Thursday, December 15, 2011

They should have done this years ago

To mark the 1000th weekly protest in front of the Japanese (which, by my calculations, would mean they started in 1992, which sounds about right), supporters of the former Comfort Women (위안부, 慰安婦) have erected a simple statue to be a constant reminder to the Japanese government officials of this horrific thing that the victims cannot forget and which the Japanese right-wing would like to ignore or even deny. (The BBC also has the story.)

The statue is very simple. It depicts a young Korean girl in traditional Korean clothing, an everyday hanbok. She is dressed as these women might have been around seven decades ago when they were kidnapped, forced, duped, or otherwise coerced into work that turned out to be sex slavery on the front lines of the Pacific War.

She is depicted as a few years younger than many of them were when they were taken. For some, she is about the same age.

Frankly, this is brilliant. A simple statue that is a patient, ever-present, never-forgetting reminder. The surviving Comfort Women are in their eighties and nineties, and the Japanese government's strategy has been to just wait for them to die so the problem will go away.

Of course, the issue is not a simple one. There are questions as to whether the normalization treaty — which none of the women signed, of course — dismissed these women's legal claims. There's also questions as to whether the South Korean government of the Park Chunghee era, which took the bulk of loans and grants Japan offered and invested it in the development of the nation, owes them money as well.

There's also the question of whether any official thing that happened before the 1990s can be taken as compensation for the former Comfort Women, given that up to that point Tokyo had been vehemently denying any official involvement in the mobilization of these sex slaves.

But ultimately, the statue is not about that. Because even with a generous compensation package and a heart-felt expression of absolute apology (one that is not followed by right-wingers going "but but but"), this horrific action must be remembered. Forget lawyers and government accountants and political wranglers; it simply should not be allowed to die along with its victims.

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4 comments:

  1. I kind of feel like it's too bad that the lifetime of the protest is tied to the lifetimes of the victims themselves. How awesome would it be if, next Wednesday, just when the Japanese embassy staff are saying "Whew! Thank God that's finally over with!", a bunch of young activists showed up and took up the protest themselves? With a big sign saying, "Haha! You'll never get rid of this!"

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  2. It's an ingenious move. No matter how much the Japanese government wishes to deny the issue of comfort women, those at the embassy will see this statue as a matter of course. It will continue to be on their mind as much as they would like to look away as much as they can.

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  3. But in reality, it's just a real shame that the people who work in the Japanese embassy really carry no weight with their government. Nor do they feel like they should shoulder the guilt or responsibility of their government (past or present). I think most Japanese government officials will continue to shrug off the whole issue anyways. It's so easy for the Japanese mindset to say "shikatanaiyo" (nothing can be done). I wouldn't be surprised if the Japanese embassy workers were to pass by this statue and not give a second thought (or a first thought , for that matter). I don't even think the weekly or monthly demonstrations held outside of the embassy are acknowledged or noticed. It's really a shame.

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  4. “No one should be under any illusion that the issue of Imperial Japan’s behavior in the war is anything other than a convenient stick for the leadership in China and both Koreas to wield in their relations with contemporary Japan, or to cynically stir up domestic anger at the Japanese, deflecting attention from domestic problems.”

    More of the latest of Ampontan's regular denial is at http://ampontan.wordpress.com/2011/12/18/ichigen-koji-81/#comments

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