Friday, January 22, 2010

Korea's Historical Amnesia

The Korea Times

01-21-2010 18:33
Korea’s Historical Amnesia

Korea's Historical Amnesia
By Lee Cheun-heui

I couldn't help but laugh at the historical inaccuracies in the opinion piece ``Promoting Historical Amnesia" regarding the ongoing and futile effort of former so-called ``comfort women" to extract compensation from the Japanese government over their alleged ``hellish situation" during the Japanese army's colonization of Korea up until the end of World War II.

First, let me mention that my grandmother, who now lives in Japan, used to be a ``comfort woman," and she says the Japanese army never coerced anybody into having sex with the soldiers.

Sure, a few rogue soldiers did indeed rape some of the women of the territories it occupied, but my grandmother says the Japanese army never collectively forced women into performing sexual acts.

What the Japanese army did was negotiate a deal with the owners of local brothels to have them bring a group of girls to the army barracks to perform sexual favors for the soldiers who were either lonely or in need of a morale boost.

The women were paid handsomely, and my grandmother says that any woman who felt any kind of aversion to sleeping with a Japanese soldier was not required to participate in any sexual junket, though that meant they were forfeiting any opportunity to earn money from the Japanese army.

Now let's shift the focus to the issue of compensation. If you read the Basic Treaty signed by the Japanese and South Korean governments in 1965, you will notice that the Japanese government did indeed offer to provide compensation to individuals who had legitimate claims, but the South Korean government refused and instead requested that the Japanese government pay a lump sum to the Korean government to completely resolve the issue.

What did the South Korean government do with the money? Instead of giving it to the so-called ``victims" as they were supposed to, they used it to kick-start the ``Miracle on the Han River."

Legally speaking, based on the Treaty of 1965, anybody who feels they deserve compensation from the Japanese government for any wrongdoing committed by that government doesn't have a case because in the Treaty of 1965 the Korean government absolved the Japanese government from any further liability.

So if these comfort women who spend day after day protesting in front of the Japanese embassy really are serious about receiving ``compensation," legally it is the Korean government that needs to answer to their claims.

Here's another thing. Korea was not the only country that Japan occupied during the Second World War. China, and most of Southeast Asia, from the Philippines in the West to Burma (now Myanmar) in the East were also occupied and women from these nations also provided sexual favors to the Japanese soldiers but these ``comfort women" don't seem to have any problem with the Japanese government now.

Only the people of Korea seem to be unable to come to grips with the reality that there never really was a ``hellish situation" for these women. My grandmother, who made lots of money from her work as a prostitute servicing Japanese soldiers, and her friends (yes, they are Koreans, too) all say they never were forced and they were all paid very well.

Here in Korea it's more fashionable to blame things on the Japanese instead of the Park Chung-hee government, where the real blame lies. The Japanese government does not need to wait until all the comfort women are dead.

The treaty of 1965 is evidence enough of their compensation. I remind everybody who is still under the silly impression that Japan still owes favors to Korean victims, that in the treaty of 1965 the Japanese government did indeed offer to deal with each and every individual who claimed compensation was owed to them, but that the South Korean government declined the offer.

Don't believe me? Read the treaty for yourself; it's available for public scrutiny since it's now an official public record.

So I say to the editorial staff at The Korea Times, read the treaty, and after having read and understood it, please be kind enough to tell the readers exactly who it is that has this so-called ``historical amnesia."

The writer is a financial advisor in Yongsan, Seoul.

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