The issue regarding the sexual exploitation of Korean comfort women during the war was thought to be put to rest due to the 2015 agreement between South Korea and Japan. A formal apology was made by Japan and a contribution of 1 billion yen was made. The agreement contained South Korea’s promise to have the comfort women statue near the front of the Japanese embassy removed. The people of South Korea did not support this agreement and the resistance was fierce from South Korean civic groups. New statues were installed by the activists. Moon Jae-in was elected as the President of South Korea, declared the agreement defective and demanded Japan make a more sincere apology.
The controversy regarding the comfort women testimonies has divided people into oppressors and innocents with no awareness of an alternate or legitimate viewpoint. The South Koreans were educated to believe the regime of North Korea served the Soviet communists. Any contrary view was believed to reflect communism. The media and schools in South Korea are disseminating the claim the Japanese military abducted thousands of Korean girls and women. The investigation of the Japanese government in the 1990’s did not show any evidence South Korean comfort women from Taiwan and Korea were recruited by the military. The comfort women stories spoke of working for the comfort stations to get away from overbearing parents, support families and being deceived by brokers. The experiences ranged from supportive to abusive.
Neighbors and families played a role in the women being mobilized to brothels. These women have been pressured into conforming into the roles of innocent Koreans and Japanese villainy. Kim Hak-sun modeled for the comfort women statue in San Francisco. She originally stated she was taken to China with a friend by her father. He managed one of the local comfort stations. This statement was eliminated from her testimony in 1993. Lee Yong-su testified she escaped from her home with friend. This was later changed to her being abducted by Japanese soldiers.
The stories of abductions is based on the testimonies of only a small group of women. During the 1990’s there were only sixteen of the 238 survivors associating with activists. Of the 46 living survivors, 36 agreed to the compensation offered by the Japanese in 2015. The media only spoke of the women rejecting the offer. Compensation was accepted in 1994 through the Asian Women’s Fund by 61 women. They were portrayed as traitors and South Korea refused to grant them any subsidies. Bae Chun-hee admitted she was not taken by force but was unable to state she forgave Japan.
The media in South Korea rarely mentions the well documented revelation the government of South Korea was responsible for supervising brothels or the patronization of Vietnamese women by South Korean troops. The book by Soh’s has never been translated by any Korean publisher. Park’s book was partially censored by a Seoul court and her fine for defaming the survivors was 90 million. The prosecutors wanted her imprisoned for three years. A Korean-American professor conducted a discussion about the book for his course in politics. He was sharply criticized, an investigation ensued regarding the activist charges concerning Japanese war crimes and the professor was pressured until a letter of apology was written.
This censorship reflects a nationalist, authoritarian perspective portraying Koreans as innocent victims. The liberal nationalist perspective would combine the love for the country with a thoughtful and reflective analysis of the complexities of the past. The informed citizenry required for prudent policymaking and democratic policies has been undermined by censorship. A critical public discourse capable of transcending the narratives of victimhood would serve the universal justice and strategic interests of the nation.