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The bronze statue of a “comfort woman” in Glendale, Calif., is a replica of one in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea.

The Yomiuri Shimbun via AP Images,

Japan's "comfort women” issue deserves attention

  • Article by: Byong Moon Kim
  • August 13, 2013 - 9:18 AM

An editorial from the Yomiuri Shimbun that was reprinted on the Opinion Exchange page (“American embrace of ‘comfort women’ allegations distorts history,” Aug. 2) challenged the truth on Imperial Japan’s military sexual slavery.

The article was timed to the installation of a statue symbolizing “comfort women” in Glendale, Calif., on July 30, the city having designated that day “Korean Comfort Women Day.”

The editorial stated: “[T]he day’s origin was July 30, 2007, when the U.S. House of Representatives adopted a resolution [HR121] calling on Japan to apologize over the comfort women issue.” It claimed that the distorted and exaggerated phrases “sexual slavery” and “more than 200,000” on the statue’s plaque significantly degrade the honor of Japan.

HR121 stated that the government of Japan “should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for the Imperial Armed Force’s coercion of young women into sexual slavery … during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands,” that this official apology should be given as a public statement presented by the prime minister of Japan, that it “should clearly and publicly refute any claims that the sexual enslavement and trafficking of the ‘comfort women’ for the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces never occurred,” and that it “should educate current and future generations about the horrible crime.”

Evidence of Imperial Japan’s military sexual slavery has been presented since 1990s. There are many sources:

Since 1993, the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan has published many books and papers on the issue, using Japanese documents extensively as sources.

In 1995, Yoshimi Yoshiaki, a professor of modern Japanese history of Chuo University in Tokyo, published the book “ ‘Comfort Women’: Sexual Slavery in the Japanese Military during World War II.” It details the totality of the military sexual slavery; the involvement of the military police, army elites, the Ministry of War, the Home Ministry, the Governments-General of Korea and of Taiwan, and the participation of police in the rounding up of comfort women.

In 1994, Jan Ruff-O’Herne, a Dutch woman, told her story as a comfort woman in the book “50 Years of Silence.” She depicts the first night in Java, Indonesia, in 1944: “The Japanese officer threw me on the bed and tore at my clothes, ripping them off. I lay there naked as he ran his sword slowly up and down, over my body. I could feel the cold steel touching my skin as he moved the sword across my throat and breasts, over my stomach and legs.”

“More than 200,000” comfort women is a reasonable estimate. Based on figures cited in Yoshimi’s book and from the book “The Truth of the Issue of Japan’s Military ‘Comfort Women’ ” by the Korean Council, I calculate the following:

In July 1941, the Japanese Army deployed 800,000 troops in Manchuria. It planned to assemble 20,000 Korean comfort women. The ratio between comfort women and soldiers was 1 to 40. According to “Illustrated History of the Army,” as of Aug. 15, 1945, the Army had 5,472,400 soldiers. Between July 1937 and Aug. 14, 1945, the soldier death count was 1,482,300, so the total number of soldiers who would have needed sexual service was 6,954,700. At the 1-to-40 ratio, the number of comfort women needed would have been 173,868.

The numbers would increase if you add soldiers who served between 1932 and June 1937 (comfort stations had been established since 1932) and those who were discharged between 1932 and 1945. The number of comfort women that would have been needed would increase further if naval personnel were added.

HR121 calls on the Japanese government to follow the recommendations of the international community; the government argued that claims were settled under international law between South Korea and Japan. Many international organizations and lawyers and scholars have not agreed; they have recommended compensations for former comfort women.

The Yomiuri Shimbun editorial complained that Japan’s amends were unappreciated. There were reasons.

One, the Asian Women’s Fund was a private organization, not a state organization. Two, the money was donated by private citizens. Three, Prime Minister Hashimoto’s letter of apology was a personal letter; HR121 addresses this point.

It is not true that the project of the Asian Women’s Fund was not accurately introduced to the South Korean public. The South Korean news media have covered issues related to Japan’s military sexual slavery very seriously.

Laura Friedman, a council member in the California city that installed the monument, said: “Look at this monument not as a blame or shame to any nation, but to remind us that war has consequences.”

Indeed, war matters to all, wherever we may live. The installation of a statue should not be considered controversial.

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Byong Moon Kim is a writer in Shoreview. He was codirector of the Coalition Seeking Justice for Victims of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan from 1994 to 2000.

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