This is a very rare occasion that I have to agree with Korean news article. The author must be foreign educated. very different form this one.
However, I can’t find the page in Korean. How many Koreans read this. What are the responses? Is it even published in Korean?
Future of Korea-Japan relations and Korean democracy
By Joseph Yi
Following the 2015 Korea-Japan agreement, 34 of 46 registered comfort women survivors accepted compensation from the Japanese government. Two decades ago, 61 former Korean comfort women (out of 203) accepted compensation from Japan’s 1994 Asian Women’s Fund. Korea has the option of building on the 2015 agreement and deepening cooperation with Japan. This seems prudent in the context of uncertainties at home and abroad, including military threats from North Korea and THADD-related sanctions from China.
Activists have chosen an alternative path of confrontation, and placed a new comfort woman statue in Busan. They have been cheered on by China, which uses the comfort women issue to divide its two neighbors. The protesters are motivated by various factors, but key is a Manichean worldview that divides people into innocent victims and evil oppressors, and unawareness of legitimate, alternative viewpoints. In liberal democracies, perspectives of one side are vigorously disputed by another in public debate; but this is lacking in illiberal societies. In the past, South Koreans were taught that North Korea was a puppet of Soviet communists, and that contrary views reflected that of communist traitors. Today, young people are taught that Japan kidnapped and enslaved 200,000 Korean women, and that views to the contrary reflect that of Japanese right-wingers and pro-Japanese traitors (chinilpa).
In the popular 2016 movie “Spirits’ Homecoming,” Korean girls are kidnapped, abused, and their bodies burned (to destroy evidence) by Japanese soldiers. The Homecoming-style narrative is disputed by some academics as overly simplistic. According to San Francisco State Professor Sarah Soh (‘Comfort Women’ 2008), women initially offered various testimonies for working at comfort stations, such as supporting their families economically or escaping overbearing parents. Some women suffered abuse, others experienced more supportive conditions. Soh argues that women should freely share their experiences, without pressure to conform to the nationalist, anti-Japan narrative.
Soh remains largely unknown among Koreans, because no publisher has translated her English-language book. In 2013, Sejong University professor Park Yu-ha published a Korean-language book (‘Comfort Women of the Empire’), with findings broadly similar to Soh’s. A Seoul court partially censored Park’s book and fined her 90 million won ($74 thousand) for defaming survivors of enslavement. Prosecutors also requested a three-year prison sentence.
The trial of Professor Park reflects the prevailing narrative that South Korea is the victim of malicious outsiders, such as North Korea (for political right), USA (left), or Japan (right and left); and that contrary views betray the Korean nation. An alternative, liberal-nationalist perspective would combine deep love of one’s country with thoughtful, nuanced analysis and universal, liberal values. A liberal patriot would ask fellow citizens to openly discuss the complexities of their past and present, including the historically ignored, comfort women for the American army in Korea or for the Korean army in Vietnam. A thoughtful, liberal perspective that transcends the victimhood narrative would serve both Korean strategic interests and universal justice.
Joseph Yi is an associate professor of political science at Hanyang University