April 24, 2016

"What Is Behind South Korea's Criticism On Comfort Women" by Professor James E. Auer

The following is an English translation of Professor James E. Auer's op-ed in Monthly Chosun in October, 2014. Dr. Auer is an emeritus professor of international relations and public policy at Vanderbilt University.

Professor James E. Auer

It is not surprising that China criticizes Japan because China is under Communist Party dictatorship. But South Korea has been a democratic nation. Why did South Korea begin to criticize Japan in the 1990s? It wasn't because Japan posed any threat to South Korea. Instead South Korea insisted Japan's apology and compensation were not enough.

Japan has never denied that its military used comfort stations where Korean comfort women worked. Whether it was coercive or not, Japan has apologized for Korean women's suffering. When the allied forces prosecuted war criminals, the comfort women system never became an issue because the U.S. military reports concluded with testimonies from Korean women that they either volunteered or were sold by their parents to Korean comfort station owners.

Let us verify some facts.

1) Past and present, there were/are women who got/get into prostitution unwillingly. But prostitution is not slavery.

2) The comfort women system was not illegal in Japan's eyes in the 1930s, and the allied forces didn't think it was illegal, either.

3) The South Korean government established comfort women system for its troops in Vietnam in the 1960s and for the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea in the 1960s & 70s. The Koreans for some reason think coercion and confinement took place in Japan's system but not in Korea's system.


4) If the Japanese government or people tried to get facts out, the international community would perceive that effort as revisionism.

5) In August, Asahi Shimbun published retraction articles admitting it falsely reported on abduction in Jeju Island. Asahi also admitted it mistook factory workers for comfort women, which inflated the number of comfort women. Many Westerners praised Asahi for admitting its mistakes. However, what they failed to realize was Asahi told more lies in its retraction articles, which infuriated Japanese public. Westerners mistook mainstream Japanese's disgust toward Asahi for right wing's bashing on Asahi.

When Japan apologized for what it did during the war, its sincerity was backed by 50 odd years of good behavior.

In 1998, South Korean president Kim Dae-jung accepted an apology from Japan's Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi and promised South Korea would never bring up the comfort women issue again. But subsequent Korean presidents have annulled Kim's promise and used nationalism to bolster their low approval ratings.

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