Wednesday, January 11, 2012

South Korean Protesters Care for 'Comfort Woman' Statue

Los Angeles Times
World Now
Jung-yoon Choi
January 11, 2012.

Photo: The statue in Seoul that commemorates Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army during World War II is dressed in a woolen cap, scarf and mittens, with a blanket wrapped around her lap. (Credit:  Matt Douma)

SEOUL -- She sits there alone, day and night, no matter what the weather. Her gaze is fixed at the building just across the street –- the Japanese Embassy.

She’s a bronze statue in the shape of a young girl, placed here last month as a reminder of the 200,000 Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during World War II.

The life-size statue was placed in downtown Seoul to mark the 1,000th weekly protest that a handful of surviving former sex slaves, known here as “comfort women,” had waged at the embassy. Commissioned to a husband-and-wife sculptor team and placed by a nongovernmental organization in Seoul, the statue has prompted the Japanese government to call for its removal.

For activists, the statue is more than a symbol. It is a cause to be kept alive. In the frigid days of winter, they have assembled each week to dress the statue as they would a child sentry.

The statue is dressed in a woolen cap, scarf and mittens, with a blanket wrapped around her lap.

“People have said that the girl looked so cold, so the day after the 1,000th protest I went to put on a hat or a scarf on the statue,” said a blogger who goes by the name of Mongu. “Then I saw a scarf, wrapped around the girl’s bare feet. I was very touched by that, and decided to carry on with ... the outfit.”

Now, every week, new clothes adorn the statue. Some passersby even leave pocket money by the figure.

Mongu said it’s important to show South Korean support for the former comfort women.

“From the Japanese Embassy’s point of view, they can see that Koreans are not neglecting the statue but tending to it with care, treating her like a family.”

The sculptor said he is satisfied with the buzz his creation has made. “I’ve gotten comments from people that they are moved to tears when they see the dressed girl,” Kim Wun-sung said.

But the statue has also been a backdrop for violence. This week, a man who said his grandmother had been a comfort woman stood near the statue as he lobbed several incendiary devices at the Japanese Embassy.

None exploded. The man faces criminal charges.

South Korea presses Japan at U.N. over 'comfort women'
In South Korea, a landmark sex-slave rally at Japan Embassy
Japan apologizes to South Korea for decades of colonial rule

Comment: The term "comfort women" is an unfortunate and grossly inaccurate description of the sexual slavery that was forced onto as many as 400 000 women from China, Korea, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, by Japan during World War II.   

Women in Japan were also used as prostitutes during the war but "comfort women" from the countries above were enslaved and shipped to "comfort stations" where they were used to 'service' military personnel. 

There are personnel narratives that describe the conditions in "comfort stations" as nothing short of inhumane.  Women were routinely brutalized by beatings, rape, and many ended up the further victim of sexually transmitted diseases. 

It is a horrific story made worse by Japan's revisionist political view that has sought to obscure the inhumanity of its actions.

Japan has claimed that the Korean "comfort women" issue was settled in 1965 when it paid $300 million to South Korea.

Surviving Korean "comfort women" reject this claim and have staged more than 1000 protests outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul calling for a formal apology and meaningful reparations.

It is estimated that three-quarters of all "comfort women" died as a result of their sexual enslavement.   

The past cannot just be made to disappear.  It will remain an open wound until it is confronted and a measure of resolution is found.

In the case of Korean "comfort women" the Japanese government should commit to an engagement meant to reach back and to restore a sense of justice for the thousands who have been so severely wounded.



Nolwazi said...

Thanks for the education Ridwan.

Tell me, how can confrontation help in healing wounds as deep as these?

What is it's purpose when the crime is so severe? It seems to be that a crime against humanity like sexual terrorism needs a deadly confrontation. And I know we agree on who should die then.

I doubt any other type pf confrontation could be equated to justice but that is illegal, isn't it?

So, confrontation, what is it in this case?

That $300 million dollar tip for forced sex makes me sick. Those terms "comfort women" and "comfort stations" are twisted. Men in war are insane beyond belief.

Ridwan said...

Nolwazi in this case many of the perpetrators are dead already.

The same is true for the victims.

Most of the women who are protesting are confronting a past they were not directly victimized by - but they are nonetheless implicated in memory and socio-political consequence.

Some theorist call this prosthetic memory but I have my problems with the idea that anyone can live a memory as an attachment - like a prosthesis.

Ugly memories have specific consequences - white people cannot know the pain of racism from the point of being black no matter how genuine they are about resenting the apartheid past, for example.

A major part of any confrontation is naming the victims and the perpetrators.

They past and its abuses must be uncovered and not hidden to fester from generation to generation.

Confrontation is not about revenge in these terms.

It is about repairing the social system - bringing a sense of restorative justice by reclaiming the humanity of the victims.

In this sense it is about individuals but it is more about a collective justice which is made possible by political will.

The Japanese government must admit and be genuine about what was done to the "comfort women".

Denial is not an option because for the social system to repair itself there needs to a process of making sense of the past.

Not just a rationalization mind you.

There are no guarantees though.

I like to believe that the process is not about the perpetrators - that is just one part.

In the absence of the perpetrator the abused victim must come to terms with an ugly past - confrontation is a commitment to that process (and there is no one process or defined process).

The abused woman, raped victim, cannot just erase what happened.

There are consequences that link through time and space.

The same is true of groups of people who have suffered collective traumas - like the "comfort women".

Institutional violence like that perpetrated against aboriginals/indigenous people are the same in consequences.

It cannot just be brushed aside as being part of the past - the notion of moving on is erasure.


Anonymous said...

Again, I'd like to raise the current comfort women issue. Actually I don't care about the comfort women issue Japanese army caused. That's the history and over. Also it was just a problem lasting for five years or so though it was during the war time. However, the current comfort women problem has been going on for over half a century. Yes, the comfort women issue is still going on -- they changed the customers from the Japanese army to the USA army, but their business has kept on going. Please read the Stanford or Rhode Island university reports. They're a free report, then you can see who is behind the scene. This looks the nation related problem because the government seems involved, and perhaps that's why it's so hard for people to know this problem.

Modern day comfort women - University of Rhode Island.

Also you can visit the page (modern comfort women) to know more, which is

Ridwan said...

Thank you kindly for this additional information and links.

I will look at the links you provide and also reproduce your comment above below a more recent post on South Korea - Japan tensions that appears here on the blog (July 11).

You raise excellent points of concern and worrying too.

I think it important for us to know that the comfort woman issue is not in the past as you say.

Thank you once again,

Ridwan said...

I thought your comments on modern day comfort women were so compelling I did a post on it.

See it here:

Peace to you,