Uncomfortable truth about comfort women? Dec 6, 2015 19:46:17 GMT
Post by ThirdTerm on Dec 6, 2015 19:46:17 GMT
Two years ago Park Yu-ha entered into one of the most turbulent debates in East Asia by publishing a study of Korean “comfort women” from World War II, stating that many were prostitutes, and not just “sex slaves” commandeered by Japanese soldiers. Now Ms. Park, an academic who studies Japanese literature, faces prosecution here for criminal defamation. She goes on trial Dec. 14 for impugning the honor of the surviving comfort women, many of whom she interviewed to reach her conclusions.
The history and status of Korean women recruited to frontline brothels for the Japanese military has been the iciest issue between Japan and South Korea – one responsible until recently for a freeze on any talks between them. The issue drives the identity politics that divide the two US military allies. South Korean President Park Geun-hye, the first female head of state here, has criticized Japanese leader Shinzo Abe for promoting the view that Korean women were willing participants in the brothels and for claiming that the Japanese military was not culpable.
Enter Park Yu-ha, a professor at Sejong University. Her 2013 book, “Comfort Women of the Empire,” paints a more nuanced picture that undercuts the simplistic or patriotic positions taken in Seoul and Tokyo. Some Korean recruiters and pimps did bear blame for delivering females to Japanese brothels, she says. Some women were misled with promises of work and not forcibly abducted. Others grew emotionally attached to Japanese soldiers and considered themselves as part of the Japanese empire.
Yet by describing the women mainly as “prostitutes” who served the Japanese empire, rather than as sex slaves, Park has incensed both officials and the public in South Korea. Last month she was indicted by the eastern district prosecutor in Seoul and if found guilty faces tens of thousands of dollars in fines or up to seven years in prison.
This week in a press conference held in Seoul she defended her writings as based on historical documents and the testimony of former comfort women. “The book was not intended to criticize or defame any comfort women… and it did not harm the public interest as claimed,” she was quoted as saying. Park accused prosecutors of trampling on academic freedom. More than 200 intellectuals and scholars have signed two petitions in protest of the charges against her.
The case against Park also comes amid a divisive push by the president to issue an official single interpretation of history, to be enshrined in school textbooks in coming years. Last month, some 70,000 anti-government protesters took to the streets of Seoul, largely inspired by the textbook controversy. “Truth will and should out,” says Mr. Foster-Carter. “The trouble is, nationalism and nuance don’t mix, and heat tends to crowd out light.”