The History of “Comfort Women”

So yesterday I blogged about my visit to the House of Sharing, after I thought about it, it occurred to me that it might be nice to blog about the history. So the Campbell soup version of the story behind the “comfort women” goes like this:

Sometime before 1910, Japan decided to follow suit of Europe and the States and set itself up as world power via colonial rule, it had an agreement with the States that the American government pretty much gave its blessing to Japan as long as Japan didn’t object to the States colonization of the Philippines. Which of course was okayed on both sides. The closest country to colonize, was Korea, so that was the most logical country to start with. After Japan annexed Korea, against the local people and government’s wishes, in 1910, but with the approval (if a lack of response can be deemed approval…after all it was an Asian issue in the eyes of the UN and the “civilized” world) Japan looked to China.

But the rape of Nanking gave Japan a lot of negative international publicity regarding the way they were going about getting their empire (although it’s sold then and currently as Japan’s desire to create a “brotherhood” as protection against the invaders), that and a large number of soldiers were coming down with STDs. So the military had a brillant idea: comfort stations, place where soldiers could get their needs seen to without the worry of STDs, as well as not having to worry about causing negative international publicity for Japan. And since Korea was already “property” of Japan, why not use the girls and young women from Korea to fill the comfort stations, although eventually women from the Phillippines, East Timor, Vietnam, etc. would begin to work at the comfort stations as the Japanese army made its way through Asia.

Depending on the comfort station, a “comfort women” could expect several men a day (there was no such thing as a break) and on the weekends or the holidays, some women would have to service sometimes twenty to thirty men in a day.

Of course there was an ethnic hierarchy, the few Japanese women (although it seems that these women knew what their purpose would be and were paid) that were at the comfort stations were the most expensive and generally for the higher ranking officials. Next on the totem pole were Korean women, who made up the majority of “comfort women” and then Filapinas, etc. There were a few Dutch women (Jan Ruff-O’Herne is one of the women that came forth with her story) that were exclusively for the officers.

Japanese military doctors monitored the women to ensure that they didn’t have STDs and/or unwanted pregnancies. And more than one women said that at first they thought the doctor would save them, but to their horror after the exam the doctor would then rape them. Some of the women would stay in one place the entire time as “comfort women” and others would travel with the military, there are even records of women being on the front lines.

Eventually World War II (or the Asia-Pacific as it’s known in some places) came to an end and the Japanese abandoned the comfort stations and the women were they were. Some of the women were sent to Japan by the UN, even though they weren’t Japanese, but because it was a “simple” solution.

In 1965, Japan sent a reparations package to the Republic of Korea as amends for (in reality only) the men that were forced to enlist, work, killed etc. for Japan, as well as for the destruction caused in Korea and to historical treasures (exemplified when taking a tour of the palaces or other historical places in Korea and the tour guide/literature that makes it a point to state that this or that is a recreation based on the memories of Koreans because the original and/or the documents were destroyed by the Japanese). But for the women there was no place to air their grievances, because Korea was a “part” of Japan at the time, the world left it at that, which of course a Japanese court wasn’t going to listen to the halmonis

The issue of “comfort women” has been a quiet one, partly because of the shame attached to the women for being victims of rape and abuse, partly because it happened to women, partly because the world wasn’t really ready or willing to listen. Eventually the dam burst and women from around the world came out with their stories; wanting, needing not to be ignored anymore. The Japanese government tried to ignore it, then tried to say that the women volunteered, etc. A Japanese professor found military documents supporting the halmonis, that the Japanese government knew what was going on and even encouraged it.

The Japanese government kinda agreed that it happened but did everything possible to distance itself from the comfort stations and still not issue the long-wanted apology. The official government stance is that the 1965 reparations package covered all issues, including the plight of the women forced to become “comfort women.” So instead, the Japanese government set up the “Asian Peace and Friendship Foundation for Women” is made up of private donations from Japanese citizens that is only available to women RESIDING in certain countries. For example a Korean women currently residing in the Republic of Korea is eligible, but a Korean ethnic women living in North Korea, China, or Russia is not eligible. Some women’s associations in other countries have accepted money, but the halmonis in Korea are waiting for a official apology from the Japanese government itself.

In 2007, the U.S. House of Representatives passed Resolution 121, which calls on the Japanese government to apologize to the women that it hurt.

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One response to “The History of “Comfort Women”

  1. This is really interesting — I’d heard of the term “comfort women” but didn’t know much about it until reading this. Thanks! 🙂

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