On December 28, more than 70 years after World War II, South Korea and Japan agreed to resolve their dispute over comfort women: women forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan’s Imperial Army. In this agreement, Japan formally apologized for the physical and mental harm they had inflicted upon these women, promising an $8.3 million payment that would provide care for these women. Although such a seemingly pacific agreement had intended to remove and improve the intractable hatred between South Korea and Japan, the political movement not only provoked argument and discontent from both countries, but also prolonged and exacerbated existing antagonism.
The main dispute was whether the apology was sufficient to alleviate the hardship that the victims of war crime had gone through. Many critics argued that the sum of money is simply insufficient to compensate for the long lost dignity and rights of the women. However, the most influential voices come from the actual victims of war.
“We are not craving money,” explained victim Lee Yong-soo, 88. “What we demand is that Japan makes official reparations for the crime it has committed.”
This interview revealed the astonishing fact that the Korean government had not previously informed the process of negotiation to the women. Both Ms. Park, president of South Korea and Mr. Abe, Japanese prime minister, were so eager to forge an agreement in the year 2015, the 50th anniversary of the peace treaty and 70th anniversary of the end of the WWII, that they neglected the voices of the actual victims. The question is, can a mere sum of money be sufficient enough to compensate for the traumatic experiences these comfort women have suffered for their whole lives?
The comfort women held great importance to Koreans and had been one of the most painful legacies of Japan’s colonial rule of Korea, which lasted for 30 years. The late Duk-jin Kim, former comfort woman recalled her daily routine. “We got up at 7:00 in the morning. After washing and finishing breakfast, we waited for a soldier in a long queue. After six o’clock in the evening, high-rank officers often came and sometimes they stayed overnight in the station. An individual woman was forced to take care of roughly 30-40 soldiers a day; such harsh schedule did not allow women to sleep…In the hospital there was an examining table where we had to spread our legs. The army surgeon would then insert an instrument, which had a hopper shape and looked like duck’s beak, to the bottom part of my torso. When they found out that someone got infected with something, they would give an injection called No. 606. Luckily, I never received such treatment. Although I did not have any STDs, I suffered from the symptoms of a bladder infection – I was not able to urinate properly and experienced severe bleeding down there. There were many other girls whose bottoms flipped inside out, which were too swollen and bloody to inject any needles.”
Her hardship is simply unimaginable to us. She was only a 17-year old girl involuntarily bound to meet excessive sexual demands from soldiers. Hearing these individual stories forces Koreans and the rest of humanity to ponder human rights and dignity together. The late Mrs. Kim was one of many victims of such exploitation, lucky, for numerous failed to survive. Today, the remaining women are elderly, most entering their 90s. This is our last chance to commemorate, sympathize and apologize.
This article is not intended to target a specific nationality. Most nations have ugly pasts from American slavery to the German Holocaust, and even Roman gladiators. Though monstrous, these events are not defining of a people, what is defining is the forward movement toward making amends. In the wake of such a significant event, the LC community should try to capture the importance of atonement and strive to be their best-self as mature human beings.