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"I Am a Witness": from Yoon Jung-ok to Kim Hak-soon
It is only in the past 20 years that the issue of Japanese "comfort women" in the post-war period has come to the attention of the world. Although the Japanese author Natsuko Chida's "Comfort Women in the Military" was published as early as 1973, and there were sporadic references to this issue in Korean novels, movies, and research works until the 1980s, it did not attract much attention. Korean society was under a military dictatorship for a long time after the war, and it was not open enough to talk about "sex" openly. As a result, the issue remained silent for almost 30 years.
Silence, however, does not necessarily mean oblivion. During these 30 years, there is one person who has been harboring questions about this and cannot let it go. She is Prof. Yoon Jung-ok of Ewha Womans University. Yoon was born during the colonial period, and in 1943, she was enrolled in the Department of Family Studies at Ewha Women's College (the predecessor of Ewha Women's University, hereinafter referred to as Ewha Women's College). She was seventeen years old. One day in November, a group of Japanese came to Iwha Women's College and gave each student a form to sign without any explanation, at a time when unmarried Korean women were being mobilized by the Japanese imperialists to work in munitions factories and at the front line under the name of the "Hardworking Push-Up Team". The school teachers also followed the instructions and encouraged the students to do the same. Fortunately, Yoon's parents were informed of the situation and immediately withdrew her from the school the next day. Although Yin was spared, she could not let go of her friends who were recruited by the Japanese. After the liberation, she asked around for the whereabouts of her classmates who had been mobilized in the name of the "Stand-Up Team", and was puzzled by the fact that while many of the boys had returned, the girls were nowhere to be found. At that time, Yoon Jeong-ok spent a week running to the Seoul Railway Station every day, asking everyone if they knew the whereabouts of the girls. It was only after her persistent efforts that she was able to find out that the girls had been sent to die as comfort women. Although the so-called "hard-working troop" claimed to be "hard-working and public-spirited" and to work for the country, many Korean girls were abducted under this name and finally fell into the fire of being "comfort women" for the Japanese army. However, many Korean girls were abducted under this name and ended up as "comfort women" for the Japanese army. After learning the truth, Yoon Jeong-ok felt more guilty for those female compatriots who were ravaged by the Japanese army. After becoming a professor at Ewha Womans University, Yoon turned this guilt into a sense of responsibility, and continued to collect information, waiting for the opportunity to clear up the wrongs done to those unfortunate people.
In the 1980s, along with the process of democratization, the feminist movement in Korea took a new step forward. Sex trafficking, sexual violence, and gender equality became the focus of the feminist movement. In particular, the Korean Church Women's Association strongly criticized "sex tourism" (sex tourism), which had been promoted since the Park Chung-hee administration, and said that "sex tourism", which mainly involved Japanese male tourists, was a modern version of the "comfort women" system. It has been called a modern-day version of the "comfort women" system. The post-war reality of arbitrary manipulation of women in the name of male-centered national interests, such as the "base villages" providing sexual services to U.S. troops and the "sex tours" targeting Japanese men, has given a new meaning to the "comfort women" issue. "In 1987, Prof. Yoon and the Korean Church Women's Association came together. On the one hand, they began to search for traces of the original "comfort women," and on the other hand, they began to contact women's organizations from all walks of life in the country. In November 1990, they initiated the establishment of the Korea Association of Countermeasures on the Issue of Supporting Teams (hereinafter referred to as the "KACC"), which unites the strengths of all major women's organizations in South Korea. (hereinafter referred to as "KSPA"). Since then, the KPA has been the largest and most authoritative civil society movement in Korea that addresses the issue of comfort women. In addition to this, Prof. Yoon also took the lead in establishing a professional research organization, the "Support Group Research Association" (now the "Korea Support Group Research Institute"), to support the "Support Group" in the field of research. "The activities of the organization are supported from the field of research.
The Japanese Government ordered the destruction of a large amount of archives on "comfort women" in order to cover up its own identity on the occasion of its defeat. Therefore, in order to negotiate with the Japanese, the existence of witnesses of the original "comfort women" became necessary. Although Prof. Yoon had visited the original comfort women in Okinawa and other places in the 1980s, it was not easy to get the scarred elderly to tell the story. In July 1991, an elderly person named Jin Xueshun finally appeared while the Association was waiting. She took the initiative to approach the person in charge and explained the purpose of her visit:
"My name is Jin Xueshun (I was 67 years old at the time). Recently, when I read the news, I realized that people like me (former "comfort women") were still tolerating insults and humiliations, while those godless villains were lying, so I couldn't stand to watch them. I don't have a husband, I don't have children, I'm all alone, so I don't have anything to worry about. God has let me live as if for this day, so I will say what needs to be said."
Thus, on August 14, 1991, Kim Hak-soon became the first living witness to expose the atrocities of the Japanese army's forced conscription of "comfort women," based on his personal experience. In the early 1990s, when the concept of female chastity was still very strong in Korean society, Kim Hak-soon's action was like a thunderbolt in the winter. After her, other "comfort women" victims were encouraged to come forward and testify one after another. "In September 1991, the Association for the Support of the Right to Life (ASOPAZCO) immediately set up the "Support Team Reporting Telephone Number" to encourage victims to expose the facts and defend justice. At the same time, the Support Group attached great importance to the testimonies of these living witnesses, and systematically listened to and organized their oral information, publishing seven volumes of oral information on the former "comfort women". In addition, on January 8, 1991, the "Association for the Support of the Right" began to organize weekly "Wednesday rallies" in front of the Japanese Embassy, urging the Japanese government to face up to history and resolve the issue of "comfort women" at an early date. "The "Wednesday Rallies" have been held more than 1,200 times over the past 20 years without any obstacles, and have become a major symbolic event for the Korean "comfort women" movement.
Elderly victims of "comfort women" have suffered physically and mentally, and a large number of them returned to their home countries after liberation without any support. "From the very beginning, the organization has been very concerned about providing material assistance to the elderly, and has pressed the government to enact a law in June 1993 to provide practical care for the elderly in terms of medical care, housing, and living allowances. The Korean Buddhist community has also funded the establishment of a "Sharing House" to provide a place for some of the former "comfort women" to live. However, although both the KPA and the government have encouraged victims to declare their victimization, only 238 victims have applied for registration with the government so far. In other words, tens of thousands of victims either perished in comfort stations and on the battlefields long ago, or are still confined to silence and pain due to social pressure.
The internationalization of the "comfort women" issue: the fly in the ointment of nationalism and feminism
Just as the forced conscription of "comfort women" by the Japanese army during the Second World War was an international crime worldwide, the resolution of the "comfort women" issue was destined to be internationalized from the very beginning. Especially since the Japanese government has repeatedly denied Japan's national responsibility, and the lawsuits filed by the Korean side against Japan regarding the "comfort women" have always been rejected or lost, the Korean side has been consciously pushing for the internationalization of the issue from a very early stage. "Soon after its establishment, the KPA complained to the UN Human Rights Council, the International Labor Organization (ILO), and other international organizations about the crimes of Japan's forced conscription of "comfort women" and cooperated extensively with corresponding organizations in various countries. It is worth mentioning that, on the issue of "comfort women," the "Association for the Support of Reconciliation" and the "Committee on Compensation for Military 'Comfort Women' and Victims of the Pacific War" of North Korea have also carried out cooperation on the issue of "comfort women" with the "Committee on Compensation for Military 'Comfort Women' and Victims of the Pacific War. On the issue of "comfort women," the ROK and North Korea's "Committee on Compensation for Military 'Comfort Women' and Victims of the Pacific War" are also actively working together. At the same time, the Korean side flexibly utilized the power of overseas Koreans in North America and Europe to deepen the understanding of the comfort women issue in Europe and the U.S. At the beginning of the 21st century, the parliaments of many countries in Europe and the U.S. passed resolutions urging the Japanese government to resolve the comfort women issue. In the early 21st century, the parliaments of many European and American countries passed resolutions urging the Japanese government to resolve the issue of "comfort women". This can be regarded as one of the important achievements of the internationalization of the "comfort women" issue.
The creation of "comfort women" was entirely due to the crime of aggression by Japanese imperialism, but the unresolved issue of "comfort women" for more than 70 years after the war involves more subjects. Among them, the San Francisco Peace Treaty signed in 1951 under the leadership of the United States can be said to be very difficult to get rid of the involvement. South Korea was not included as a victorious nation after World War II because it was a Japanese colony during the war, and because of the North-South divide, it was excluded from the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, along with China. The San Francisco Peace Treaty did not settle the issue of claims and property between the two Koreas and Japan, but left it to be negotiated separately between these countries. Because of this, there were seven negotiations between Korea and Japan for 14 years from 1951 to 1965 and the Korea-Japan Agreement was finally signed in 1965. Moreover, Korean academics believe that one of the major problems with the treaty is that it did not penalize Japan's colonial rule, which is one of the key factors that prevented the fundamental solution to the issue of "comfort women" in Korea. Powers such as the United States, which is a veteran of colonial activities, certainly do not care about the act of colonization itself.
The Korean "comfort women" movement, centered on the "support for the Association", has a strong nationalist flavor due to its colonial experience. China, Japan, and South Korea were all victimized by the "comfort women" system, but the situation was different in each country. First, many of the Japanese comfort women were prostitutes, which is very different from the situation in Korea, where poor young girls were tricked into becoming comfort women. Secondly, China was an occupied country, and more women were actually raped than in the two cases mentioned above. There is a difference between "coercion in the broader sense" in China, where women were forced to submit by force, such as swords and guns, and "coercion in the narrower sense" in the colonies, where women were recruited by administrative power and through employment fraud. In addition, there was a hierarchy among the "comfort women" of the three countries, and the fees charged by the "comfort stations" at that time stipulated that Japanese women were the highest, followed by Korean women, and Chinese women were the lowest. Therefore, the Korean side believes that the issue of Korean "comfort women" is a product of the intertwining of ethnic differences, poverty, patriarchal system, and class under the Japanese colonial rule. In order to emphasize the characteristics of the Korean "comfort women" and to gain more support from within Korean society, the Korean "comfort women" movement has portrayed them as "pure daughters of the nation", "abducted young girls" and so on. Their youth and virginity were taken away from them, and they were symbolized as a sign that the sovereignty of modern Korea had been ravaged by Japan.
However, this image created by the Korean side has been questioned and criticized by relevant organizations in other countries around the world. Internationally, the Japanese "comfort women" system is more often discussed in the framework of wartime sexual violence and anti-humanitarian crimes, while Korea has always emphasized the specificity of the colonial experience, which has often been a source of controversy. Feminists, in particular, have often criticized this as a sign of male-oriented nationalism dominating the Korean "comfort women" movement, arguing that the overemphasis on the image of the chaste young girl is, in the end, nothing more than an endorsement of patriarchal paternalism. A typical example of this is the Japanese feminist expert, Ei-ai Yamashita, who broke off her cooperation with the "Association for the Support of the Right" because she was dissatisfied with its nationalistic tendencies. However, in the face of criticism from the outside world, the CPA also has a clearer understanding of itself. "The CPPCC believes that the Korean "comfort women" movement's insistence on emphasizing the special experience of the colonies is a manifestation of respect for historical facts, and cannot simply be equated with the proliferation of nationalism; at the same time, the nationalist tactics criticized by outsiders are motivated by the "nationalist" strategy. At the same time, the "nationalist" tactics criticized by outsiders are based on the practical need to win the support of the Korean public. On reflection, the strategy adopted by the "Association for the Support of the Opposition" is to minimize the so-called nationalist coloration in the international arena, and to actively engage in international cooperation under the banner of defending women's rights, human rights, and world peace.
Where to go: After the 2015 Korea-Japan "comfort women" agreement
At this point in the article, readers cannot help but ask: What has the Korean government done outside of the civil society organization "Association for the Support of the Opposition"? Although the South Korean government has responded to the civil society's call for legislation to protect the "comfort women" victims and provide security for their lives, it has often shown weakness and impotence in its diplomacy with Japan on the issue of "comfort women". This performance had a lot to do with the signing of the Korea-Japan Agreement (KPA) in 1965, which was signed in the mid-1950s, when U.S. aid to South Korea was declining and the South Korean government was emphasizing cooperation with Japan for the sake of economic development.The signing of the KPA in 1965 was a way for the South Korean government to sacrifice its individual right to ask for compensation from Japan for a large amount of aid from Japan, which gave Japan an excuse. This has given Japan an excuse to shift the responsibility for the "comfort women" issue to the South Korean government, and in August 2011, the South Korean government's inaction on the "comfort women" issue was ruled "unconstitutional" by the South Korean Constitutional Tribunal. "unconstitutional". This judgment has put pressure on the South Korean government. In addition, Park Jin-hye, as a female president, is bound to make more moves on this issue, which is directly related to women. In addition, in order to escape from the shadow cast by her pro-Japanese father Park Chung-hee, Park also needs to win more support for herself by pushing for the resolution of historical issues such as the "comfort women" issue. In April 2014, South Korea and Japan held talks at the director-general level to promote the "comfort women" issue. On December 28, 2015, the two countries reached a diplomatic agreement on the "comfort women" issue (hereinafter referred to as the "12.28 Agreement"). The agreement stipulates that the Japanese side will contribute 1 billion yen and the South Korean side will set up a consortium to provide compensation and treatment for the "comfort women," while the South Korean government has agreed to dismantle the bronze statue of a young girl that was erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in December 2011, and the two countries have agreed that they will no longer discuss the issue of "comfort women" on any international occasions, such as at the United Nations, in the future. At the same time, the two countries agreed not to argue about the "comfort women" issue in international forums such as the United Nations in the future.
When the news came out, Korean public opinion was in an uproar. While some people criticized it as a replica of the humiliating "Treaty of Bessi", others thought that it was just a revival of the National Fund created by Japan in 1995. The Japanese government's apology is still limited to a moral level, with no mention of the government's legal responsibility, and the nature of the 1 billion yen contributed by the Japanese side is just as unclear as that year's national fund, which played word games between "reparation" and "compensation". What is even more infuriating is that the government's decision-making process completely excludes the participation of the victims and the "Association for the Support of the Right", which has been at the center of the Korean "comfort women" movement for 25 years. Many people even lamented that the "12.28 Agreement" had turned the achievements of the Korean "comfort women" movement over the past 20 years into a dud overnight. However, this is more of an exasperation. In retrospect, let's not talk about anything else, one of the biggest achievements of the "comfort women" movement over the past 20 years is that it has contributed to the maturity of the Korean society itself. 20 years ago, Koreans kept quiet about the "comfort women" as a national disgrace; 20 years later, more and more people are able to tolerate the "comfort women" as a national disgrace. Twenty years later, more and more people are able to embrace these scarred elderly people with a tolerant mindset.
We believe that the "12.28 Agreement" is by no means the end of the "comfort women" movement in Korea, but rather heralds the arrival of the next, more dramatic phase. It will break through the cage of hypocrisy, lies, and power deals to give back the truth to the world, healing to the wounded, and peace to future generations.