Thursday, March 08, 2007

Some Comfort for the "Comfort Women"

You may have been following the decision of Japan's Prime Minister not to admit any military forcing of women who were taken into sexual slavery during WWII:

The long festering issue of Japan's war-era sex slaves gained new prominence last week when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied the military's role in coercing the women into servitude. The denial by Mr. Abe, Japan's first prime minister born after the war, drew official protests from China, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines, some of the countries from which the sex slaves were taken.

The furor highlighted yet again Japan's unresolved history in a region where it has been ceding influence to China. The controversy has also drawn in the United States, which has strongly resisted entering the history disputes that have roiled East Asia in recent years.

His rationalization is that it may have been the subcontractors who forced the women but never the military itself. Some of the surviving "comfort women" (what a hideous title) disagree:

Ms. Wu told her story on Wednesday outside the Japanese Consulate here, where she and two others who had been sex slaves, known euphemistically as comfort women, were protesting Tokyo's refusal to admit responsibility for the abuse that historians say they and as many as 200,000 other women suffered.

All three — Ms. Wu, who is now 90; a 78-year-old South Korean from Seoul; and an 84-year-old Dutch-Australian from Adelaide — were participating in an international conference for Japan's former sex slaves here. Now, just days after Mr. Abe's remarks, the three were united in their fury.

"I was taken away by force by Japanese officers, and a Japanese military doctor forced me to undress to examine me before I was taken away," said Ms. Wu, who landed here in Sydney on Tuesday night after a daylong flight from Taipei. "How can Abe lie to the world like that?"


Ms. Ruff was living with her family in Java, in what was then the Dutch East Indies, when Japan invaded in 1942. She spent the first two years in a prison camp, she said, but Japanese officers arrived one day in 1944. They forced single girls and women to line up and eventually picked 10 of them, including Ms. Ruff, who was 21.

"On the first night, it was a high-ranking officer," Ms. Ruff said. "It was so well organized. A military doctor came to our house regularly to examine us against venereal diseases, and I tell you, before I was examined the doctor raped me first. That's how well organized it was."

I read several news stories on this topic and my eyes teared up when I heard about the health consequences for the women, the sexually transmitted diseases, the infertility and the social ostracization. There are just too many witnesses to disprove Abe's argument

This is a story that might read very differently if you have no empathy and just consider the political logic or if you actually have empathy towards other human beings. It seems to me that the latter is the only meaningful way to read the story.