(Last of 3 Parts)
On April 4, Lee Soon-deok, the oldest living former comfort woman, died of old age at a hospital in Seoul. She was 98.
Lee was the ninth former comfort woman to die after the signing of the Japan-Korea Agreement Regarding the Issue of Comfort Women in December of 2015. Of the 239 comfort women designated by the Korean government, 38 are still alive today.
Before being hospitalized, Lee was living with other former comfort women at a facility in Seoul run by the anti-Japan organization Chong Dae Hyup (Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan). Lee was one of the former comfort women who sued the Japanese government in the Shimonoseki branch of the Yamaguchi district court 25 years ago, seeking an apology and the payment of damages.
In 2003, the Japanese Supreme Court dismissed the final appeal and decided against the plaintiffs.
The initial court decision, rendered in 1998, affirmed the following facts of Lee’s life based on her own testimony (summary based on court decision):
“In the spring of 1937, when I was 17 or 18 years old, I went out to the raised pathway between the fields to pick some mugwort for dinner. Just then, a Korean man in his 40s or so approached and said he would give me shoes and clothes if I followed him. He told me to go with him to a place where I would be able to eat until my stomach was full. Our household was poor. I did not have satisfactory footwear and our life was consumed with the effort to relieve our hunger. So, I decided to accept his invitation and to follow him.
“I pleaded with him to let me say goodbye to my parents, but he pulled me by the hand and said that there was no time and that we had to hurry. I cried as I went away with him. He made me walk in front of him. About an hour later, he had brought me to an inn. I was locked from the outside in a room with 14 or 15 other girls about the same age. We were all crying. We had no idea where we were being taken, or why. The next day, three former Japanese soldiers put us on a train. In three days, we arrived with them at Shanghai station.”
In the statement she submitted to the court, Lee clearly said that she had been taken in by the sweet talk of a Korean man unknown to her. This man was possibly a Korean pimp.
However, some South Korean media outlets, which reported on Lee’s death, said of Lee’s life: “At 17, [Lee] was taken away by the Japanese military, ‘tricked by a Japanese person promising to give her rice to eat and nice clothes to wear.’” (April 5, Hankyoreh online edition)
It was a clear case of an inconvenient truth being rewritten, a revised history being attached to the to the death of a former comfort woman.
In Seoul, there is a facility where South Korean university students volunteer to help disseminate this version of the comfort woman issue. In May of 2012, the anti-Japan group Chong Dae Hyup (Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan) opened the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum to commemorate, and educate about, the experiences of the former comfort women.
Chong Dae Hyup has been expanding its efforts worldwide. University students also participate in the campaign to gather “one million signatures around the world to resolve the Japanese military ‘comfort woman’ issue.” According to the list go financial contributors published in the Chong Dae Hyup newsletter, some of the center’s support come from Japan—for example, the JR Hokkaido Trade Union Youth Division, the Peace Constitution League, and the Jeju Okinawa Peace Corps.
Chong Dae Hyup’s representative Yun Mihyang opposes the comfort women accord signed between Japan and South Korea in December of 2015 as a “humiliating agreement.” At the museum, there is not a single word about the fact that, of the 46 former comfort women still alive when the 2015 agreement was signed, 34 had taken cash payments from the fund of 1 billion yen donated by the Japanese government.
In the Chong Dae Hyup newsletter, Yun says nothing about the fact that the Japanese government has fulfilled its promises to South Korea. Instead, Yun calls for “a proper resolution to the Japanese military sex slave issue, through which the honor and human rights of the victims can be restored.”
For sale in the museum’s gift shop is a Japanese-language booklet titled The Statue of the Young Girl of Peace—Why is She Sitting? In this booklet, Chuo University professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi, who opposes the 2015 agreement, argues: “The ‘young girl statue’ was created as a monument for the purpose of preventing [the comfort women system] from ever happening again. It is unthinkable that the aggressor should request to have such a statue removed.”
‘Comfort Woman’ Statues
It was at the end of 2016 that a comfort woman statue was erected in front of the Japanese consulate in Busan, South Korea’s second-largest city. The Japanese government is calling for the statue to be removed, but it still remains in place.
The statue is surrounded by young university students called “defenders”, who also clean the statue. According to locals familiar with their activities, the students gather on a regular basis and receive “education” on the comfort women issue and other topics.
The “education” being pushed, a local source told us, “was an appeal to meet for the independence movement memorial day on March 1st.”
About 1,000 students and others gathered in a park near the consulate, where they ripped up the Japan-South Korea agreement, ripped up the General Security of Military Information Agreement (which allows for the sharing of security information between South Korea and Japan), and then called for the unification of North and South Korea.
Every one of these appeals hews to North Korea’s hopes of breaking up the South Korea-Japan alliance.
A former South Korean government official explained that, during the Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations, money flowed to pro-North Korea NGOs under the pretense of North-South exchange.
The official was alarmed by this, saying: “It is an open secret that North Korea’s influence is at play. Even so, neither the Lee Myung-bak nor the Park Geun-hye administration could stop the flow.”
A movement is now quietly underway to erect small comfort woman statues inside of high schools in South Korea. In 2016, the history club at Ehwa Girl’s High School in Seoul proposed to other schools that a small comfort woman statue be set up, partly in protest against the 2015 Japan-South Korea comfort women agreement. High school students across South Korea answered the Ehwa students call, raising money and setting up one comfort woman statue after another. The goal for the time being is to put comfort women statues in 100 schools.
As of January 2017, more than 30 high schools had installed the statues. In April, a 40-cm comfort woman statue was unveiled at Songdo high school in Incheon, in the northern part of South Korea.
According to the South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh, Songdo high school students decided in March to install the comfort woman statue and began raising money. Within two days, they had exceeded their goal of 550,000 won (approximately US$500). They say they are going to contribute to Chong Dae Hyup any additional money they raise.
South Korea’s official history textbook claims, with no basis in fact, that the comfort women “were killed en masse by the fleeing Japanese military.” The creation of fake history will continue until these baseless statements are countered with facts.
Main contributors: Takashi Arimoto, Shinpei Okuhara, Makiko Takita, and Takao Harakawa
(Click here to read the original articles in Japanese.)