The dubious status some South Koreans have sought overseas for what Sally McGrane fashionably calls “brutal state-run rape camps” has now won academic approbation in the United States, according to her report, “An Important Statue for ‘Comfort Women’ in San Francisco” (The New Yorker, Oct. 12).
McGrane quotes Harvard professor Dara Kay Cohen and University of California, Berkeley professor Elaine Kim to emphasize her point. But she doesn’t even mention Sejong professor Park Yu-ha, who holds a contrasting, more considered view.
Park has cast doubt on her South Korean compatriots’ campaign to sell the world the idea that the “comfort women” violated “the universal women’s rights” as an expression of “moral arrogance.” She explains why in her book, “Comfort Women of the Empire” (Korean 2013, Japanese 2014).
“Colonization inevitably spawns a schism among the colonized people,” she writes. But “Korea has lived by erasing the memory of its collaboration with and subjugation to the sovereign nation,” Japan, since its “liberation” from the country in 1945 — by refusing to see “the other face of Korea.”
In the process, those engaged in propagating the notion that comfort women embodied the evil that was Imperialist Japan have lost the ability to talk about “why so many of the comfort women were Korean,” even as they argued that “most comfort women were Korean.”
To write her book, Park first focused on interviews with surviving Korean comfort women. (There were more Japanese comfort women.) As a result, she confirmed that practically all those who “duped” or “forced” them into prostitution, as well as those who managed the “comfort stations,” were Korean, not the Japanese military.
In some cases, their parents sold them to middlemen out of dire poverty. That was common in Japan, too, during its economic difficulties before World War II.
There were also “voluntary” comfort women, a la “sex workers” today.
As important, the recent South Korean depiction that all Korean comfort women were “victims” of the incomparable tyranny of the Japanese military ignore what they actually said, Park found.
Some women sympathized with Japanese soldiers going to battle to “die” as they were told. Some fell in love with them, as some soldiers fell in love with them.
Some soldiers were kind, some came to spend time with them, not for sex, but for their company only. Some regularly passed them some of the special food meant for their officers. Some gave them money, pitying their fate, without touching them.
Two members of the “Japanese Women for Justice and Peace” organization showed up at the Brookhaven Cherry Blossom Festival on Sunday, March 25, to pass out pamphlets and denounce the city’s decision to erect a controversial “comfort women” monument in the city.
Yumiko Yamamoto, the executive director of the group, flew from Japan to attend the festival. She has been tied to Zaitokukai, named by Japanese police as an anti-Korean extremist group, according to the British newspaper The Guardian. With her was Shizuko Culpepper of Duluth, also a member of the organization.
The women reiterated an argument backed by the Japanese government that comfort women were not sex slaves trafficked by the Japanese military during World War II but rather well-paid prostitutes who worked to support their families. They said the monument is “Japan-bashing.” They did not stay long at the festival because of the cold temperatures on March 25 and only handed out a few pamphlets titled “What is ‘Comfort Women’ Basic Facts.”
Councilmember John Park, who initiated bringing the memorial to Brookhaven after the Center for Civil and Human Rights in downtown Atlanta backed out of an agreement to place it on its property, declined to comment. Helen Kim Ho, spokesperson for the Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force, which commissioned the monument, also declined comment.
Chinese information warfare in the United States is a massive and multi-front campaign. In December 2017 the Washington Post alerted its readers to “the huge scope and scale of Chinese Communist Party influence operations inside the United States, which permeate American institutions of all kinds.”
In May 2017, the New York Times reported that the Chinese Students and Scholars Association at the University of California-San Diego managed “within hours” to get the Dalai Lama uninvited as UCSD commencement speaker. The more than 150 Chinese students and scholars associations in the US, the Times added, are funded and influenced by Chinese Communist Party headquarters.
In January 2018, the Washington Post detailed that UT-Austin rejected funds from the China United States Exchange Foundation because the “Hong Kong-based foundation and its leader, Tung Chee-hwa, are closely linked to the branch of the Chinese Communist Party that manages influence operations abroad.”
But on-campus campaigns are just the tip of the iceberg. The comfort women issue represents arguably Beijing’s most aggressive information-war maneuver. It has been a source of serious friction between Seoul and Tokyo since the 1990s, and in the past three years, has threatened to upend the uneasy security relationship, triangulated through Washington, between South Korea and Japan. Rending relations between the three democracies is China’s premier policy goal in East Asia.