U.S. Officials Meet Former Sex Slaves
Two women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II recently visited the White House and State Department to testify about their ordeal.
Lee Ock-seon (87) and Kang Il-chul (86) are among a handful of survivors of the atrocity. It was the first time officials of the White House and the State Department met the victims.
The two women arrived in the U.S. to coincide with the first anniversary of monuments in their honor in Glendale, California and New Jersey.
On July 30, they spoke at the White House with Paulette Aniskoff, the director of the Office of Public Engagement, for about two-and-a-half hours. The two women asked for the U.S. government’s help in their quest for justice before all the elderly victims are dead.
Kim Dong-suk of Korean American Civic Empowerment, quoted an unidentified White House official as promising to pay attention to the issue.
Aniskoff on Monday tweeted a photo with the two women saying, “Met with two brave Korean ‘comfort women’, Ok-seon Lee and Il-chul Kang, last week; their stories are heartbreaking…”
On July 31, the two met with officials of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs at the State Department. Their visits had been arranged by Rep. Mike Honda, who played a leading role in the U.S. House of Representatives passing a resolution on the victims in 2007.
False Accusations of Comfort Women
Cho Myung-ja ran away from home as a teenager to escape a father who beat her, finding her way to the red light district in a South Korean town that hosts a large U.S. Army garrison.
After she escaped home in the early 1960s, her pimp sold her to one of the brothels allowed by the government to serve American soldiers.
“It was a hard life and we got sick,” Cho, 76, said in an interview in her cluttered room in a shack outside Camp Humphreys, a busy U.S. military garrison in the town of Pyeongtaek, south of Seoul.
On June 25, sixty-four years after the Korean War broke out, Cho joined 122 surviving comfort women, as they were called, in a lawsuit against their government to reclaim, they say, human dignity and proper compensation.
The suit comes as an embarrassing distraction for the South Korean government, which has pushed Japan to properly atone for what it says were World War Two atrocities including forcing women, many of them Korean, to serve as sex slaves for its soldiers.
The women claim the South Korean government trained them and worked with pimps to run a sex trade through the 1960s and 1970s for U.S. troops, encouraged women to work as prostitutes and violated their human rights.
The suit was lodged with the Seoul Central District Court and Reuters has seen the document laying out the accusations against the government and a demand for 10 million won ($9,800) in compensation per plaintiff.
The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family declined to comment on the lawsuit. The U.S. military in South Korea said it was aware of reports of the lawsuit.
“USFK has a zero tolerance for prostitution and human trafficking,” a U.S. Forces in Korea spokesman said in response to a request for comment. “Prostitution and human trafficking are cruel, demeaning and incompatible with our military core values.”
The South Korean government was desperate to keep U.S. troops in the 1960s after a devastating but inconclusive war with North Korea and wanted the women to serve as “patriots” and “civilian diplomats”.
The virtuous-sounding titles did little to reflect the life they led. They say they were forced by the South Korean government to undergo degrading checkups for sexually transmitted diseases and if the test was positive, locked up until they were “fit” to work.
“To make sure we didn’t pass on some disease to foreigners, we were tested twice a week, and if it looked abnormal, we would be locked up on the fourth floor, unlocking the door only at meal times, and some people broke their legs trying to escape,” Cho said amid the frequent hum of military aircraft.
Afterwards, they say they were neglected and forgotten, left to live out their lives in poverty, stigmatized for having worked as prostitutes.
The lawsuit is a culmination of work by a handful of small and regional NGOs that came together in 2008 to gather their testimonies and seek legal advice.
This week, an opposition member of parliament led a group of 10 liberal lawmakers to introduce a bill calling for a probe into the program, formal recognition for the contribution made by the women and financial compensation.
Hundreds of former prostitutes continue to live clustered around military bases in South Korea, many of them ill and poor, without family and financially unable to move.
Working through the 1960s and 1970s, the women say they were treated as commodities used to boost a post-war economy.
They say the government, at the time a heavy-handed military dictatorship, ran classes for them in etiquette and praised them for earning dollars when South Korea was poor.
“They say we were patriots at the time, but now they couldn’t care less,” said another former prostitute, Kim Sook-ja, 70. “We didn’t fight with guns or bayonets but we worked for the country and earned dollars.”
The Asahi Shimbun admitted Tuesday to serious errors in many articles on the “comfort women” issue, retracting all stories going back decades that quoted a Japanese man who claimed he kidnapped about 200 Korean women and forced them to work at wartime Japanese military brothels.
The correction came more than 20 years after the Sankei Shimbun based on studies by noted historian Ikuhiko Hata first pointed out apparent errors in the man’s account in April 1992.
Hata and the Sankei said there was no evidence supporting the account of Seiji Yoshida, who claimed he conducted something akin to “human hunting” by rounding up about 200 women on Jeju-do Island in present-day South Korea.
All local residents interviewed by Hata denied Yoshida’s claims. Mainstream historians have now agreed that his statements were false.
Yoshida, who claimed to have worked for a labor recruitment organization in Yamaguchi Prefecture during the war, reportedly died in July 2000.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has repeatedly called out the Asahi for quoting Yoshida’s accounts, saying the paper’s “erroneous reports” have magnified the issues involving the so-called comfort women.
Asked to comment on the Asahi’s retraction of the articles during his regular news conference Tuesday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said: “We hope correct recognition of the history will be formed, based on objective facts.”
The term comfort woman is a euphemism referring to women forced into sexual servitude in wartime Japanese military brothels. Media outlets and activists often describe them as “sex slaves,” given the harsh conditions they faced.
The Asahi repeatedly reported on Yoshida’s accounts in the 1980s and 1990s.
The paper has faced growing criticism about its coverage of comfort women, prompting the paper on Tuesday to carry two pages of feature articles looking into its previous coverage.
In April and May this year, the Asahi dispatched reporters to the island and interviewed about 40 elderly residents and concluded that Yoshida’s accounts “are false.”
As far as the present-day Korean Peninsula is concerned, the Asahi, like most mainstream Japanese historians, maintained that no hard evidence had been found to show the Japanese military was directly involved in recruiting women to the brothel system against their will.
But the Asahi, again like mainstream historians, maintained that most “comfort women” from Korea were forced to work as prostitutes against their will since they were recruited by private-sector brokers through human trafficking.
Before winning his second prime ministership in December 2012, Abe had suggested he might revise or retract the key government apology to the women, issued by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in 1993.
But to date, Abe has upheld the Kono statement, which admitted that the Japanese authorities and military were “directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women.”
“The (Japanese) government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere,” the Kono statement reads.
I am very confused because I found the following news.
It says that on August 6, 2014, the Asahi Shimbun, pro-Korean and liberal news paper in Japan, admitted to serious errors in many articles on the “comfort women” issue, retracting all stories going back decades that quoted a Japanese man who claimed he kidnapped about 200 Korean women and forced them to work at wartime Japanese military brothels. It means that as far as the present-day Korean Peninsula is concerned, no hard evidence had been found to show the Japanese military was directly involved in recruiting women to the brothel system against their will. Anyway, the USA should not turn its face away from the inconvenient truth, Korean comfort women enslaved for the US military and the Korean Government, for human rights of women.
I was very shocked by the news that 122 Korean women claimed that “we were the U.S. military comfort women”, and sued the class action lawsuit on June 25, 2014.
The USA itself is very deeply committed to this Korean “comfort women” matter as an assailant of violence against women. If the issue is a human rights concern for the future of all nations, not a political propaganda to bully Japan and the Japanese, these events should be held to memorialize all “Comfort Women,” including females who were forced into sexual slavery by the USA military and Korean Government itself during and after Korean War. The monument should engrave the phrase on the statue “We were the U.S. military sex slave too.”
The USA should not be a hypocrite.
It is an unavoidable truth that many-hundreds and thousands of comfort women were treated more like an animal instead of a human. These comfort women came through many things that is too sad to say. And before these comfort women all die, we should get a sincere apology from Japan.