middle school students, defines comfort women as those who were forcibly mobilized by the Japanese government and military starting in the early 1930s and were sexually assaulted on a continuous basis, mainly at facilities set up and controlled by the Imperial Japanese Army.
The draft text for high school students calls comfort women “sex slaves” and says their human rights were violated.
The high school textbook also touches on the South Korean-Japanese dispute over the islands known in Japan as Takeshima and as Dokdo in South Korea. It says that though the Sea of Japan islands are explicitly South Korean territory, Tokyo continues to assert that they are its territory.
The text also notes the South Korean government’s position on the naming of the Sea of Japan, which it says should be called the East Sea.
The cases in which the area is also called the East Sea has been growing internationally, the book adds.
Related article I wrote 10 years ago.