Thursday, July 12, 2012

Palisades Park Monument to "Comfort Women"

The New Jersey newspaper, The Record, has posted HERE a July 12 article entitled "Palisades Park monument to 'comfort women' stirs support, anger" that is a generally fair report on the issue, but I do have one or two problems with it.

The article does a good job of describing the current controversy with good background and information, and it also makes a very important point that many other articles on the topic neglect to mention, which is that not all the comfort women were "aducted," as the monument claims.
Inflammatory word
Mindy Kotler, director of the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Asia Policy Point, said the word “abducted” can inflame the Japanese and that “coerced” is a better word. “Not all the women were abducted,” she said.
However, even the word "coerced" is not true for "all" the comfort women. NO ONE knows how many women were "abducted," "coered," or who simply did it for the money. It cannot be claimed that 200,000 women were this or that. In fact, it cannot even be claimed there were 200,000 comfort women since the number of women is not known.

Another problem I have with the article is the following statement:
Kotler, who has studied the comfort women issue, said the Japanese elite feel the monument is an attack on them. She said it’s “standard thinking” among businessmen, government officials and politicians that Japan was tricked into the war and that the country isn’t culpable of any war crimes.
How does Ms. Kotler know it is "standard thinking" among Japanese businessmen, government officials, and politicians that "Japan was tricked into the war and that the country isn't culpable of any war crimes"? That implies that a majority of Japanese believe such a thing, of which I have not seen any evidence. On the contrary, most Japanese seem to believe that Japan did commit war crimes. Japanese history books, for example, mention the Nanking Massacre, Unit 731, and even the Comfort Women.

One final problem I have with the article is that it does not mention anything about Korea's own "Comfort Woman" program, which provided Korean women to Korean and UN troops after the the Japanese had left Korea. Koreans even referred to the women as "comfort women," which was a Korean and Japanese euphemism for prostitute, especially prostitutes for the military. An October 1959 article HERE in the Korean newspaper Dong-a Ilbo said there were 261,089 "comfort women" working in Korea in 1959 and that 66% of them had a veneral disease.

The 1959 Dong-a Ilbo article also mentions 63,635 hostesses, of which 16.2% had VD; 51,119 unregisted prostitutes, of which 13% had VD, and 16,864 dancers, of which 4.4% had VD.

Why doesn't the monument in Palisades Park, New York mention anything about South Korea's own "comfort women" system and the fact that American and Korean troops were regular customers?

The Web site "Japan Probe" describes HERE the main problems with the monument:
The New Jersey monument does not promote a better understanding of history. The hearts of its creators may have been in the right place, but the wording on the monument conforms with a Korean nationalist narrative of history. In this nationalist narrative, Japan’s military is blamed for “abducting” hundreds of thousands of women. It invokes imagery of Japanese soldiers busting into Korean villages and forcibly kidnapping women at gunpoint. 
While there were definitely women who were abducted by the military in newly-conquered territories, the situation within more integrated parts of the Japanese empire was different. Many of the Korean Comfort Women were recruited, tricked, or sold by fellow Koreans. The same goes for Japanese women, a lot of whom were sold by impoverished or debt-ridden family members. Under a legal system that allowed poor girls to be sold into prostitution, civilians within the Japan/Korea/Taiwan imperial state were the ones who provided Comfort Women to brothels. Military abduction was not the norm. 
By simplifying the issue into one of 200,000 women and girls being abducted by the Japanese military, the New Jersey monument allows visitors to “remember” the Comfort Women without facing uncomfortable historical truths. There is no need to remember Korean collaboration in the system. Nor is there a need to remember that the widespread exploitation of Korean women continued after the war, when the South Korean government provided brothels for the U.S. military. Human rights violations are to be remembered, but only within a context that narrowly focuses on the Japanese.
And below is a photo of the monument to the Comfort Women that Korean-Americans have set up at the Veterans Memorial at Eisenhower Park in Westbury, New York. This monument also makes the unsupported claim that "more than 200,000 women and girls...were abducted for the use of sexual slavery by the armed forces of the government of Imperial Japan." Robert Koehler of the Martmot's Hole has decribed the Japanese who have protested such an unfair description as "wankers."

 Is it the Japanese who are protesting these factually inaccurate monuments who are the "wankers," or is it the Koreans who are setting them up to incite the Japanese who are the "wankers"? Afterall, why haven't these concerned citizens set up monuments for the more than 261,000 Korean "comfort women" mobilized by the South Korean government to service Korean and UN troops in Korea after the Japanese left?

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