Born in Taiwan in 1924, Chen Lien-hua was given up for adoption and had from a young age worked at a local factory. When she was 19, a Japanese person came to the factory under the guise of recruiting “caregivers” and took more than 20 women, including Chen, by boat to the Philippines. After arriving in the country, she and the other women were forced into “sexual slavery” for Japanese soldiers. After nearly two years in the Philippines, she was one of only two Taiwanese women taken as “comfort women” who returned to Taiwan alive.
Chen’s story proved beyond doubt that during World War II, Taiwanese women were sent to Japan’s frontline as sex slaves for the Japanese military. Of the more than 2,000 Taiwan-born women forced into sex slavery abroad during the war, only two are still alive. These women from Taiwan and other countries were kidnapped and used as sex slaves by the Japanese army. Japan has not shown enough repentance for the crimes perpetrated by its soldiers in World War II.
In the Japanese colony of Taiwan during World War II, many men were conscripted as either soldiers for the Japanese army or civilian laborers for the military. At the same time, women were summoned by the military to work as comfort women. In a number of cases, women were victimized while their husbands or fiancés were conscripted into the army. Almost none of these victims could tell their husbands what had happened after they returned from the front. They were burdened by the secret for decades.
World War II ended 74 years ago but the damage and suffering it inflicted on Japan’s neighbors have never disappeared. The debate around the discussion of comfort women has been a controversial issue. Advocates of discussion say that the Japanese government has long denied justice to comfort women, while opponents say there is no evidence supporting the claim that women were forced into sex slavery. However, it is clear that Japan has shown no repentance over the issue of comfort women.
The government of Germany has taken responsibility for war crimes by extending a direct and sincere apology to the victims of the Holocaust, offering government reparation to them, making it unconstitutional to deny the Holocaust, and teaching its children their country’s dark history to prevent a recurrence in the future. The Japanese government has not just ignored but rejected US House of Representatives House Resolution 121, which was passed unanimously in 2007, and calls on Japan to formally apologize in a clear, unequivocal manner.
Unlike Germany’s admission of its role in the deaths of so many and its efforts to compensate victims, Tokyo is attempting to deny and even beautify the country’s history of militarism and aggression. Such behavior is in the same line as those of some Japanese leaders who try to whitewash the militaristic past and challenge the result of World War II. The international community should be highly vigilant and the United States should remain on high alert over the impact of their efforts on regional peace and stability.
Rape and sex trafficking in wartime remain problems worldwide. If we hope to ever reduce these abuses, the efforts of the Japan government to deny history cannot go unchallenged. The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, all of whom had nationals entrapped in imperial Japan’s comfort women system, must make clear their objection to the Japanese government’s perverse denial of the historical record of human trafficking and sexual servitude. The United States, in particular, has a responsibility to remind Japan, its ally, that human rights and women’s rights are pillars of American foreign policy. If we do not speak out, we will be complicit not only in Japanese denialism but also in undermining today’s international efforts to end war crimes involving sexual violence.
As time goes by, these elder survivors withered, but history should never be forgotten. The wounds and painful memories have never disappeared for the comfort women. Therefore, Japan should face up to its past, and resolve the issue of trying to whitewash that history, including its atrocities and its enslavement of thousands of women forced to work as sex slaves. There is little time left for Japan’s elderly to pass on to younger generations Japan’s postwar legacy of pacifism. Only that can assure permanent peace in East Asia.
Honoring the forgotten and providing justice for the survivors of WW II sexual slavery matters not only as a moral obligation but also for what it says about our society now and in the future. Addressing these past human rights violations will contribute to improving the situation of women today as well help stop any repetition of these abhorrent crimes. Taiwan and other countries that fell victim to Japanese colonization and saw their women turned into sex slaves should not only demand repentance from Japan but also seek United Nations support for including the tragic historical episode in UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register.
By Kent Wang, Asia Times