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HVK Archives: Victims of History - (How Japan is made to apologise)

Victims of History - (How Japan is made to apologise) - Time

Irene M Kunii, and two others. ()
17 June 1996

This article explains in graphic details of the apology
is demanded for past mistakes. It to be seen in the way
accusations are made Hindus when they seek similar .
These accusations are a habit even the western media and
academics. It needs to remembered that apology of Nazi
crimes are by the present day Germany.

Title : Victims of History
Author : Irene M Kunii, and two others.
Publication : Time
Date : June 17, 1996

At 15, Kim Sang Hee was plucked by the Japanese
Imperial Army from her home in Taegu and transported to
a "comfort station", the euphemism for one of the mili-
tary brothels at which more than 100,000 women - from
Korea, China and other Asian nations - were forced to
provide sex for Japan's overseas soldiers during the
World War II. For eight years, until the war's end in
1945, she granted her so-called comforts on command,
and a half-century later is demanding a different
kind of comfort in return: both compensation and an
apology from a Japanese government that claims to be

But Kim, now a fragile 73, received scant satis-
faction last week when Japanese Diet member Tadashi Ita-
gaki, himself a war veteran, accused her in a face-to-
face encounter in Tokyo of exaggerating her claim of
being a sex slave. The unsympathetic legislator, the
son of a war minister whom many hold responsible
for stepping up the comfort-woman program in the
late 1930s, challenged: "You weren't' paid anything
in your eight years?" Retorted an angry Kim: "How
can you ask someone who's been through life and
death if what she says is true or not? After you de-
filed my body on the battlefield, are you trying to de-
file my soul 50 years later? I was never paid any-

That exchange wound up on the pages of Japanese
newspapers and on South Korean television, demonstrating
anew the tortures Japan suffers - and is willing to
inflict - in its ambivalent attempt to own up to its
wartime past. The government has organized compensa-
tion packages for some of the former "comfort women",
money raised entirely from private sources, and the
modest amounts were announced on the day of Kim's
encounter with Itagaki. Earlier on the same day,
116 legislators from the Liberal Democratic Party,
the dominant coalition partner, formed a league to
criticize school textbooks that portray the army
negatively, specifically calling for the deletion
of all references to the comfort women. The group's
chairman, former Cabinet Minister Seisuke Okuno, told a
press conference that the women in question were just
plain laborers in the world's oldest profession. "The
Japanese forces may have arranged to transfer them to
their jobs on the war front," suggested Okuno, "but
didn't force them to go."

The records don't back up Okuno; nor do ordinary
Japanese, many of whom were dismayed by the week's
events. Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto was caught
between public opinion and his conservative party.
Just hours before he released details on compensation
packages for comfort women, Okuno announced the for-

mation of his group, and the timing was a message:
the rightists are against government payments and,
more important, any kind of apology. "They want every-
one to know that they are opposed," says Chuo Univer-
sity historian Yoshiaki Yoshimi, who in 1992 disclosed
the first documentary evidence of comfort women.

Neither the tenuous government of Hashimoto
nor the tens of thousands of elderly and often
impoverished former sex slaves can expect an early or
satisfactory conclusion to a controversy that has in-
flamed Asia for four years. China's foreign minis-
try expressed its "strong indignation". In South Ko-
rea, which two weeks ago was named co-host of the
2002 World Cup Soccer finals along with Japan, Prime
Minister Lee Loo Sung said, " They would never have
made such absurd remarks if their children had been
victimized." Shim Mi Ja, 72, a former comfort woman in
Seoul, seethed at the news. "It's not possible. The
entire world knows it happened, and yet they deny
it." Pondered a fellow wartime victim, Kim Soon Duk:
"I don't know if it's because the Japanese don't have a
conscience or because they're just being stubborn".

Confronting wartime misdeeds has been a diffi-
cult process for Japan, although polls over recent
years have consistently shown that more than half the
population believes the country owes Asia an apology
for Japanese atrocities. But Japan is also being
undeniably stubborn in the case of the comfort women.
Yoshimi first broke the scandal in 1992 with docu-
ments discovered in files of the Self Defense Agency,
and for the next 18 months the government half-heart-
edly looked for more evidence. In August 1993, it
finally offered a tepid admission that, "in many cases'
women had been coerced into sex work and "at times" the
military had been involved in rounding them up.
Yoshimi and other independent researchers estimate
that 100,000 to 200,000 women had been enslaved in
the trade, including Koreans, Chinese, Filipinas,
Indonesians, Malaysians, Vietnamese, Burmese and Dutch

By the mid-1970's however, Japan had settled
most of its scores with those countries in wartime-
reparation agreements. Decades later, officials fear
that any government payments to the widely scattered
comfort women would ignite a chain reaction of lawsuits
from other Asians exploited during the war, such
as slave laborers. The government's first proposal was
a 10-year "peace initiative", in which it would
finance historical research, vocational training and
youth exchanges between Japan and the rest of Asia.
The comfort women swiftly rejected that offer. Last year
the government headed by pacifist Tomiichi Murayama
launched a national fund to raise $9.5 million for
the women, to be collected entirely from private do-

The plan has two problems. First, the gov-
ernment failed to persuade Big Business to join in,
and the fund currently totals only $3.2 million.
Last week payments of $19,000 each were announced
for about 300 certified former comfort women in South
Korea, Taiwan ad the Phillipines. The fund's directors
refused to make that announcement, however, until the
Prime Minister assured them a letter of apology would
be included. He did so, although the letter has yet to
be delivered, and there is much speculation as to how
strong or clear the apology will be. In May Hashimoto

said he was willing to express official remorse, "be-
cause the greatest indignity possible was inflicted on
these women. At the same time, I must be certain that
the content of the letter does not lead to the filing
of individual lawsuits."

The second problem is that many of the women
are demanding official money or none at all. "I'd rath-
er take 10,000 won from the Japanese government than
10 million won from the private fund," insists Shim
Mi Ja, 72, now living with a friend in Seoul. "I want
them to recognize what they did as war crimes and admit
what happened were human-rights violations." But with a
rearguard action being waged by the Diet's rightists,
women like Shim are unlikely to find comfort - or jus-
tice - anytime soon.

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