Eugene Cho

comfort women | dignity walk


I was 15 when I first learned about ‘comfort women.’  I thought it was a fictitious story;  I thought, “That’s unbelievable.  How is that even possible?”  Tragically, it happens and is still happening in different forms.  I know there will come a day when my kids will learn about things that happened in my generation and will wonder, “Why didn’t anyone [including my parents] do anything about it?” That will be another occasion I will be tempted to hide. The issues of human rights, children’s right, women’s rights, and global peace must still be forefront in our hearts.

I was 22 when I “heard” the story of one ‘comfort woman’ – first hand at a gathering in New York City.  This Korean grandmother couldn’t make eye contact as she was addressing the crowd.  She kept sobbing.  I will never forget the story she shared…  I share this not to perpetuate anger against Japanese people but rather, against evil and hatred that we as people and governments choose to commit.  In my opinion, the cruelest form of our ‘human depravity’ is when we choose to exploit others for our self gain.  I want to make this very clear that this isn’t a “Korean” issue as women from many nations including the Philippines, Taiwan, Dutch East Indies, Korea, China, and Japan were exploited. 

While conversations of ‘reparations’ are important, the single largest request and issue is for the Japanese government to acknowledge all that has transpired and make a heartfelt apology. What incredible impact it would make for their government to simply say: “We acknowledge these stories, pictures, testimonies, and tears to be true.  We acknowledge these women – every single one of them…and we are truly sorry.” And don’t let me even start with Japan’s historical documents and books pertaining to the atrocities committed.

So, Japanese Prime Minister Abe is visiting President Bush at the White House tomorrow.  He pissed off many people when he suggested that comfort women weren’t ‘coerced’.  Many responded with, “S*%^, not again.” For what it’s worth there will be a peaceful march called “Dignity Walk” in front of the White House during Abe’s visit.  There are reports that some in their respective major cities will gather around the Japanese Consulate Buildings as well. While you may not be able to fly out to DC, here are four things you can [must] do:

  1. View the Video above
  2. Read this article [published in today’s NY Times]
  3. Visit support121.org
  4. Contact your congressman.

update: you’ll also want [but won’t enjoy] to read this about US’s involvement.

From the Associate Press article [ny times]:

“It was not directly from the Japanese government; that is why I did not accept it,” said Ellen van der Ploeg, 84, a Dutchwoman who was taken from a prisoner of war camp in Indonesia and forced to work in a Japanese military brothel for three months in 1944. “If you have made mistakes in life, you must have the courage to say, ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me.’ But the Japanese government to this day has never taken full responsibility.”

“If this were a pure government fund, I could have accepted it,” Ms. van der Ploeg said in a telephone interview from Houten, the Netherlands. “Why should I accept money from private Japanese people? They were also victims during the war.”

And from the Support 121 Website:

Japanese Imperial Army enslaved 200,000 girls and women of Asia during WWII and exploited them as “comfort women.” But there is no comfort in military organized rape. And many were not women. They were girls under sixteen as young as twelve. These girls and women were victims of months and years of gang rape and brutal torture that resulted in death, dehumanization and disease.

Despite testimonies of survivors and historic documentation, Japan has made only vague apologies and has never taken full responsibility for this crime. Right now, Prime Minister Abe and the Japanese government are engaged in a campaign to deny any responsibility and to claim there is no evidence of rape.

H.Res. 121, introduced by Congressman Mike Honda, calls upon the Japanese government to make an unequivocal and official apology for this atrocity.

Support H.Res. 121 and defend human rights, women’s rights and global peace.

Filed under: asian-american, justice, politics

11 Responses

  1. gar says:

    That article caught my eye too, Jeff.

    My suspicion is that even if the Dignity Walk gets media coverage and the issue of “comfort women” is examined again, the culpability of the American military will not shown in regards to “comfort women”.

    After all, WWII was the last “good war” and there is a reluctance in American media to admit that our country itself wasn’t perfect – the refusal to allow many refugee Jews to enter the US and the blind eye we turned to the Holocaust; the Japanese American internment; the fire-bombing of Dresden; the betrayal and denial of the rights of Filipinos drafted into the US military during the war.

  2. James says:

    Honestly, I really don’t get it. Why is it so hard for the Japanese government to admit that these things took place? The German government – even in light of their atrocious actions during WWII has come clean and taken steps to build peace.

  3. German culture is direct and guilt-based but Japanese culture is indirect and shame-based. In a shame-based culture to not make public acknowledgement does two things (this is my educated guess because I’m just now learning what it means to live in a shame-based indirect culture myself):

    (1) it perpetuates the isolation of the shame. That is, to not acknowledge something is a way of admitting shame. But in an indirect culture you can’t come right out and say that. So it is an indirect admission of shame. To be forward and direct would be seen as insincere.

    (2) in a culture which reveres ancestors you never want to do anything which will shame them. An apology from the current generation would be adding to the shame of the ancestors. Socially they are not in a position to add to the shame of their ancestors. You are almost under obligation to make excuses for them — to buffer them from further shame. It would wrong them to make a public admission or apology.

    This doesn’t mean that it won’t eventually happen but that if it does it will be against the flow of culture.

  4. Esther says:

    The greatest fear in Japanese culture is to lose one’s face.

    The issue is PRIDE, and not an actual admission of shame through the silence treatment.

    My heart is bleeding when I hear testimonies like these and I am sitting here, with tears, sobbing.

    In ALL cultures, there is a common denominator: Hearing someone admitting his/her wrong and expressing his/her regret and remorse, touches the heart of the victim and helps the victim to HEAL.

    Ask Nelson Mandela and his nation.

  5. RK says:

    I first learned about Comfort Women a decade earlier in a college Korean History course. At that time, very few knew anything about this crime.

    The ramifications of war are terrible for all involved. During WWII, the Japanese effected many around the world. In fact, my mother-in-law, a Dutch-Indonesian was one of two babies born in a Japanese internment camp in Indonesia who survived. No many people know about this.

    As my parents are both Korean, I was well aware of the tensions between the Japanese and Koreans. Still, for over a decade my husband and I have attended a Japanese-American church.

    I certainly hope that the Japanese government will come to publically and officially acknowledge their terrible crime against innocent, civilian women, to give them closure and validity. At the same time, I hope that Korean Christians will take a step forward to forgive, love and reach out to the Japanese, many who do not yet know God.

  6. e cho says:

    RK: i believe that Korean-Christians and Koreans can forgive if forgiveness is requested. I guess that’s the tension. It’s difficult to forgive if one doesn’t acknowledge a wrong or injustice.

    I had the privilege of visiting Japan about 5 months ago and was very moved to have some of the Japanese folks in their 60s+ come up to personally apologize to me. I was so stunned.

  7. Lon says:

    thanks for bringing this up… stuff like this usually seems like rumors or of distant legends, but the reality of it just makes me almost feel like we’ll be cringing for all eternity discovering the inhumanity throughout history…

  8. Alex Oh says:

    My own personal thoughts and a response to James:

    Unfortunately, Korean and Japanese relations have become very fragile and weak over the past couple years, especially over issues such as comfort women and Dokdo/Takeshima.

    Now, I’m going to say something that may seem controversial here and it is this. Japan has officially apologized before. The funny thing is, I see alot of Koreans (I’m Korean myself) say things like “why doesn’t Japan admit or apologize?” I can understand where you are coming from, and I personally feel some of the apologies haven’t been enough or sincere enough (especially with the issue of comfort women). But here is where I think the problem lies…both Korean and Japan are not unified on the issue because of politicians always contradicting each other. Whenever a politician will say that comfort women were forced into that occupation and an apology should be made, you have another politician (usually conservative right wing) saying that they were never forced. If Japan does something that Korea does not like, Korea says that Japan’s past apologies were insincere, whenever Korea does something that Japan does not like, the politicians use it to fuel nationalism and hate.

    I feel that these “issues” although important and need to be addressed, are being used as pieces of bait. It’s like the “get tough on crime, get tough on drugs” issues here in the United States during the 60’s-80’s. Most politicians didn’t really care about the issues…they just rode the crime wave to get elected, resulting in incidents like the demonization of African Americans with the Willie Horton political advertisement.

    The same goes for issues of comfort women and territorial disputes of Dokdo/Takeshima. It’s sad, very sad, because what ends up happening is that politicians take these issues and blow them up not to properly address them but use them as bait to gain voters. What’s even more unfortunate is that these issues promote nationalism…err, I think hate is a better word between the two sides.

    If we really want to move on both sides must properly address this issue and instead of spreading nationalistic hate spread understanding. Humbleness is what both sides really need to work on as well. I wonder if that can really happen though where people in power have differing opinions.

  9. Alex Oh says:

    Watch these two videos:

    1. The Korean women makes a very good point about the politicians:

    2. Just to show that there are Japanese who are aware and admit to past history/atrocities.

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