In December of 2016 a statue was placed in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan, South Korea. The statue was simple and dignified. It was a statue of a young Korean woman, perhaps a teenager, wearing traditional Korean dress and sitting on a chair looking into the middle distance.
At first glance there was nothing controversial about the statue. But the Japanese consulate, in fact, the Japanese government, protested the statue because it represented something Japanese government would like to be forgotten. And because the statue represented something that the Japanese would like to deny ever took place the statue is an insult to, and hurts the feelings of, the Japanese people.
The statue is a tribute to the thousands of Korean women and girls who were forced into prostitution to service the Japanese armed forces during the Japanese occupation of Korea during the 1930s and 1940s. And it is protest against the Japanese government for not admitting that such forced prostitution took place.
It is a fact that the Japanese occupation forces compelled Korean women to act as prostitutes during that period. And it is a fact that the Japanese occupation forces compelled Chinese women to prostitution during World War Two to “give comfort” to Japanese soldiers. And the Japanese did the same to Filipino women and Thai women and Vietnamese women. It was not voluntary duty for the women. It was a matter of being a prostitute or die.
The Japanese government has for many years denied that such a thing took place. But when the evidence mounted up to the point that the fact could not be denied the government basically shrugged its shoulders with an attitude of, “Well, that wasn’t us. That was a previous generation. We can’t be held liable for the actions of our fathers and grandfathers. Why should we apologize or make any sort of restitution.” And at the same time there was an undertone of, “How can you believe these women? They were whores.” The same attitude was taken by the largest Japanese language daily newspaper in the United States, Rafu Shimpo, in which one columnist wrote that the women should consider themselves lucky because they were not starving. And perhaps they were enjoying themselves while making money.
Make no mistake. Japan is the best ally of the United States in Asia despite the fact that the nation was our bitterest enemy seventy years ago. It is a tribute to level heads and mutual interests that this is so. But if one studies the Japanese media there is an undertone that Japan has been treated unfairly by the United States, Korea and China because those nations will not forget what Japan did during World War Two.
In fact, if one talks to young Japanese (young meaning people under 50 years old) one would get the idea that Japan did not invade China or Korea, or attack the United States, the Philippines or Singapore. Instead they believe that Japan went into China and Korea to save those nations. And the attacks on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and Singapore were not so much attacks as they were defensive maneuvers. They believe these things because that is what they are taught in school. The whole idea of women forced into prostitution to service the army is more foreign to them than a man declaring himself a woman and wanting to be called “Katlyn.”
While the Japanese people deny the idea of Korean comfort women they demand an apology from the United States for the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Never mind the fact that more people were killed in the conventional fire bombing of Tokyo than were killed in Hiroshima or that if a land invasion had taken place instead of the dropping of the atomic bombs many more Japanese would have been killed. What counts to the Japanese is that they were victims. It doesn’t matter that they were victims of a war that they started.
And being victims, in their own eyes, it’s impossible for them to have victimized other nations and peoples.
So the people of South Korea will have to wait for many more years until they can erect the statue of the comfort woman without Japan filing a protest in the same way that we’ll have to wait a long time for an apology from Black Lives Matter for their encouragement of criminality. The victim is no longer a victim because the victim is guilty.