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Justice for the ‘Comfort Women’

Posted on Mar 14, 2007

By Ellen Goodman

  BOSTON—The name is what first grabbed my attention. Comfort women? What a moniker for the sexual slaves who were coerced, confined and raped in the Japanese military brothels strung across Asia during World War II. 

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    The very name reduces the women to the sum of their service. What kind of comfort did they supply? The label is only marginally more humane than the other words for the women listed on the procurement rolls: “items” and “logs.”

    Now comfort women are back in the news. They’re back because California Rep. Mike Honda held hearings on a bill asking Japan to finally “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.” They’re back because the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, chose instead to deny that the women were coerced or that the imperial government was to blame.

    Abe was hardly the only one in his ruling elite to make such a gaffe. They don’t even consider it a gaffe. Another lawmaker, Nariaki Nakayama, breezily dismissed the government’s procurement of some 100,000 to 200,000 young women by describing it as a private enterprise. “Where there’s demand,” he said, “business crops up.”

    Honda, himself a Japanese-American who spent childhood years in internment camps here, said, “Prime Minister Abe is in effect saying that the women are lying.” Mindy Kotler of Asia Policy Point puts it more baldly. Abe, she said, called these elderly survivors “lying whores.”

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    Koon Ja Kim, a Korean, remembers to this day what she was wearing—“a black skirt, a green shirt, and black shoes”—when as a 16-year-old girl she was taken to a brothel where she comforted 20 or more soldiers a day. Jan Ruff O’Herne, a Dutch woman taken at 19, remembers systemic beatings and rape even by the doctor who paid calls to the brothels checking for venereal disease. Lee Yong-soo lived with venereal diseases and shame for over half a century. Liars all?

    This time the denial of history threw Japan’s image back 15 years, prior even to the Kono statement, a half-hearted apology to the women composed in 1993 by a Cabinet member. But it’s also a reminder of the distance the world has come on these issues.

    This is Women’s History Month, when attention is often focused on founding mothers like Susan B. Anthony. But this year, the comfort women are showing the long way we’ve come from victim to heroine. 

    For millennia, rape was seen as a side effect, even a perk, of war. As recently as World War II, the Free French gave Moroccan mercenaries license to rape enemy women in Italy. In the 1990s there were rape camps in Bosnia and sexual assault is a grisly routine in African conflicts.

    Nevertheless, wartime rape is becoming less a matter of personal shame and more a matter of international outrage. It’s designated as a war crime by the United Nations. And more than one comfort woman, like O’Herne, spoke out after seeing stories about the Bosnian camps.

    There are few countries that haven’t been complicit in this war crime. But the Japanese military actually planned and managed a vast system of forced brothels complete with scheduled “comfort” appointments for soldiers, visits by doctors, and government-issued condoms named “Attack No. 1.”

    Undeniable? “There is a right wing in Japan,” says Kotler, “that we would think of as equivalent to the Holocaust deniers.” But Japan is not the only country that wants to rewrite history. If some Japanese leaders talk about the World War II syndrome, some of our leaders talk about the Vietnam syndrome. In 2001, a revisionist Japanese textbook excising wartime atrocities caused a furor across Asia. The revisionists argued that history should make children proud of their country. Maybe telling the hard truths would make those children proud.

    Abe has backed off his denial inch by inch. On a Japanese television show he even expressed formal, if offhand, sympathy for “the injuries of the heart” of the comfort women. But as Andrew Horvat, an American professor in Japan, says, “If someone has to provide sexual services for 20 soldiers a day, she comes home with more than just ‘injuries of the heart.’ She comes home sterile, infected with a stubborn STD and in a state of psychological trauma.”

    So we have a shrinking, aging cohort of women standing on the cusp of history. It is long past the time for modern Japan to fully apologize and claim responsibility for its past. Maybe there is no final comfort for the comfort women, but there should be justice. 
   
    Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman@globe.com.
   
  © 2007, Washington Post Writers Group

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By BACKGROUND OF 'COMFORT WOMEN' ISSUE, April 1, 2007 at 5:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

BACKGROUND OF ‘COMFORT WOMEN’ ISSUE / Comfort station originated in govt-regulated ‘civilian prostitution’
http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/national/20070331dy01.htm

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By John Lowell, March 24, 2007 at 8:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

P.D. Carswell,

You say:

“John Howell, refusing to discuss the points that I raise, dismisses them as “Marxist,” then critiques Marxism. How simplistic and incompetent.”

Its Lowell, not Howell, Carswheel. grin

I realize this whole thing just might be a bit beyond you P.D. but no one “dismissed” your “points”, they were analyzed! I’d talked about what you presuppose when you made them. Do you have any idea what a presupposition is, P.D.? Your “points”, so-called, rise and fall on them. If what is presupposed is weak - and what you presuppose is weak - then your “points” totter. We’ll talk more when you’ve learned how to think.

John Lowell

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By morgan lamberth, March 21, 2007 at 11:02 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Shame on Abe ! And on us for putting Hispanic Japanese into the camps ![ citizens of Latin American of Japanese ancestry]

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By P. D. Carswell, March 20, 2007 at 2:11 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

John Howell, refusing to discuss the points that I raise, dismisses them as “Marxist,” then critiques Marxism. How simplistic and incompetent.

If anyone wants evidence of Howell’s attitude toward women, one merely has to observe that Goodman’s column is about the “comfort women” used by the Japanese during WWII, and Howell’s initial response to her column is about abortion.

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By John Lowell, March 19, 2007 at 2:10 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Ah, yes, tdbach.

You say:

“How courageous you are in asserting the rights of the unborn over their mothers’ rights. Such personal sacrifice you ask of yourself!”

I’m sure you are a “good man,” in the sense that your motives come from a good place, but the simple truth is that you have taken sides, and you are willing to ruthlessly “muscle” one side to advance the cause of your chosen side - even kill, if need, albeit in a more passive way.”

You’ll pardon me if from the outset I object to the condescension, I hope.

Otherwise, not a little off the mark, td. I don’t see this question as being either/or with winners and losers in the quite the way you do. To the contrary, the question is not one of competing rights, rather it goes to the deeper level of anyone’s rights, mother, child, whomever, and a proper grasp and living-out of what it means to be human. Now being properly man or properly woman does, in fact, frequently require restraint and sacrifice, not that many today are prepared to engage such qualities given the current penchant for violence. But to posit mothers and their children as fundamentally adversarial as you have here and as has been the practice generally in recent years is symtomatic of a retreat into a kind of barbarism, and an especially self-centered barbarism at that. It is precisely this spirit and its manifestations that I oppose.

You go on:

“You also conveniently ignore my points, arguing against my elaborations instead. I’ll repeat: have you been to a funeral from a miscarried early-term pregnancy? If so, then you belong to a rather recent cult. For millennia of human history we have had no tradition of ceremony mourning the loss of pre-birth “life.”

Except to make the point as you have respecting want of a tradition, a rather strange question to raise and for which to demand an answer, eh, td. It wasn’t possible for you simply to make your point first time around for some reason?

You continue:

“Our constitution bestows citizenry on those BORN in this country – not conceived here – because our forefathers followed in a tradition that is began too far in the hazy past to be seen: life in any sense reasonably accessible to statecraft begins with the birthing moment. Pre-Roe law banned abortion not because there was consensus about the “rights” of the fetus - that’s a pretty modern concept, but because the male-dominated power structure felt their interests (procreation, a religious notion about defying “God’s will”) supercede a woman’s right to make such a painful choice. Fortunately, we have evolved as country to understand that rights of some segments of society have traditionally been trampled, we have expanded rights to those neglected quarters, freeing slaves from the shackles of white owners and women from the will of men in power.  What you advocate isn’t a progressive expansion of rights to the unborn (which your side implies with this bogus analogy with slavery), but rather to push back rights to the happy day when men truly ruled the earth.”

I believe we covered this ground rather completely in my earlier reply, td, apart, that is, from the portion of it that represents speechmaking. For that I’d refer you to my reply to P.D. Carswell in comment #59189 since so much of your thinking presupposes a similar kind of dialectical analysis.

John Lowell

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By Steve Hammons, March 19, 2007 at 4:23 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The dynamics of WWII in the Pacific have many cultural and racial dynamics involved. This occurred on many sides and in many ways.

Men of the Japanese Army were programmed to think they were morally free to do whatever they wanted because they were superior and in the right.

The recent movies by Clint Eastwood and Steven Spielberg, “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Letters from Iwo Jima” offered a bit of insight into the results of this psychology.

Another little-known angle is explored in the article below:

“Eastwood, Spielberg have one more angle to cover in Iwo Jima films”

Steve Hammons
American Chronicle
February 23, 2007

http://www.americanchronicle.com/articles/viewArticle.asp?articleID=21191

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By tdbach, March 18, 2007 at 10:58 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Lowell,

How courageous you are in asserting the rights of the unborn over their mothers’ rights. Such personal sacrifice you ask of yourself!

I’m sure you are a “good man,” in the sense that your motives come from a good place, but the simple truth is that you have taken sides, and you are willing to ruthlessly “muscle” one side to advance the cause of your chosen side - even kill, if need, albeit in a more passive way.

You also conveniently ignore my points, arguing against my elaborations instead. I’ll repeat: have you been to a funeral from a miscarried early-term pregnancy? If so, then you belong to a rather recent cult. For millennia of human history we have had no tradition of ceremony mourning the loss of pre-birth “life.” Our constitution bestows citizenry on those BORN in this country – not conceived here – because our forefathers followed in a tradition that is began too far in the hazy past to be seen: life in any sense reasonably accessible to statecraft begins with the birthing moment. Pre-Roe law banned abortion not because there was consensus about the “rights” of the fetus - that’s a pretty modern concept, but because the male-dominated power structure felt their interests (procreation, a religious notion about defying “God’s will”) supercede a woman’s right to make such a painful choice. Fortunately, we have evolved as country to understand that rights of some segments of society have traditionally been trampled, we have expanded rights to those neglected quarters, freeing slaves from the shackles of white owners and women from the will of men in power.  What you advocate isn’t a progressive expansion of rights to the unborn (which your side implies with this bogus analogy with slavery), but rather to push back rights to the happy day when men truly ruled the earth.

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By j.islander, March 17, 2007 at 7:00 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Have you read this official report on comfort women documented by a U.S. Army information officier? If you follow the link below, you can find out the details about the lives of comfort women.

Report No. 49: Japanese POW Interrogation on Prostitution.
http://www.exordio.com/1939-1945/codex/Documentos/report-49-USA-orig.html

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By John Lowell, March 17, 2007 at 6:03 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

P.D. Carswell,

You make this rather easy for me.

One of the most characteristic features of a feminism based upon Marxist analysis is a reduction of women to mere roles, to functions as it were. The possibility that there actually might be something as complete, objective and morally responsible as a human person right there in front of one seems entirely beyond the capabilities of such analysis. And it is precisely this Marxist construction that is presupposed by your comment below. What is important to you, madam, is role, function. What is important to me is what is true and what is right and wrong.

You say:

“What a different world it will be when men do not assume they have the right to decide what a woman’s role ought to be under any circumstances.”

I say, what a different world it would be if both men and women were to accept the constraints nature imposes upon them as created realities and not seek to re-invent the wheel so as to have it suit themselves. Already the bodies are piling up, the Drs. Frankenstein and Mengele at work.

Having thoroughly discredited itself as political analysis, today the Marxism on which you depend has been happily forced back into the redoubts of so-called “Women’s Studies” Departments at universities. One would hope that the just complaints of women about the circumstances of their lives could be given voice by something more truly vibrant than this rather spent banana. There’s a hole in your boat, P.D.

John Lowell

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By Gramma, March 17, 2007 at 5:38 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Dear Friends,

God Is (still) Love, (ALL) war (was and) is (still) hell…......Strive On….Strive On…..Strive On….........

Peace,
GrammaConcept

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By P. D. Carswell, March 17, 2007 at 10:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

In his comment, John Lowell actually reflects the Japanese attitude toward the “comfort women.” Like the male Japanese who felt they had the right to decide what women were for, and forced them into that role, Lowell feels he has the right to decide what a woman’s role and responsibility is when she’s carrying a fetus, and would force her into that role as well.

What a different world it will be when men do not assume they have the right to decide what a woman’s role ought to be under any circumstances.

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By John Lowell, March 16, 2007 at 9:21 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

James,

And to think that someone might just be silly enough actually to challenge your depth when comes to these things.

The erudition and the accompanying brilliance notwithstanding, James, the events would seem to move in the stages zygote/embryo/blastocyst/fetus, eh, and at all points life animates what might otherwise be considered purely biological in such a way that the reality in question can never be considered entirely static. The process never admits of some fantasied stage in which “clumps of cells” are considered human. The biology is always vital, and as dynamically related to the life of the mother, fully personal. And it is quite precisely this being-in-relation that makes the child personal.

Now I’ll admit, James, that much of this personal gauze would seems to be shed after birth in many instances. There are a great many among us so insufficiently related to anyone other than themselves - why some right here on this very blog - that the whole notion of “person” seems inexact. We have another term for these: individuals or, perhaps, monads. And, no, you’re not permitted to harm or murder them either.

John Lowell

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By John Lowell, March 16, 2007 at 7:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

NoThanksEllen,

It really troubles you to think that someone sees right through all of the horsefarkus you’ve told yourself - probably for years - about what’s human and what’s not and the consequent justice involved in this kind of abortion or that, doesn’t it? Why the whole house of cards comes tumbling down and there you are with a batch of lies and nothing with which to fill the empty space except the most virulent hatred.

Like bullies or fascists in every age you manage to dehumanize and objectify the innocent so as to rationalize your abuse of them. Even here on this blog the totalitarian impulse behind your kind of thinking clearly manifests itself; you can barely clear the hurdle on free speech when it comes to someone with my outlook. I’d sure hate to be a newly conceived child of yours, sweetie. In addition to the obvious health risk, I’d have to
spend most of my early life wading through oceans of my mother’s rather nauseating self-pity.

Poor you; you and the many just like you are so
awfully put-upon.


John Lowell

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By John Lowell, March 16, 2007 at 4:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

tdbach,

You bring relativism to entirely new vistas, tdbach. grin

You say:

“While such a tragedy can be traumatic for the mother and father, it isn’t the loss of “life” that makes it so, it’s the crushing end of hope and expectation of the life to come.”

Imaginative construction, this, td. So there’s nothing quite as objective as a lost life involved in one’s death, its simply a series of subjective emotional disappointments? We’ll encourage the defense to explain your view to a judge should you ever get hit by a car and your estate sues for wrongful death. grin

You continue:

“As long as fetus - yes, a fetus - is an uterly dependent resident of its birthing mother-to-be, its rights are not protected by the constitution or recognized by the state (no tax deduction), and in any morally defensible sense its interests are inextricably bound to and subordinate to that mother-to-be.”

Now you can’t be implying - or can you - that something is moral because the state declares it to be so. That would make slavery or Jew-baiting moral, wouldn’t it, and I’d doubt that you’ve had plantation owners or storm troopers as philosophical mentors. No, my claim far surpasses what might be seen as resident in some abstracted purely natural state, td. We’re taking about God given rights here, rights that inhere in the human person because he or she comes into being with them, those that are entirely exclusive of those of the mother. That, sir, is the beginning of morality and it will always be so irrespective of legislatures or of the decisions of courts. That it is uncomfortable or perhaps even inconvenient for many to grasp makes this contention no less true.

You go on:

“It must be terrible for those like you who believe as you do, but I’m sorry. You’ll just have to live with it if you want to live in a free society and secular rule of law.”

Yes, it is hardly comfortable to live in a society so utterly bereft of a sense of itself, of what it means to be human. We’ve experienced and are experiencing the most hideous atrocity in our time what with the pure selfishness and irresponsibility of so many. And I would question who it is that lives freely under this “secular rule of law” to which you point and which I find imposed upon me, frankly. Certainly not our newly conceived children. They have about as much chance in our world as laboratory rats. No, there is no freedom in a society without a transcendant morality or with a body of law which distains it. Everything in such a culture is reduced to force, the force of contending parties or ideologies in which there can only be winners and losers. It doesn’t have to be that way.

John Lowell

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By tdbach, March 16, 2007 at 8:01 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Mr. Lowell:

I’ve never been to a funeral of a miscarried “person.” Have you? While such a tragedy can be traumatic for the mother and father, it isn’t the loss of “life” that makes it so, it’s the crushing end of hope and expectation of the life to come.

As long as fetus - yes, a fetus - is an uterly dependent resident of its birthing mother-to-be, its rights are not protected by the constitution or recognized by the state (no tax deduction), and in any morally defensible sense its interests are inextricably bound to and subordinate to that mother-to-be.

It takes a highly specific, religous leap of faith to claim otherwise. And the exclusion of force on the rest of us to taking such a leap IS protected by the constitution.

It must be terrible for those like you who believe as you do, but I’m sorry. You’ll just have to live with it if you want to live in a free society and secular rule of law.

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By James, March 16, 2007 at 7:26 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“As much might be said of the term “fetus” and the way it is used by compassionate folks like Goodman.”

Yeah, I tend to use the more accurate ‘Blastocyst’.  Stops ignorant fundies making that ludicrous link between a bundle of cells and the fetal stage.  Shame they don’t make the connection between ‘fetus’ and ‘child’ when the child isn’t American.

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By Luis Cayetano, March 16, 2007 at 2:53 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

PIGS!!!!!!

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By Thanks Ellen, March 16, 2007 at 2:14 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The WW2 female equivalent of male POWs, more ignored and coping with heaps more mockery and abuse from people like John Lowell. I bet your mum’s proud of you, John.
After all, war is a man’s business, and things like rape and forced pregnancy is a woman’s lot in life, right John? I’m all for free speech but if you have no interest in these issues why don’t you comment elsewhere? What would those women do if they were forced to have their rapist’s babies because people like you don’t know the difference between a cell cluster and a little person?
You are the one with no compassion. You just can’t see yourself.

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By Terry, March 15, 2007 at 4:55 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

You sound like an idiot Allan

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By Jon B, March 15, 2007 at 2:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Japan behave well during the american occupation after the ww2. Asian nations minus Japan ought to learn their lessons and prepare for the inevitable future conflict. Question, will US help Japan to challenge the entire southeast asia.

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By Allan Scheer, March 15, 2007 at 11:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Quick, someone get in touch with Clint Eastwood. Ask him if he will make a movie regarding the treatment of women by the Japenese in WW 2.

Maybe ” Skirts of Someone’s Mothers and Sisters “

or ” Letters from the Mattress “.

What do you say Clint?
Do you feel lucky ?

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By John Lowell, March 15, 2007 at 8:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Interesting that someone with Goodman’s point of view would say:

“The very name reduces the women to the sum of their service. What kind of comfort did they supply? The label is only marginally more humane than the other words for the women listed on the procurement rolls: ‘items’ and ‘logs’.”

As much might be said of the term “fetus” and the way it is used by compassionate folks like Goodman. As right as she is about the Korean sexual slaves, one wishes her sense of what is gets objectivized in modern life might extend to the very weakest among us. But that would require a little more selflessness, wouldn’t it? Somehow, I doubt that someone making her kind of money could manage that.

John Lowell

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