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History

The Comfort Women: South Korea's Task of Separating Fact from Fiction

South Korea's government needs to investigate the truth as chroniclers continue irresponsibly perpetuating the comfort women issue by reciting the folklore.

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This comfort women statue was erected in front of the former Japanese Embassy in Seoul. (©Kim Byungheon) 

Kim Hak-sun was the first Korean to claim to be a "Japanese military comfort woman." On August 14, 1991, she appeared before the media and proclaimed that she was a "comfort woman victim." Kim's testimonial sparked the teishintai (women's volunteer corps) comfort women controversy, which remains an unresolved diplomatic issue between Japan and South Korea. 

Why has this issue persisted for over 30 years? The primary reason is the incessant falsehoods and sedition of the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance (hereafter the Korean Council). Its precursor, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, initiated the propaganda campaign.

 Equally responsible, however, is the media, which has unquestioningly accepted the Korean Council's claims, ignored the truth, and stifled dissenting claims. One such example is the column by Kim Yoon-Duk, a senior reporter, in the November 7, 2023 issue of Chosun Ilbo.

First of two parts

Ghosts in the Neighborhood
Former South Korean President Moon Jae In took many steps to keep the popular comfort women mythology alive. Here he walks with a South Korean former comfort woman on August 14, 2018. (© Yonhap via Kyodo)

Keeping the Falsehoods Alive

Kim's piece was titled "Neither the Korean Council nor Park Yuha Wiped Their Tears." In her article, Kim claimed that "Comfort Women of the Empire may have escaped the charges [in court]. However, that does not mean that Park Yuha's claims are correct." 

Kim Yoon-Duk also argued that a diplomatic solution by the president and government of South Korea was the only means of solving the problem. However, her apparent ignorance of the comfort women issue means she is wrong on both counts.

In supporting her claims, Kim Yoon-Duk cited controversial testimony by one Kang Duk-kyung. That account appeared in a work by journalist Toshikuni Doi titled Kyoku to Ikiru.

Kang claimed that a military police officer named Kobayashi apprehended her as she was attempting to escape from a munitions factory in Toyama. Kobayashi then allegedly raped her and took her to a military comfort station

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Apparently, Kim has taken this testimony at face value. If it were true, it would mean that a Japanese military officer abducted and raped Kang, a civilian woman. After raping her, he then dragged her to a comfort station and forced her into prostitution. However, this is simply not the case.

Cover image of volume III of the Comfort Women Testimonial Compilation issued by the Korean Council. A total of 6 volumes were published. The vast majority of the testimonials are at odds with the forced abduction narrative. (©YES 24)

Korean Council Version of Kang's Experience

Kang Duk-kyung's testimony is also included in the first volume of The Forcibly Mobilized Korean Military Comfort Women. The Korean Council published this collection of testimonies in 1993. In this account, Kang claimed she was abducted by Corporal Tadao Kobayashi, a military police officer and driver. Kobayashi then allegedly bundled her into a truck and drove her to a field, where he proceeded to rape her.

He then put her back in the truck and drove her to a comfort station where two sentries stood guard. Kobayashi told Kang, "Stay here for now." There were already five other women at the station. From then on, Kobayashi would come and go at his convenience, she said. He even gave Kang the professional name "Harue" and brought her clothes, rice balls, and dry bread.

Kang claimed the women had to take their blankets and follow the soldiers whenever they summoned them. She also said that the women did not receive any medical examinations at the station.

If this testimony were true, then Kobayashi was a pimp and heinous criminal guilty of abduction, rape, and forced prostitution. His actions would have been a disgrace to the military police. 

If military personnel had committed such crimes, they would surely have been punished in postwar United States-led war crimes tribunals. Those convicted would have received the death penalty, and there would have been records of these trials and convictions. 

However, no such records exist. In her testimony, Kang describes herself as a "comfort woman." What cannot be overlooked, however, is that she was not a "Japanese military comfort woman." 

A former comfort women with a South Korean comfort women statue in Seoul. (© Kyodo)

What Constitutes a Comfort Woman? 

In 1966, the Supreme Court of Korea ruled on a case involving four "comfort women." The court stipulated that "In everyday parlance, the term "comfort women" refers to women who engage in prostitution." (66DA 1635).

Accordingly, a comfort woman was a professional who made money by providing sexual services. In other words, a prostitute. "Japanese military comfort women" refers to women who worked in Japanese military comfort stations.

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These stations were set up in war zones during the Second Sino-Japanese War and World War II. They were under the administration and supervision of the Japanese Imperial Army

Naturally, there were no Japanese military comfort stations in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, as they were not war zones. Consequently, the comfort women who claimed to have worked in these areas were not Japanese military comfort women.

However, this is not the only reason Kang's testimony lacks credibility. She also claimed that "no soldiers came during the day" and "no one was permitted to sleep except Kobayashi." These, along with her allegations of women following soldiers around with blankets and no medical examinations, are false. Such things could not have taken place at a Japanese military comfort station.

Soldiers came during the day at military comfort stations, and only officers were allowed to stay overnight. Visiting brothels while on duty was prohibited. Furthermore, military doctors regularly examined the women to prevent venereal diseases.

With this testimony, Kang essentially admitted she was not a Japanese military comfort woman.

Continues in Part 2: South Korea's Comfort Women Issue: Coming to Terms With the Truth

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(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Kim Byungheon, PhD
Professor Kim Byungheon is a representative of the citizen's group National Action to Abolish the Comfort Women Act and Director of the Korean History Textbook Research Institute.

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