Tuesday, June 19, 2007

More on the Comfort Women Ad

Since some of the commentors have asked, I’ve quickly jotted down some commentary as to why I find the WaPo

From Fact 1:

No historical document has ever been found my historians or research organizations that positively demonstrate that women were forced against their will into prostitution by the Japanese Army. A search of the archives at the Japan Center for Asian Historical Records…”

Fact 1 neglects to mention, however, that one reason documentary evidence may be lacking is because Japan had 15 days between surrender and the arrival of the occupation forces to burn its documents:

The difference between the German and Japanese surrenders had a profound influence on each country’s documentation of the army, navy and the war in general. The rapid pace of the Allied advance through Germany meant that a large quantity of historically important material was requisitioned before it could be destroyed. In contrast, Japan had plenty of time to dispose of its records between the announcement of the surrender on 15 August and the landing of Allied forces on 30 August.[1] During this period some 2.5 million Japanese troops remained under the command of the Japanese armed forces, and before the arrival of the Allies they undertook the “Great Incineration Operation” ordered by the government. There is no evidence that measures to stop this destruction of records were taken by the Allies even after their arrival in Japan, though a “strong recommendation” against further destruction was apparently issued from GHQ (according to the Washington Document Centre).

One can only guess at the percentage of documents that was destroyed in the ten weeks between the surrender and the order to halt the incineration. When considering this question in the past I estimated that 99 per cent was incinerated, but I have come to think recently that it is closer to 99.9 per cent. Even the remaining 0.01 per cent has not received adequate historical examination because this period has traditionally been the preserve of political scientists. Recently, however, it has at last become possible for historians such as myself to make advances in this field and to establish the whereabouts of these materials.

More from Fact 1:

On the contrary, many documents were found warning private brokers not to force women to work against their will.

Amazing how those documents apparently didn’t get burnt. And at any rate, the fact that such directives existed on paper doesn’t mean that they translated into practice — the fact that Korea does, in fact, have laws on the books against prostitution and periodically conducts “crackdowns” doesn’t change the fact that the country has long looked the other way at the practice.Even the United States Office of War Information report sited in the WaPo ad says about the recruiting:

Early in May of 1942 Japanese agents arrived in Korea for the purpose of enlisting Korean girls for “comfort service” in newly conquered Japanese territories in Southeast Asia. The nature of this “service” was not specified but it was assumed to be work connected with visiting the wounded in hospitals, rolling bandages, and generally making the soldiers happy. The inducement used by these agents was plenty of money, an opportunity to pay off the family debts, easy work, and the prospect of a new life in a new land, Singapore. On the basis of these false representations many girls enlisted for overseas duty and were rewarded with an advance of a few hundred yen.

Or how about this US Army document, Kunming-REG-OP-3:

With the exception of Mrs.Hwang Nam-suk, all of the 23 women became “comfortgirls”, apparently under compulsion and misrepresentation. The fifteen who left Korea in July, 1943, for example, were recruited through advertisements in Korean newspapers offering employment for girls in Japanese factories in Singapore. The contingent with which they were sent southward included at least 300 girls who were similarly misled.

Those warning didn’t do a whole lot of good, apparently.

From Fact 2:

There are many newspaper articles, moreover, that demonstrate that these directives were dutifully carried out. The August 31, 1939 issue of the Dong-A Ilbo…

Well, if you can’t believe a pro-Japanese newspaper founded by collaborator extraordinaire Kim Song-su in a colony run by a militarist dictatorship, who can you believe? I guess next we’ll be citing the Rodong Shinmun as evidence that Megumi Yokota really is dead. At any rate, I’ll grant for the moment that the Dong-A Ilbo report (as well as the “many other newspaper articles”) may be factually accurate. After all, I’ve read stories about Korean police conducting campaigns to make drivers respect the stop line. I’ve even seen said campaign with my own two eyes. Back to the point, however, both US Army documents (including the one cited in the ad) and testimonies by former comfort women indicate that many of the women who ended up in the camps were tricked into it. So if those directives were “dutifully carried out,” as the ad claims, even the documentary evidence it cites later on (albeit for a different point) says otherwise. Of course, the number of women in the reports and testimonies, even if completely reliable, are only a fraction of the number who served as “comfort women,” so it’s hard to compute actual percentages, and I seriously doubt we’ll ever find actual statistics in whatever Japanese records may have survived the flames of late August 1945.

Going on, from Fact 3:

There were admittedly cases, though, of breakdowns in discipline.

You don’t say. Again, the two reports suggest and testimonies suggest many women were working against their will, and the officers responsible were not punished — in the Burma camp, the colonel in charge of the camp deserted to avoid enemy capture, while there is no mention of the fate of the commanding officers in the Chinese camp in the part of the report I’ve seen. Since they bring up the Indonesian case, however, it does beg the question, as commenter Jing once pointed out, whether serving as a “comfort woman” counts as “rape” only when it involves white women. From Yuki Tanaka (or a review thereof):

Why did the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal hear mass evidence regarding the ill-treatment, rape and murder of Allied soldiers and civilians and fail to consider evidence of systemic crimes against ‘comfort’ women? One explanation, Tanaka suggests, is that as most of the ‘comfort’ women were ‘Asian’, rather than Western—the largest exception being Dutch women in the Dutch East Indies—the invisibility of the ‘comfort’ women provides further evidence supporting the ‘absence of Asia’ remarks often made about the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, where both the aggrieved and those giving justice tended to be Western (p. 87). Yet Tanaka does not reconcile this argument with earlier discussion regarding the ‘various testimonies presented at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal regarding the Rape of Nanjing’ (p. 29). He admits that details regarding the rape of Dutch civilian women in March 1942, for example, were raised at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal but argues this was only to provide evidence that crimes had been committed against Allied civilians (pp. 61-3). A more concrete example of the fixation with Western victims, Tanaka suggests, can be seen in the proceedings of the Batavia War Crimes Tribunal, which was conducted by Dutch authorities in February 1948. In one case this tribunal tried twelve Japanese in relation to the forced prostitution of Dutch women held in internment camps in Semarang, Java in 1943 (p. 76). Although Tanaka does not make it clear, the basis of the Dutch prosecution seemed to be the Geneva Convention of 1929. While not a signatory to the convention, Japan had given a qualified promise to follow the Geneva rules in 1942, one of which prohibited forced prostitution of prisoners-of-war. Disappointingly, Tanaka does not pursue a line of inquiry as to whether Indo-Dutch, Indonesian, Filipino, or perhaps even Korean, ‘comfort’ women could have had a similar status to the Dutch as prisoners-of-war during this period. He merely notes that the Dutch authorities questioned Indonesian, Indo-Dutch and Chinese ‘comfort’ women about their experiences in the Japanese-occupied Dutch East Indies but that only two cases involving non-Dutch women were ever raised at the Batavia War Crimes Tribunal (pp. 78-9). While it might be expected that a separate Dutch war crimes inquiry would focus on Dutch women in this manner, Tanaka seems to imbue the Batavia War Crimes Tribunal with responsibility for a regional jurisdiction, to which it failed to respond adequately. It appears to Tanaka, therefore, that the victimisation of predominantly Asian ‘comfort’ women inevitably took second-place to other war crimes investigated and prosecuted by the Allies.

However, Tanaka’s primary argument is that the Allied nations’ own ’sexual ideology’—their treatment of non-Western women prior to the war, their practice and attempt to cover-up military-controlled prostitution during the war and their complicity in the establishment of a similar ‘comfort’ system for Allied personnel during the Occupation in Japan—is a telling factor in the lack of Allied prosecution (p. 87). Regarding the Dutch East Indies, for example, Tanaka argues that as the Dutch sexually exploited large numbers of Indonesian women while a colonial power in the region, it followed that the sexual abuse of Indonesian and Indo-Dutch women by the Japanese would probably not have been viewed by the Dutch as a serious crime (p. 82). During the war itself, Tanaka clarifies that the Allied ’sexual ideology’ made it ‘quite natural that [the Allies] were completely unable to discern the criminal nature of the comfort women system’ (p. 109). As the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian of Japan, John Dower, notes in a short review printed on the back of the volume, this is a ’stunning and controversial’ new direction of analysis.

About Fact 4: I find it interesting that it starts by pointing out that the “comfort women” testimony itself supports the notion that the Japanese military did not directly impress women into sexual slavery, but then points out that the women’s testimony is unreliable because it has changed “since the start of the anti-Japanese campaign.” So, are we then to take it that the testimony that they weren’t whisked away by the Japanese Army is reliable, but tales of abuse aren’t?

From Fact 5:

The iafu who were embedded with the Japanese Army were not, as is commonly reported, “sex slaves.” They were working under a system of licensed prostitution that was commonplace around the world at the time. Many of the women, in fact, earned incomes far in excess of what were paid to field officers and even generals (as reported by the United States Office of War Information, Psychological Warfare Team Attached to US Army Forces, India-Burma Theater APO 689) and there are many testimonies attesting to the fact that they were well treated.

This is the most offensive part, IMHO, owing particularly to that last line — well treated, indeed! It also indicates that the ad goes beyond the usual “redefining coercion” (unless, of course, it’s to redefine “coercion” away from “tricked into it by local pimps,” as I’d like to think Shinzo Abe meant it, to “coerced by poverty”) to present the comfort women as highly paid, well-treated prostitutes. The odd thing is, even the report the ad itself chose to cite (which, coincidentally, I don’t entirely trust — the “personality” description leads me to wonder about the individual who wrote it) to prove how well-paid they were ALSO indicates that many of the women at the Burma camp that was surveyed were deceived into their positions, contradicting Fact 2. Sorry for re-citing, but:

Early in May of 1942 Japanese agents arrived in Korea for the purpose of enlisting Korean girls for “comfort service” in newly conquered Japanese territories in Southeast Asia. The nature of this “service” was not specified but it was assumed to be work connected with visiting the wounded in hospitals, rolling bandages, and generally making the soldiers happy. The inducement used by these agents was plenty of money, an opportunity to pay off the family debts, easy work, and the prospect of a new life in a new land, Singapore. On the basis of these false representations many girls enlisted for overseas duty and were rewarded with an advance of a few hundred yen.

So, is this the form of “licensed prostitution that was commonplace around the world at the time?” Tricking girls to Southeast Asia with false advertisements and putting them to work as prostitutes serving the army of the colonial overlord once they got there? And even if it were, would the fact that other colonial powers took sexual advantage of colonial women make Japan’s behavior any better? Would the fact that both Japan and Korea continued the practice for US troops after the war make a difference? I don’t think so.

Also from Fact 5:

There are records of soldiers being punished for acts of violence against the women. Many countries set up brothels for their armies, in fact, to prevent soldiers from committing rape against private citizens. (In 1945, for instance, Occupation authorities asked the Japanese government to set up hygienic and safe “comfort stations” to prevent rape by American soldiers.)

Where there’s an army base, there’s a brothel. Fine. You can even find brothels in areas with no military presence at all. But if the US had, let’s say, supplied its army brothels in Japan with, say, Filipino women tricked into it by local recruiters while US colonial administrators turned a blind eye, it’s a different story. That’s human trafficking and, yes, sexual slavery. And for what it’s worth, in “Embracing Defeat,” John W. Dower included a very disturbing account of those “hygienic and safe” comfort stations set up in 1945 (can’t find my copy at the moment) — if the inclusion of the last sentence was supposed to make be feel better about the comfort women’s plight, it doesn’t.

For the record, I’d think there’s a lot of bullshit going around in Japan, Korea and the United States about the comfort women.

Korea couldn’t have cared less about the comfort women for most of its post-Liberation history (for a number of reasons, including the low social position of women until very recently and the fact that the country was run by Japanese collaborators for much of that history, including 18 years by a man who spent WWII as a second lieutenant in the Japanese Army), and moreover, if it really wanted to be honest about what happened, it would start with the realization that most of the girls were probably sold to the Japanese Army by collaborating Korean brokers.

Meanwhile, it’s hard to make what the current Japanese government (as opposed to the people who ran the ad) is up to, although some of Shinzo Abe’s past statements on the issue don’t bode well. I’m also afraid — sorry for speculating here — that if a concrete definition of “coercion” isn’t arrived upon soon, “coercion” might get watered down into “coerced by circumstances like poverty,” which might then lead to claims that since Japan “helped modernize and develop Korea during colonial rule,” those circumstances were “native Korean poverty,” completely absolving Japan of any guilt whatsoever.

Lastly, we have the Americans. I’ve already explained that I think Rep. Honda’s resolution is a bad idea. Like the United States doesn’t have enough to worry about right now that it’s intervening in the interpretation of other countries’ history. I might also add that judging from the US Army reports cited above, the US knew women were being pressed into sexual service, but apparently didn’t feel Asians raping other Asians warranted inclusion in the Tokyo Tribunal. This probably shouldn’t come as a complete surprise — Washington didn’t feel biological warfare experiments and live vivisections on largely Chinese victims warranted inclusion, either (as long as it got its hands on the data), although abuse of Western POWs did. Moreover, reports indicate US troops would make use of comfort stations during the occupation of Japan and during the Korean War.

In the end, the Korean comfort women suffered abuse at the hands of three governments, including their own.

Japan lawmakers take out full page ad on comfort women

This is definitely not going to help this issue go away:

A group of Japanese lawmakers in a full-page ad in the Washington Post on Thursday denied the Japanese government and military had a hand in conscripting women from Asian countries as sex slaves for the Imperial Army during World War II. Titled “The Facts”, the ad published Wednesday claims “no historical document has ever been found” proving the direct involvement of the Japanese government and military, contrary to a recent U.S. congressional resolution sponsored by the Democrat Representative Mike Honda. The ad was co-sponsored by some Japanese academics, political commentators and journalists.

This ad is going to do nothing to change anyones attitudes about the comfort women issue and will only inflame passions on each side. I have laid out before what I think the Japanese government should do on this issue and I will explain it here again.

I believe that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe should turn the tables on all the holier than thou demagogues criticizing Japan over the comfort women issue by apologizing for war time sexual slavery again, but this time in a large public speech to draw maximum media attention. During this speech then announce that Japan to atone for its past sins would become a champion of women’s rights beginning with the plight of modern day sexual slavery of North Korean women in China that both the South Korean and Chinese governments choose to ignore. Than announce that Japan would then start accepting North Korean defectors into Japan and become an outspoken advocate of NK defectors unlike South Korea which has a quasi governmental policy of stopping NK defectors.

Then make sure to have a translation of the speech in English to hand out to reporters so the New York Times can’t intentionally misquote translations again. Such a change in rhetoric and policy would instantly shine a spotlight on the moral bankruptcy of both China and South Korea while simultaneously aiding the plight of the NK defectors.

Would governments and the media go after China like they are currently attacking Japan? Probably not because China consistently gets a pass from the media and international governments, but it should be enough to silence them about the comfort women issue. As it stands now Abe’s approach of fighting over definitions of “coercion” and funding advertisements in the Washington Post only plays into the hands of the demagogues who have no intention of letting this issue go.

Prime Minister Abe could apologize for everything from the comfort women issue and the Nanjing Massacre to the Hideyoshi invasions of Korea starting in 1592 and the Japanese piracy of Shilla and Tang dynasty shipping even before then, followed by committing seppuku on top of Namsan mountain in Seoul for everyone to see and it would still not be enough for these governments because it provides them with a great domestic political weapon to disguise their own government failures by encouraging anti-Japanese sentiment. The only way to combat these demagogues is by making it embarrassing for these nations to bring up more demands for apologies when it would reflect negatively on their own current human rights failures to do so. It would no doubt be a bold measure, but I see no other way of ending the comfort women issue.

Washington Post comfort women ad

GI Korea is reporting on his ROK Drop blog that a group of “Japanese lawmakers” has taken out a full-page ad in the Washington Post stating that “no historical document has ever been found” proving the direct involvement of the Japanese government and military in conscripting comfort women.

Reader Infimum tipped us off that Occidentalism has a large copy of the full page ad itself, with the names of those signing it, here. It’s still a little difficult to read, but you can probably find ways to magnify it. Of interest is that several members of the primary opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan, also endorsed it. Another prominent name on the document is that of Yoshiko Sakurai, a journalist who was the main anchor on Kyo no Dekigoto, a national news program that ran at roughly 11:00 p.m. for more than 50 years until September last year.

Of even greater interest is that the ad provides the Url for a 20-page article (.pdf file) by Prof. Ikuhiko Hata titled No Organized or Forced Recruitment.

This is worth reading for anyone who has an open mind on the issue. It reveals, for example, that Mike Honda, the sponsor of the House resolution, was also instrumental in the passage of the Hayden Act in the California state legislature. This act allowed parties to sue Japanese companies for “war crimes” a half-century after the fact, demonstrating that the state remains a fount of unctuous and self-righteous political vapidity. The Supreme Court mercifully struck it down as unconstitutional.

Prof. Hata also references the six (!) contradictory stories given by Lee Yong-soo, one of the three former comfort women who gave testimony to the House subcommittee. Two were Korean; neither were coerced by the Japanese. The third was a Dutch national from Indonesia, and Hata reports that a Japanese officer shut down the brothel and freed the women when he discovered its existence. Also, a Dutch military court tried and convicted 11 people in connection with the incident, executing one. Hata uses this incident to demonstrate that the Japanese military did not countenance coercion as a policy, and that the matter in question was legally dealt with years ago.


I agree with GIK when he says the ad is not going to change anyone’s mind; the time for this sort of action was when the issue first erupted a few months ago. He also makes a point I’ve made several times here and elsewhere over the past couple of years, not only about the comfort women in particular, but the war in general:

Prime Minister Abe could apologize for everything from the comfort women issue and the Nanjing Massacre to the Hideyoshi invasions of Korea starting in 1592 and the Japanese piracy of Shilla and Tang dynasty shipping even before then, followed by committing seppuku on top of Namsan mountain in Seoul…and it would still not be enough for these governments because (the issue) provides them with a great domestic political weapon to disguise their own…failures by encouraging anti-Japanese sentiment.

On the other hand, I disagree partly with his proposed solution: a speech by Prime Minister Abe.

…(t)o atone for its past sins, (Japan) would become a champion of women’s rights, beginning with the plight of modern day sexual slavery of North Korean women in China that both the South Korean and Chinese governments choose to ignore. Then announce that Japan would…start accepting North Korean defectors into Japan and become an outspoken advocate of NK defectors, unlike South Korea.

This isn’t a bad idea on the face of it, but one problem with the suggestion is that it would perpetuate the false concept of “women’s rights”. There is no such thing as “women’s rights” or “children’s rights” or “gay rights”, or anything of the sort. Rights are absolute; it is not possible for any group to have its own exclusive collection. An examination of the rights claimed as exclusive would reveal that they either are the same rights possessed by everyone else, or else not really rights at all.

Another problem is that the speech would likely be ignored. Most of the world’s media (which is the real audience here) already overlooks the whaling carried out by such countries as Norway and Iceland to concentrate on Japan’s fleet, for example. In the same way, those in the civil rights profession in the West tend to ignore the contemporary slave trade still conducted in Africa, with other Africans or Arabs as the slaveholders.

Besides, the motivation of the people such a speech would rebut has little, if anything, to do with the surviving comfort women themselves. It was concisely described by Thomas Sowell in the subtitle of his book, The Vision of the Anointed: “Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy”

The real motivation is to see themselves as superior people. This requires inferior, “bad”, non-progressive people to whom they can be favorably compared. It also affords the anointed a turn on the public stage to demonstrate their superiority.

You think not? Pick up any newspaper–you’ll find dozens of examples, none of which has anything to do with comfort women.

comfort women

Robert from the Marmot’s Hole reported on a group of Japanese lawmakers that took out a full page ad in the Washington Post to present the Japanese viewpoint on the comfort woman controversy, and asked “If you’ve got the advert, I’d be keen to take a look at it”.

click here for a full version of the ad

Former Comfort Woman Lee Yong-su will tell about her experience as a comfort woman

n the Ohmynews article, the following was said:

One evening in October 1944, she went outside her house and, without knowing why, was dragged off my Japanese soldiers and taken to a Comfort Station in Taiwan. Reflecting on that time and with tears welling up in her eyes, she said that as she was being dragged off she cried, ‘Mommy, mommy….these people say they are going to kill me. Save me, mommy.’

1944년 10월 어느 날 저녁 그가 집 밖에 나갔다가 영문도 모른 채 일본군에게 끌려간 곳은 대만 일본군 위안소였다. 끌려가면서 “엄마, 엄마… 이 사람들이 나 죽일라고 한다. 엄마 살려줘”라고 울부짖었던 당시의 상황을 회상하며 눈물을 글썽인다.

That story is a little different from the following story, which she told US congessmen this past February link

Statement of

Lee Yong-soo

Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment

Committee on Foreign Affairs

U.S. House of Representatives

Hearing on

Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Chairman Faleomavaega and Members of the Subcommittee:

Thank you for this opportunity to come before you today. I am pleased to join with Ms. Jan Ruff O’Herne of the Friends of Comfort Women in Australia and Ms. Koon Ja Kim of the National Korean American Service and Education Consortium to share our stories.

I would also like to thank Representative Michael Honda for introducing House Resolution 121, which expresses ‘the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Japan should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force's coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as ‘comfort women.’ during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II.’ You have just heard Congressman Honda explain the circumstances that compelled him to sponsor this legislation. Now we would like to add our personal histories to the conversation.

This is a story that I told nobody until just a few years ago, because the shame of my shattered childhood haunted me through the rest of my life. Some of the details of my life story you will find shocking. You will think these are the details of a movie script or novel about cruelty. I can assure you that these are the true things that happened to me.

My Early Life

I was born in 1928 in the Korean city of Taegu. My family was poor and nine of us lived in a single, small house: my parents, my grandmother, my five brothers, and myself. I only had one year of formal education and spent most of my childhood caring for my younger brothers and doing household chores so my father and mother could work outside our home to support the family.

At the age of 13, I also began working in a factory and tried to return to school, but the heavy burden of work prevented me from focusing on my studies. To tell the truth, I was not a highly motivated student, although I did enjoy music lessons and was told I had a pretty singing voice.

During World War II, when I was 15, I was drafted to the training group for the Voluntary Corps in Ch’ilsong Elementary School. Boys and girls lined up separately for training, and we did exercises and marched in neat lines. We also had to march home at the end of each day. Our lives were highly regimented.

In the autumn of 1944, when I was 16 years old, my friend, Kim Punsun, and I were collecting shellfish at the riverside when we noticed an elderly man and a Japanese man looking down at us form the hillside. The older man pointed at us with his finger, and the Japanese man started to walk towards us. The older man disappeared, and the Japanese beckoned to us to follow him. I was scared and ran away, not caring about what happened to my friend. A few days later, Punsun knocked on my window early in the morning, and whispered to me to follow her quietly. I tip-toed out of the house after her. I lift without telling my mother. I was wearing a dark skirt, a long cotton blouse buttoned up at the front and slippers on my feet. I followed my friend until we met the same man who had tried to approach us on the riverbank. He looked as if he was in his late thirties and he wore a sort of People’s Army uniform with a combat cap. Altogether, there were five girls with him, including myself.

We went to the station and took a train to Kyongju. It was the first time I had been on a train. In Kyongju we were put up in a guest-house. We stayed in the guest-house for two days, during which time two more girls joined us. Now there were seven of us. We boarded a train and passed through Taegu where I could just see my home through the broken window. I suddenly missed my mother. I began to weep, saying I wanted to go home. I pushed the bundle of clothes away and continued to cry, asking the man to let me get off. He refused. Exhausted, I finally fell asleep as the train just kept on going. We must have traveled for several days.

Beating and Torture

We got off the train at Anju, in P’yongan province, and were led to what looked like an ordinary residential house. An elderly woman was keeping the house on her own. Food was short, and we were given boiled potatoes and corn. We felt very hungry and sometimes during our stay there we would pinch apples from the tree. The Japanese man who had led us from Taegu punished all of us if any single girl did something wrong. We had to stand on small round clubs, holding large bottles filled with water in our hands. Or he would beat our palms and the soles of our feet with sticks. He would ask one of us to bring him water to drink, and if the girl was slightly slow in doing what was asked, he would beat all of us. Any excuse prompted a beating. We became so scared that we tried not to upset him in any way.

In the winter, we froze, feeling ice form all over our bodies. If we complained of the cold, he would beat us. We shivered and tried to keep our frozen hands warm, doing everything behind his back. The two girls who had joined us in Kyongju were taken away, leaving the five of us who had set off together at the beginning of our journey. We remained in Anju for about a month and then boarded a train once more to travel to Dalian. We stayed overnight in a guest-house in Dalian. The following morning we were given soup and steamed bread. We boarded a ship and were told that a convoy of eleven boats would be sailing together. They were big ships. We were taken into the last one. It was already crowded with Japanese sailors. We were the only women.

New Year’s Day 1945 was spent on board. The ships stopped in Shanghai, and some of the sailors landed for a short break on shore. We were not allowed to disembark. I was summoned on deck and sang for the men. Afterwards, an officer gave me two rice cakes. I shared them with the other girls. The ships stated to sail again but often halted because of bombing. One day our ship received a direct hit. The other ships were destroyed, but only the front of our ship was damaged. Men shouted and screamed outside our cabin. The ship was tossed about, and I suffered with severe seasickness. My head was splitting with pain, and my stomach seemed to turn upside down. I remember crawling towards the bathroom, throwing up as I went along, when I was grabbed by a man and dragged into a cabin. I tried to shake him off, biting his arm. I did my best to get away. But he slapped me and threw me into the cabin with such force that I couldn’t fight him off. In this way I was raped. It was my first sexual experience. I was so frightened that what actually happened didn’t sink in at the time. I vaguely thought that this man had forced me into the room just to do this.

People kept shouting that we would all die since the ship had been torn to pieces. We were told to put life-jackets on and to stay calm. We thought we were going to drown. Dying seemed better than going on like this. But the ship somehow managed to keep going. Later I found out that I was not the only one who had been raped. Punsun and the others had also suffered that same fate. From then on, we were often raped on the ship. I wept constantly, until my eyes became swollen. I was frightened about everything. I think that I was too young to hold a grudge against my aggressors, though looking back I feel angry and full of the desire for revenge. At that time I was so scared I didn’t even dare look any man squarely in the face. One day I opened the window of our cabin and tried to jump into the water. It would have been better to end my life then and there, I thought. But the water, blue-green and white with waves, scared me so much that I lost the courage to throw myself out.

Eventually we arrived in Taiwan. When we disembarked I couldn’t walk properly as my abdomen hurt so much. My glands had swollen up in my groin, and blood had coagulated around my vagina. I could walk only with great difficulty, since I was so swollen that I couldn’t keep my two legs straight.

The man who had accompanied us from Taegu turned out to be the proprietor of the comfort station we were taken to. We called him Oyaji. I was the youngest amongst us. Punsun was a year older than me and the others were 18, 19 and 20. The proprietor told me to go into a certain room, but I refused. He dragged me by my hair to another room. There I was tortured with electric shocks. He was very cruel. He pulled out the telephone cord and tied my wrists and ankles with it. Then, shouting ‘konoyaro!’ he twirled the telephone receiver. Lights flashed before my eyes, and my body shook all over. I couldn’t stand it and begged him to stop. I said I would do anything he asked. But he turned the receiver once more. I blacked out. When I came round my body was wet; I think that he had probably poured water on me.

Life in the Comfort Station

The comfort station was a two-storey Japanese-style building with 20 rooms. There were already many women there when we arrived. About ten, all of whom looked much older than us, wore kimonos. There was a Japanese woman, the proprietor’s wife. We changed into dresses given to us by the other women. The proprietor told us to call them ‘nesang’, ‘big sister’ and to do whatever they told us to. We began to take turns to wash their clothes and cook for them. The food was again not enough. We ate gruel made with millet or rice. I was terrified of being beaten; I was always scared. I was never beaten by soldiers, but I was frequently beaten by the proprietor. I was so frightened that I couldn't harbor any thoughts of running away. After having crossed an ocean and not knowing where I was, how could I think of escape?

The rooms were very small. Each was big enough for two people to lie down in. At the entrance of each hung a blanket in place of a door. The walls and floor were laid with wooden boards, and there was nothing else. We were each given a military blanket and had to sleep on the bare planks. One day, a man came in and asked my name. I was still frightened and just sat in a corner shaking my head without answering. So he said he would give me a name, and began to call me Tosiko. After that day I was always called Tosiko in the station.

We mainly had to serve a commando unit. They were not in the slightest way sympathetic towards us. They wore uniforms, but I had no idea whether they were from the army, navy or air force. I served four or five men a day. They finished their business quickly and left. Hardly any stayed overnight. I had to use old clothes, washed thoroughly, during my period. Even then I had to serve men. I was never paid for these services.

There were frequent air raids, and on some days we had to be evacuated several times. Whenever there was a raid, we were forced to hide ourselves in mountain undergrowth or in a cave. If the bombing ceased, the men would set up make-shift tents anywhere, on dry fields or in paddies, and they would make us serve them. Even if the tents were blown down by the wind, the men didn’t pay any attention but finished what they were doing to us. Those men were worse than dogs or pigs. They never wore condoms. I don’t remember ever having a medical examination.

One day, while we were in an underground shelter, the comfort station collapsed in a bombing attack. Our shelter was buried under the rubble. We dug through the soil, trying to get out. After a while we saw light through a small hole. I was incredibly relieved to be able to look out and shouted ‘At last I can see outside!’ Then I smelt smoke, and blood gushed out of my nose and mouth. I lost consciousness. The proprietor’s wife and mistress both died. As the house had collapsed, we were moved into a bomb shelter at the foot of a hill, and there we again had to serve the men. After a while, the proprietor got hold of some material and built a rough and ready house. It didn’t take him long. We continued to serve the men. In the end I was infected with venereal disease and the proprietor gave me the injection of the serum known as No. 606, which was used before penicillin became widely available. The fluid had a reddish tint. The disease stayed with me for a long time because I had to continue to serve men before I was clear. So I had to have constant injections. There was no hospital or clinic in the vicinity. Medical care – such as it was – was haphazard.

Apart from going to the bomb shelters we weren’t allowed out at all. We were warned that if we tried to venture beyond the confines of the station we would be killed, and I was sufficiently scared not to try anything. The men we served in the unit were all young; they seemed to be 19 or 20 years old, not much older than we girls were.

One evening, a soldier came to me and said he would be in combat later that same evening and that this battle would mark the end of his early life. I asked him what his commando unit was. He explained that one or two men would fly an airplane to attack an enemy ship or base. They would be suicide pilots. He gave me his photo and the toiletries he had been using. He had come to me twice before and said he had got venereal disease from me. He said he would take the disease to his grave as my present to him. Then he taught me a song:

I take off with courage, leaving Sinzhu behind,

Over the golden and silver clouds.

There is no one to see me off:

Only Tosiko grieves for me.

Until then I had known we were somewhere in Taiwan, but because we were kept in such close confinement and isolation, I had no idea of exactly where. From his song I learned we were in Sinzhu.

When we were evacuated to avoid the bombing we stole sugar cane. We were that hungry. But if we were caught we were beaten. We were not allowed to speak in Korean. Again, if we were caught doing so, we were beaten.

The War Ends

One day, one of the older girls who normally hardly spoke a word to us announced that she, too, was Korean. She told me, in Korean, that the war was over. We hugged each other and wept with joy. She held my hand tightly and told me I must return to Korea. We could hear people shouting and running about. This confirmed to us that the war was really over. By the time we had calmed down, the proprietor and the other women who had been at the station before us were nowhere to be found. We walked to a refugee camp by the pier. It looked like a warehouse. We were given balls of boiled rice which had dead insects mixed in. We waited for a ship. I was scared even then that someone might drag me away, so I sat, shaking with fear, in a corner wrapped in a blanket. I kept crying so much that my small eyes got even smaller.

We finally got a ship. When it arrived in Pusan, the barley was green. As we disembarked, someone sprayed us with DDT and gave us each 300 won. There were four of us: Punsun, two other girls, and myself. We said farewell and went our separate ways. I got a train to Taegu. I kept weeping and tried to hide myself from other passengers in fear that someone might take me away again. I found my house, just as run down and poor as before. My mother asked if I was a ghost or a real person and fainted.

After my return, I couldn't dare think about getting married. How could I dream of marriage? Until recently I had suffered from venereal disease. My parents and brothers did not know what I had been through; I could not tell them. My father was upset merely because his only daughter wouldn't get married. Both my parents resented the fact that they weren't able to see me hitched before they died. I worked in a drinking house which also sold fishballs, and I ran a small shop on the beach in Ulsan. For some time I ran a small market stall selling string. Then I worked as a saleswoman for an insurance company. I gave up when I began to get too old.

Return My Youth to Me!

In 1992, encouraged by the existence of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, I told my story. It poured out from me and I felt so relieved, but I was also faced with the question, How many more years can I live?

I am grateful that the Korean Council is trying to help us. These days I hum a song, Katusa, putting my own words to the tune: ‘I am so miserable; return my youth to me; apologize …. You dragged us off against our own will. You trod on us. Apologize… This lament, can you heat it, my mother and father? My own people will avenge my sorrows.’

I visited my parents’ graves the other day. I said to them: ‘Mother, I know you won’t come back to life however much I may wish for it. My own people will avenge me. Please close your eyes and go to paradise.’

Mr. Chairman, members of the subcommittee, thank you again for this opportunity to appear before you and tell my story. I am happy to answer any questions you might have.

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