MORE than $18,000 was spent on controversial plans for a comfort women memorial in Strathfield which never came to pass. The proposal for a memorial, in honour of 200,000 women and girls taken from countries occupied by Japan during World War II, was first brought to Strathfield Council in April 2014.
At its April 2016 meeting, Strathfield Council received a report which revealed $17,800 had been spent on two phone surveys to gather community opinion on the proposal. A further $320 was spent on security guards for one of the council meetings when the issue was discussed.
“When the (memorial issue) came forward two and a half years ago … it did ultimately involve a couple of phone surveys, which the council does all the time, and it’s all legitimate because at each turn we’re representing a sector in our community. I don’t regard it as excessive or badly spent,” Cr Vaccari said.
But Labor councillor Daniel Bott said the expenditure was shameful. “There are no words for the shame this has brought to our doorstep,” he said. “If you’re a councillor and want to talk about national or international issues, you should do it on your time.”
A special rapporteur for the UN has expressed serious concern about the Japanese government’s attempts to influence how textbooks describe the issue of the comfort women for the Imperial Japanese Army.
During a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Apr. 19, David Kaye, Special Rapporteur for the United Nations Human Rights Council, said that the Japanese government must both be careful about meddling in the interpretation of historical incidents and be diligent to try to inform its citizens about severe crimes such as the comfort women system.
Kaye arrived in Japan on Apr. 12 to look into the critical situation surrounding the freedom of the press and the freedom of expression in the country, and on Tuesday he publicly announced his provisional findings.
But following an overall rightward shift in Japanese society, descriptions of the comfort women for the most part disappeared from middle school textbooks in 2006. The high school textbooks that will begin to be used next year have significantly watered down their description of the compulsory nature of the comfort women system. The phrase “rounded up by Japanese troops” is being replaced by “women who were recruited,” for example.
Are comfort women lying? "Humans lie, but circumstances don't," goes a slogan of those bent on discrediting former sex slaves of the Japanese army during WWII. Chunghee Sarah Soh, a Korean professor at San Francisco State University, echoes this notion when she cites examples of women who gave contradictory testimonies or told "lies."
"In an interview, Kim Sun-ok said that she was sold by her parents four times," Soh writes. "Yet, Kim testified in front of U.N. interrogator Radhika Coomaraswamy that she was abducted by the Japanese military." Likewise, Professor Park Yu-ha of Sejong University in Korea recounts that the late Bae Chun-hee told her she "hated her father who sold her. Yet, Bae later testified she was abducted by the Japanese military." Their lists continue.
These excerpts from the authors' publications, however, reveal no contradictions. Being "sold" and being "abducted by the Japanese military" are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Yet, using such a line of argument seems common to these researchers. Some comfort women/girls testified they were "hired or adopted" or "entrusted" or "sold" to food business operators or land owners, then while working, they were abducted by the Japanese military or Korean collaborators.
Ironically, those who recorded genuine inconsistencies were the members of the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, whom Park and her colleagues suspect as having "coached" the comfort women to falsify their testimonies to make Japan look worse. The council members, who interviewed former Korean comfort women in the 1990s and early 2000s, acknowledged the inconsistencies, which they attributed to the women's failing memories and the pain of recalling a traumatic past.
They also noted that, as public appearances increased, some comfort women became audience-savvy. When addressing Japanese visitors, a woman might mention the kindness of a Japanese soldier. Facing Koreans, the same person would describe being mutilated by Japanese soldiers. Some interviewees narrated Korea-bashing stories, which caused the interviewers to worry that such testimonies might provide ammunition to activists sympathetic to the Japanese. However, the interviewers left the testimonies as they told them, believing uncensored words would do more good in the long run (Former Korean Comfort Women's Testimonies, Vol. 5, p.16). As a result, the volumes present the expected depictions of brutal treatment the comfort women claimed they received from the Japanese, as well as a significant number of indictments that cause Koreans and their government to cringe.
For example, the late comfort woman Kim Soon-duk testified, "Japan was and is bad. But those I am angrier with are my people. They acted as agents of the Japanese." (Testimonies, Vol. 1, p.57). Lee Ok-seon, 90, who was forced into sexual slavery at the age of 16 after being abducted by two Korean men, testified that at age 12 she received a sound beating from her own father for asking to be sent to school. (Introduction to The Museum of Comfort Women, p. 152). Such narratives do not exonerate Korea and its patriarchal system of oppressing their own women and girls long before the Japanese drafted them into the women's volunteer labor corps to "support efforts in aircraft manufacturing and other essential industries." The Japanese military then transported a significant number of these draftees to comfort stations overseas.
The metamorphosis of Japan from an empire to a democratic country began after its defeat in WWII. The Allies led by the US’ General Douglas MacArthur began Japan’s reconstruction from a country in shambles into what it is today, the world’s third-biggest economy after the United States and China. After the surrender of Japan, its new leaders joined the Western bloc, countries that are allies of the United States, and signed the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951. It is said that the treaty was based in large part to the articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Hence, there is validity to the observation that universal human rights are the cornerstone of a truly developed nation. Japan, because it was able to rise from its disreputable image as a war aggressor and human rights abuser to an economic powerhouse and one of the world’s biggest donors of aid, is a prime example of a truly developed nation.
But the same cannot be said of South Korea, the other key Asian ally of the US. Like Japan, it too saw a rapid economic rise in the 1960s. After the wars it was involved in, it was as impoverished as the poorest African countries. But the millions of dollars that Japan and the US paid to South Korea enabled it to rebuild its infrastructure. Korea received the money from Japan as reparation for property and other claims and from the United States for sending more than 300,000 ROK soldiers to fight in the Vietnam War. Its development though came at the expense of South Vietnam people who were massacred and its women turned into sex slaves.
These incidents belong to the past, even as South Korean president Park Geun-Hye will not admit to its veracity nor apologize to the surviving victims and kin. And herein lies the danger of Park’s denial of history. Philosopher George Santayana comes to mind when he said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and it is happening now with Park. As her father the dictator Park Chung-hee suppressed oppositionists who were vocal against the excessive abuses of his regime, so the current Park is squelching scholars, politicians, civic groups, protesters, and journalists who dare speak out against her policies and regulations.
Park Yu-ha, author of the book “Comfort Women of the Empire” is facing lawsuits for revealing the truth about the Korean comfort women. She has questioned the accepted version of the alleged sexual slavery and contends that it was private Korean and Japanese businessmen who set up brothels to serve the Japanese army. Further, she adds that not all women were forced into prostitution and that many of them went willingly with their partners and lived a comfortable life.
The comfort women statues erected in public places across many states in North America, including Canada, number about a dozen. From New Jersey and New York in the East to California in the West and in Canada, civic groups are putting up these statues and pressuring local governments into giving their permissions and support for these monuments.
The first memorial was put up in Palisades Park in the county of Bergen, New Jersey in 2010. When Japanese officials visited the town in 2012 and requested for its removal, they were bluntly rebuffed by then Mayor James Rotunda who told them, “We’re not going to take it down, but thanks for coming.” The mayor’s response was expected; his town had a population of 20,000, half of whom were of Korean descent. Spurred by the mayor’s support, Korean American groups began setting up similar memorials in New York, California, Detroit, Virginia, Texas and Georgia.
But a silent majority is obvious in the petitions lodged at petitions.whitehouse.gov. Of the Palisades Park comfort woman monument, a petition to remove the statue garnered 32,000 signatures in two months. A counter petition to retain it had 4,270 signatures. The fourth monument in the US, built in Glendale, California had 126,000 signatures in a petition to take it down and 104,000 signatures calling for its retention.
The statues have angered the Japanese, who feel they are wrongly projected and that the conflict between Japan and South Korea should not be taken to the international scene. The general story that around 200,000 Korean women were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese soldiers during WWII has been proven to be exaggerated. De-classified documents show that it was Korean brothel owners who connived with private Japanese businessmen to provide comfort women, as they were called, for the soldiers. Many of them went into it willingly as prostitutes and had a good life with their Japanese partners, contrary to South Korea’s claims that the women were forced into sex, raped and tortured.
For the Koreans, the statues are meant to inform the world about the sufferings of the comfort women at the hands of the Japanese Army. Some sectors have argued that Seoul needs to move on from the past and cease feeding its festering wounds. Lately though, because being stuck in the past does not project a good image for them, Korean American groups are saying that these statues will serve as an educational tool for protecting human rights. As Dong Chan Kim, president of Korean American Civic Empowerment says, “[We] want the community to focus on the education effort with people all over the world and future generations.