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Comfort Women

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The Tears of Korean Comfort Women After Chosun (the former name of Korea) was invaded by Japan in 1910, Korean women were forcibly sent to Japan as comfort women: sex slaves of the Japanese military. ‘Comfort woman’ is a euphemism for a female sexual slave to the Japanese Imperial Army before and during World War II. The Japanese military recruited young and unmarried Asian women to join the military, then sent them to brothels in China and other Asian and Pacific countries in order to “comfort” Japanese soldiers. One of the few surviving Korean comfort women, Soon-duk Kim, gave the following testimony to Sangmie Choi Schellstede, the editor of the book, Comfort Women Speak: Testimony by Sex Slaves of the Japanese Military: “I was promised a job as a military nurse…[however, the Japan military took us to] a ruined village of Shanghai. Rooms were divided into tiny cubicles. Each of our fifty girls was divided to one of these cubicles. Now this house became a brothel, and we were sex slaves in it” (38). Kim was wounded due to numerous rape. She explained about the horrible remedy she received: “One day our manager gave me packets of black powder to take once a day…[But] after I used it several times, he then told me the powder was made from a leg of a Chinese soldier’s corpse” (38).
This experience is not limited to Kim. Approximately 200,000 Korean women suffered as sex slaves of Japan’s military system before and during the World War II. Today, however, not many people remember this event, resulting in maltreatment towards the survivors of Korean comfort women. In the early 20th century, with the intention to form an Asia-Pacific Empire, Japan attacked the Korean peninsula, a strategic location to enter the central inland of Asia. And in 1910, Chosun became a colony of Japan. Japanese military men raped the colony people often, and the international press started to report about the issue. As the writer of Sexual Slavery and the “Comfort Women” of World War II, Carmen M. Argibay points out that the emperor of Japan had to come up with a solution to “restore the honor of Japan”, which was ruined by the press (376). C. Sarah Soh, the author of Japan’s National/ Asian Women’s Fund for “Comfort Women”, adds that the aides of the Emperor devised two ideas: a reform of the Military Code, a pocket-sized military code issued to soldiers that specifically forbade retreat or surrender; and the creation of “comfort stations (ianjo)” (209).
The first comfort stations were built in 1932, near some barracks in continental China. Although hiring licensed prostitutes from Japan was possible, the military made the comfort stations as facilities for sexual slavery. In his article, Argibay points out four reasons why Japan established comfort stations. As discussed above, the first reason was the desire to restore the image of the Imperial Army (375). The Rape of Nanking, which happened in 1937, influenced the image of Japan’s internationally. The Japanese military not only invaded and destroyed the city, Nanking, but also committed a large-scale rape of young women and girls (376). The international press started to report these barbaric treatments towards the general population of Nanking, and therefore Japan gained poor reputation among the international public. In response, the Japanese Emperor had to make an effort concealing sex related problems from the international press. In order to maintain the image of Imperial Army, the Emperor decided to establish brothels which would prevent from other sex affairs (376).
According to Argibay, the second reason for establishing comfort system was to “prevent anti-Japanese sentiment from fomenting among local residents in the occupied territories” (377). Rape increased anti-Japanese sentiment and stimulated resistance in the occupied countries, such as Korea and a small proportion of China, which in turn complicated military actions for the Japanese army during World War II. For example, before comfort stations were established, extensive raping in local areas of colonies brought boycotts in the area. According to a comfort women survivor, Du-ri Park, townspeople in Moo-ju, South Korea started a movement against the Japanese military as the Japanese “invaders began to commit sexual abduction” in her own home town (72). People set fire on rice fields and ran away in order to make the Japanese army hard to find food sources (72).
Third, Japan wanted to keep its military personnel healthier, in order to reduce medical expenses (377). The amount of rape soldiers committed often caused venereal diseases. These diseases caused loss of strength and required expensive medical treatment before soldiers and officers could resume their duties. Military oversight of the comfort stations included examination by Japanese doctors to check the comfort women’s virginity and health. This reduced the incidence of venereal disease, the attendant loss of manpower, and expenses of treatment (377).
The last reason is that by establishing comfort stations, comfort personnel could be isolated, making it impossible to interact with neither the military personnel nor the people in their home country. “Many of them had been trafficked from Korea [, which is a distant country], did not know the local language, could not leave the facilities…[and most importantly,] they could not communicate any military secrets confided to them” (377). The communication barrier between the Japanese military and the comfort women would have provided a distinct advantage over local brothels, which, the Japanese believed, could hide dangerous spies. The Japanese government used several ways to recruit women for the comfort stations. One such way was deception. Due to numerous wars as a process of the invasion of Japan, many young Korean women lived in poverty and had to work from early age to support their families. Recruiters promised these women better jobs as nurses, waitresses, or maids. Moreover, according to the U.S. Office of War Interrogation (OWI) Report No.49, Korean women assumed that “comfort” consisted of visiting wounded soldiers and literally make the soldiers happy. Many Korean women enlisted on the basis of these misrepresentations (qtd. in Tanaka 105-106).
In addition, Korean women were often purchased from their families. According to OWI Report, women were “property” and the prices varied from 300 to 1000 yen “depending in the girls’ characters, appearance and ages” (qtd. in Tanka 105-108). Abduction was also a common method of recruit. Argibay points out that “the Japanese army forcibly abducted women and girls both in the colonies and occupied countries” (378). When the girls were informed about the real nature of the work, it was natural for them to refuse to work as a comfort woman. According to Yuki Tanaka, the writer of the book Japan’s Comfort Women: Sexual slavery and prostitution during World War II and the US occupation, the managers often informed comfort women that a large advance payments had been made to their parents, and that it had to be paid back before they were sent back home (50). Even when no advance payment had been made, the manager would demand repayment of the cost of transporting the girls from their home to the comfort station. Yet, some women still tried to refuse being made sexual slaves. However, their resistance was met by force, in order to get their consent, and some were maimed or killed (53). Yoon-shim Kim, one of the comfort women who served as a sex slave in a comfort station in Harbin, China, explains about the results of disobedient towards the Japanese managers in the book Comfort Women Speak. “If a girl refused to sex, the soldier would tie up her feet with his boot straps and force sex on her…I realized that a girl…was buried alive for refusing sex” (44). Despite the sexual abuse, the poor living conditions of the comfort stations made survival difficult for women. In her testimony, Duk-kyung Kang describes their hunger. “We fought hunger and labored at the brothel for two months without pay, and I thought I would die from starvation if I stayed there any longer” (17).
Some women could not endure life as a sex slaves and drove themselves to suicide. Tanaka reports that some women committed suicide by drinking cresol soap solution that was provided to clean their genitals (59). “Others chose overdoses of drugs mixed with alcohol” (59). All these women not only suffered as sex slaves during the war, but have also been forced to endure the hardships of poverty and isolation throughout their postwar lives. Tanaka acknowledges that when the war ended, Japanese simply abandoned most of the comfort women (59). Some were rescued by the Allied forces and eventually sent home, but many had to find their own means to travel the long distance to their homes (59). “There were also women who decided not to return home,” Pil-gi Moon, one of the women who gave testimonies to Comfort Women Speak, comments that some of her friends refused to return to their home country, Korea, “because they felt stigmatized by the sexual abuse they had been subjected to” (63). She explains that these women survived and are still surviving as second-class citizens in foreign places, often discriminated because of their identity as former comfort women. Another interviewee in the book, Ok-ju Moon, states her current situation. Her living condition is below poverty level, so the South Korean government gave her a small place to sleep (59). “I also have a physical disability which resulted from an accident during a troop bivouac in Burma. I was entertaining a drunken soldier when he pushed me out of a second or third floor window… [Now] even simple walking is such a difficult task (60). Poverty, social stigma, and often disabilities such as Moons, made it hard for the comfort women to marry even after they were liberated. “Just as I feared, I did not marry, nor did I have children. I am all alone” (61). The government of Japan has undermined the efforts to hold individual criminals accountable for war crimes by refusing to officially admit to its own direct involvement in the victimization of a quarter-million women. The abuses endured by the Japanese military’s comfort women are categorized as crimes against humanity. Argibay points out that Article 6(c) of The Charter of the International Military Tribunal of the Far East (IMTFE) defines crimes against humanity as “namely, murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation and other inhuman acts committed against any civilian population, before or during the war, or persecutions on political, racial or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime with the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where it was perpetrated” (qtd. in Argibay 381). Yayori Matsui explains in her journal Women’s International Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery: Memory, Identity, and Society that in 1998, a similar definition later codified into Article 7 of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) statute definition of crimes against humanity (135). The importance of mentioning both Article 6(c) of the IMTFE charter and Article 7 of the ICC statute is to show that such defined “crimes against humanity” are considered gross violations of human rights, thereby appearing in different statutes of law. Prior to the emergence of official documents proving the Japanese Imperial Army’s direct involvement in the creation of wartime brothels, public and media reports increasingly began to circulate about comfort women. According to Matsui, in 1990, citizens of South Korea formed organizations with the objective of pressuring the Japanese government to officially acknowledge its responsibility and “the Japanese government’s initial response was complete denial” (120). The government declared that private contractors that were not associated with the Japanese government ran all of the brothels. Matsui notes that one year later, in 1991, Japanese historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki unearthed a document entitled, “Regarding the Recruitment of Women for Military Brothels,” found in the archives of Japan’s Defense Agency (128). The discovery of Yoshimi Yoshiaki gave evidence that contrasts the statement that the Japanese government had made. This led to the famous “Kono apology.” Tanaka also explains about this apology. In 1993, the Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yohei Kono, issued a statement recognizing comfort stations, acknowledging the Japanese military’s involvement in them, and apologized to those victims who suffered (107). He admitted “comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day…[that] the then Japanese military was, directly and indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women” (108-109). Kono also asserted that government studies have shown that in many cases comfort women were “recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion … at times, administrative or military personnel directly took part in the recruitments” (109). Matsui claims that “while one might argue that Kono’s apology was sufficient, it was neither an official apology by the government of Japan nor a credible one that would require the Japanese government to directly compensate the victims” (110).
The international public, however, has begun to recognize the crime Japan committed against comfort women. Matsui’s journal reports that a group of Japanese women proposed that a Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery be held (119-120). The tribunal was held in Tokyo, From December 8th to 12th, 2000. Matsui points out that sixty-four survivors from nine countries and areas in the Asia-Pacific region took part in the tribunal (120). More than one thousand people from throughout the world, some from as far as Africa and South America, came to observe the tribunal each day, along with more than three hundred media representatives (120). For the first three days, the tribunal heard the testimonies of survivors, scholars in the fields of history, international law, and psychology, and two Japanese veterans. In addition, the court received the voluminous evidence submitted by nine country prosecution teams and two chief prosecutors (121). On the fourth day, the tribunal was in recess while the judges deliberated, and a Public Hearing on Crimes against Women in Recent Wars and Conflicts was held in order to show how the failure to adjudicate past crimes has affected recent affairs (121-122). On the fifth day, 12 December 2000, the tribunal issued its preliminary judgment, which found Emperor Hirohito guilty and the State of Japan responsible, for the crimes of rape (122).
Tanaka notes about this Tokyo tribunal, “it took a whole year for the Tribunal to render its Final Judgment” (100). On 4 December 2001, the Final Judgment was issued in The Hague, the Netherlands, and the home of international law, to show the significance of the judgment to the whole world (98). More than 1000 paragraphs and 200 pages long, the judgment discusses in full detail the factual findings of the tribunal, and law applicable to the case (98). It finds all ten of the defendants guilty, either as individuals or as superiors, of crimes against humanity (99). The Judgment also made detailed recommendations on repayment and public apology, not only to the Government of Japan but also to the former Allied nations, and to the United Nations and its member states (99). A copy of the Judgment was handed by the judges to each of the survivors who attended the session to take back to their country people (100). The Japanese government realized it could no longer simply ignore public opinion, and the outcry of victimized women throughout Korea. Soh reports that in 2001, as the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, Japanese government decided to establish the Asian Women’s Fund as a means of fulfilling its moral responsibility (218). The fund was to be raised from the private sector to give atonement money to each survivor. Matsui reports that the Fund, however, caused resentment among survivors, most of whom they rejected it, because they consider it a sort of “charity money” to “poor survivors” and “a means of avoiding payment of State reparation” (131). According to Schellstde, today, there are 63 surviving Korean comfort women (based on 2000, when the book was written). However, their lives are now ending without official apology or compensation from the Japanese government (229). The Crimes committed against these survivors remain one of the greatest unacknowledged and unremedied injustices of the Second World War. During Japan's fifteen-year war in the Asia Pacific theater, the comfort system evolved as a complex social, sexual-cultural, and historical institution for the military. These were facilities of authorized gang rape and sexual enslavement of women of the colonies and occupied territories. The uncompromising search for gender justice in terms of state compensation and a proper apology clashes with a humanitarian desire to take some concrete action on behalf of the aging survivors during their lifetime. According to Schellstede, “there are no museums, no graves for the unknown "comfort woman", no [proper] education of future generations, and there have been no judgment days for the victims of Japan's military sexual slavery and the rampant sexual violence and brutality that characterized its aggressive war” (2). Therefore, holding truth-telling sessions with recognition of governments who are related to this comfort women matter, and receiving a sincere apology from the Japanese government would not only console the broken hearts of all comfort women, but also help prevent future tear-dropping events.

Works Cited
Argibay, Carmen M. "Sexual Slavery And The "Comfort Women" Of World War II." Berkeley Journal Of International Law 21.2 (2003): 375. Academic Search Premier. Web. 4 Mar. 2012.
Matsui, Yayori. "Women's International War Crimes Tribunal On Japan's Military Sexual Slavery: Memory, Identity, And Society." East Asia: An International Quarterly 19.4 (2001): 119. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
Schellstede, Sangmie Choi. Ed. Comfort women speak: testimony by sex slaves of the Japanese military. New York: Holmes & Meier, 2000. Print.
Soh, C. Sarah. "Japan's National/Asian Women's Fund For "Comfort Women." Pacific Affairs 76.2 (2003): 209-234. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Mar. 2012.
Tanaka, Yuki. Japan’s Comfort Women: sexual slavery and prostitution during World War II and the US occupation. London and New York: Routledge, 2002. Print.

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