There has been a lot of media attention focused on North Korea the past few weeks because of the death and state funeral of dictator Kim Jong Il, and the new ruler, his son, Kim Jong Eun. But today's blog is about a situation in Seoul, South Korea that, unfortunately, is receiving far less attention.
The photo above is of several elderly women and a bronze statue (named The Peace Monument) that sits on a street in central Seoul. The life-size statue was paid for with donations from South Korean citizens, and is strategically placed so that its eyes are directed across the street to the Japanese Embassy. Every Wednesday since January 8, 1992, a group of elderly women wearing yellow vests (former "Comfort Women") gather in silence to protest the actions of the Imperial Japanese Military during the 20th century.
From 1910 until 1945 Korea was under Japan's colonial rule, and one of the unspeakable side effects of this occupation was that thousands (estimates vary - depending upon the historian - from 20,000 to 410,000) of women in these territories were forced into sexual service at military "comfort stations." Today, the Japanese military admits that the women were coerced into serving at these stations, which in reality were military brothels.
Scholars have discovered that three quarters of the comfort women died, and most of those who did survive were left infertile due to either STDs or sexual trauma. One former Japanese soldier, Yasuji Kaneko, recalled his days as a soldier with these words "The women cried out, but it didn't matter to us whether the women lived or died. we were the Emperor's soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance."
While Korean women may have comprised the bulk of the area's comfort women, many came from China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Vietnam and other Japanese-occupied territories. Even ten Dutch women were taken by force from prison camps in Java in 1944, and held in a Japanese comfort station. One of these Dutch women, Jan Ruff-O'Hearn, testified to a U.S. House of Representatives committee in 1990 about her experience as a war "sex slave."
The elderly Korean women who were forced to be comfort women during World War II want the Japanese government to pay reparation, rather than receive "hush money" from private donations. In addition to the fact that the interest level in World War II events is low, another problem is that time is running out for these quiet protesters. Twenty years ago, 234 Korean women were willing to set aside their shame and embarrassment to publicly protest the atrocities they and their peers suffered during the Japanese occupation. Today, only 63 protesters are available to gather in front of The Peace Monument each Wednesday.
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