Monday, September 5, 2011

Death, taxes, and forced sex with soldiers

Over at The Marmot's Hole there is an interesting discussion on Japan's culpability regarding the so-called Comfort Women sex slaves from World War II, in the wake of the Korean Constitutional Court saying that the South Korean government did wrong by the Comfort Women (and, by extension, others who were victims of Imperial Japan and did not receive compensation) by not divvying up the settlement money in 1965 and instead using it for economic development (it was the seed money for the Miracle on the Han). Although I don't think Tokyo doing an end run on paying compensation lets Japan off the hook ethically (or possibly even legally), I've long held that Seoul owes something to the Comfort Women and other forced laborers.

The conversation at TMH is interesting, with folks like Sonagi pulling up ads that are nearly completely in kanji/hantcha (Chinese characters) with hardly any Han•gŭl (Korean characters) at all. Others are talking about the nature and various forms some women were caught up in or duped into the Comfort Women positions back then.

And everybody's favorite Imperial Japan Apologist, Gerry Bevers, had this to say about various forms of slavery that may have been employed to obtain sex slaves on the Japanese front during World War II:
Bonded labor may be consided a form of slavery in many countries today, but in the 1940s it was obviously not considered such in Japan and Korea. You have to consider the times.

Today, some people may consider taxes a form of “bonded labor” because people are forced to pay them even without a signed contract. If you do not pay them, you can go to prison.
So, um, being forced to have sex with multiple soldiers every night for several years was merely a form of taxation in 1943? Okay, then.

Anyway, the order of the day was massacring civilians, torturing and killing people for experimental purposes, forced sexual servitude, and wholesale elimination of entire ethnic groups and other forms of genocide. So, going by Gerry's you-have-to-consider-the-times argument, all that's a-okay.

In response, Linkin' Lawyer Ben Wagner points out that Japan was a signatory on international agreements regarding what was euphemistically called "white slavery" back in those days, something to note when one "considers the times."

I'd also like to point out two things. First, like his arguments that Tokto (Takeshima) actually belongs to Japan, much of his case on Imperial Japan's near lack of culpability for anything bad that didn't really happen to Koreans (Japan's greatest ally!) rests on his speculation that such-and-such was what was really going on. In this case, he supposes (without evidence) that most of the Comfort Women were prostitutes and the true sex slaves were a very teensy-tiny percentage of the whole, if they exist at all.

The second thing is that using sex slavery in recent times — which has been a serious problem in South Korea — to suppose that "voluntary" prostitutes today means women were probably volunteering to be prostitutes back then, is quite disingenuous, and it gets bass-ackwards any cause and effect. What happened in the 1940s may have laid the groundwork for a whole new industry in Korea in the 1950s and beyond, but the existence of a systematic form of white slavery and prostitution in the late 20th and early 21st century had no effect on what happened in the 1940s.

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