This week in angry tears and teary anger: Patriotism attempts to drown out one more of herstory’s tragic chapters.
The Southern California City of Glendale is the latest municipality to take heat from primarily Japanese protestors over the decision to memorialize the 80,000 to 200,000 largely Korean “comfort women” held as sex slaves by the Japanese military during WWII.
A Los Angeles Times article documenting the controversy includes interviews with former comfort women, now in their eighties, who refuse to be silent about the atrocities they faced as 14- and 15-year-old girls. Abducted from home, the women were imprisoned in government-built rape camps, called “comfort stations,” located near Japanese military bases across Asia. They were assaulted by 40 to 50 men a day, and watched as fellow captives who resisted were killed before their eyes. Heartbreakingly, neither of the women interview by the Times saw their families after their kidnappings. Too ashamed to return home, they carved out lives for themselves in the countries of their captivity.
The Japanese government issued a formal apology for the comfort stations in 1993, acknowledging that the military had established a vast network of brothels and its officers, at times, had a direct role in recruiting women against their will (not to mention raping them). Yet in the past 20 years, “a growing number of Japanese conservatives have argued that the evidence underlying the government study was thin,” notes the Times. Two months ago, the Mayor of Osaka apparently stated that the camps had been “necessary” and that any coercion involved was a myth.
The insistence that the women “worked” at the comfort stations of their own free will is echoed in hundreds of angry emails the City of Glendale says it has received from Japanese correspondents. Protestors additionally claim that Glendale’s memorial, and those like it (found in New Jersey, New York, and Singapore), represent anti-Japanese propaganda because all nations, including the United States, patronized prostitutes during WWII.
To the first point, Glendale City Councilman Frank Quintero put it perfectly when he said, “A 14-year-old girl doesn't voluntarily leave her village in Korea to go serve the Japanese army, give me a break." Not only is the concept of a “coercion myth” ridiculous, it’s mass-scale victim blaming. Beyond denial, it insists the women can’t have been raped and kidnapped because being a vagina-haver means your consent is forever murky and up for debate.
To the second point: Dear Japanese patriots, I will be the first to admit that comparable abuses of human rights have occurred throughout time and place, are occurring as we speak. But you don’t get to shirk responsibility based on that reality. As a second city councilman commented: “This is not about punishing any country, but about man’s inhumanity to man.”
Make that man’s inhumanity to women.
Image: Former comfort women rally in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, August 2011, wikimedia