80 survivors … and dwindling still … Wednesday protesters’ story

Disclaimer: The following is a totally unauthoritative personal translation of an article appeared in <The OhmyNews> in October 16, 2011. In the form of a book review, it covers the story of weekly Wednesday protest by Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers that started about 20 years ago in 1992 and marks 1,000th time next week! Unfortunately, the end is not still in our visible sight yet although we don’t have much time. All rights regarding this post stay with the author of the original article or with <The OhmyNews> and this post will be scrapped with their request immediately. Original article of this (in Korean) can be found in the link at the bottom.

80 survivors … and dwindling still …

The most beautiful testimony … book review by Yoon Mi-hyang

11.10.16 13:38 ㅣ최종 업데이트 11.10.16 13:38
장호철 (q9447)

The longest continuing protest in the world, ‘Wednesday protest’. That is 20-year long courage Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers have kept. ⓒ Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan 한국정신대문제대책협의회

History is a valuable teacher; it time to time makes people ponder about themselves. But, it is not so easy to understand history as a practical body rather than to understand it as an abstract idea. Instead, we can experience history through the lives of those who passed through it. People who had to bear the burden of history by their own bodies. Their experiences then transcend beyond simple ‘daily lives’; they become ‘history’ itself.

From a book ’20 years of Wednesdays’ (Woongjin Junior, 2010) by the managing director of Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (‘The Council’) Yoon Mi-hyang, we can meet our grandmothers who had to painfully live through such ‘historic lives’. The modern Korean history that should have been borne by so called ‘comfort women grandmas’. From this book, we can painfully witness how history can hurt lives of nameless ordinary men and women.

’20 years of Wednesdays’ is published last year. I came to know the existence of this book when I watched the TV program ‘Though 20 years passed by …’ from MBC on last September 18 and visited the homepage of ‘The Council’. Though it was known as a book for younger generation, I didn’t hesitate to order it myself. I did not forget to ask the librarian teacher of our school to order several copies of it either.

’20 years of Wednesdays’ by Yoon Mi-hyang (Woongjin Junior, 2010) ⓒ Jang Ho-cheol 장호철

비가 와도 눈이 와도
병상에 누워 있어도,
일본대사관 앞
수요일 12시

그것은 희망이었습니다.

Rain or snow
even on a hospital bed
in front of Japanese embassy
Wednesday noon.

That was hope.

20 years of courage and hope grandmothers have kept

The excerpt above is in the other side of inner cover. This book describes ‘the Wednesday protest’, the longest continuing protest in the world, that ‘The Council’ and ‘comfort women grandmas’ have continued for 20 years since 1992. What is inscribed in this book are the beautiful and marvelous ‘courage’ and ‘hope’ that Japanese military comfort women grandmothers have kept.

In the following page are total 8 portaits of grandmothers including Choi Gab-soon. Black and white pictures of grandmothers. Simple glance at their feelingless faces makes my heart aching. Deep, thick wrinkles, tight shut lips, white discolored thin hairs … They are traces of harsh history that ravaged 20th century of this land; something yet to be removed.

Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victim grandmothers. Clock-wise direction from top left ; Gong Jeom-ok, Kim Ok-joo, Park Ok-ryeon, Park Ok-seon, Choi Gab-soon, Lee Ki-seon, Song Nam-ee, Park Jam-soon grandmothers. ⓒ ’20 years of Wednesdays’ 20년간의 수요일

Japanese military ‘comfort women’ that move along with military. They had to live as sex slaves moving along with soldiers. ⓒ ’20 years of Wednesdays’ 20년간의 수요일

The protest that started for the first time on January 8, 1992, and rushes to unprecedented 1,000th one, something unheard of in human history, is an act of raising the still unsettled issue of war crime committed by Japanese imperialistic government by ‘victims’ themselves. But, the very fact that this protest which demands truth investigation and Japanese government’s apology for a crime against humanity, the problem of ‘wartime comfort women’, continues over 20 years indicates that this issue is yet to be unresolved.

The main engine that drove this protest in front of Japanese embasy every Wednesday for the last 20 years is the Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers. That’s why they call the open testimony by grandmother Kim Hak-soon which disclosed this horrific truth that has rested dormant in the dark side of history over half a century since the end of World War 2 as ‘the most beautiful confession in the world’.

The fact that there are many names to call the victims of this horrific history indicates the intricate nature of this problem. ‘Jeongsindae(挺身隊)’ means ‘sacrificing body for the country’, which is improper since it simply symbolizes the ‘Japanese imperial policy to mobilize human resources’.

We also cannot use the word ‘confort women’ ruthlessly since it means ‘sex slavery’ by Japanese military during the wartime. At long last, the name settled through ‘Forced Wartime Military Comfort Women’, ‘Military Sexual Slavery by Japan’ to ‘Japanese Military Comfort Women’. Although ‘comfort women’ is still an improper name, people decided to use it since it had been used by Japanese imperial government itself but by enclosing it with single quotation marks (”) and putting the word ‘Japanese military’, the crime body, in front, as Japanese military ‘comfort women’.

‘Rabaul comfort house’ drown by a Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victim grandmother Kang Deok-gyeong ⓒ ’20 years of Wednesdays’ 20년간의 수요일

The horrible and painful sacrifices Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers had to suffer are rather well-known. Although people, listening to their tragedy belatedly, simply note them using the word ‘painful sacrifice’, how can they express times they had to bear and wounds they were inflicted from them by words and writings in full.

Courage to make an open testimony changed the world

Grandmother Kim Hak-soon who stood to make an open testimony for the first time among Japanese military ‘comfort women’ victims. She died in 1997. ⓒ MBC-TV video capture

Although they came back to their home country, they could neither return to their home town nor marry like other women due to concerns of their past. Some were mistreated by husbands who learned about their lives as Japanese military ‘comfort women’ later; some were not able to have babies because they became infertile from that experience. They were victims but criticized because of the nature of their sacrifice. They had to remain silent.

Grandmothers’ Wednesday protest that broke the long spell of silence and accused the cruel warcrime of Japan goes on for 20 years. During that time, 234 grandmothers registered themselves as victims but many of them died without any apology from Japanese government. Now we have only about 80 survivors. But grandmothers’ 20-year-long imposing outcry made substantial changes in our society.

‘Stolen purity’ by grandmother Kang Deok-gyoung ⓒ ’20 years of Wednesdays’ 20년간의 수요일

Forced by international public opinion, Japanese government had to investigate its own accord of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ system and admit partial responsibility. While denying their legal responsibility by claiming ‘there was no focibleness’, they had to partially admit as well. But, Japanese government is paying not ‘indemnities’ but ‘national funds’ which is just a ‘consolation payout’, a sign of formal deception.

The outstanding activity of grandmothers who stayed dormant for a long time but awakend on human rights belatedly caused huge sensation in international world. Though not legally binding, US House of Representatives and European Parliament adopted ‘resolutions to demand apology and legal compensation from Japanese government’.

Untiring, resilient struggle of ‘The Coucil’ and Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers is not limited to change reality but to change themselves who have lived in long period of pain and silence. In the course of accusing and offering testimonies of the dirty warcrime by Japanese government, they realized that war is the source of human rights violation and, very naturally, they built up a solid conviction on history and peace.

Objection to the construction of ‘The Museum of War and Women’s Rights’, a premodern sense of history

Grandmothers firmly believe that we should stop wars to prevent victims like them anymore. At the same time, they realize they need a museum that records the history of women’s wartime ordeals to build a ‘country of peace’ where women will not suffer them anymore. And in 2004, ‘The Council’ started a project to build ‘The Museum of War and Women’s Rights’ (The Museum) where honor and human rights of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ will be restored and future generations will realize the importance of peaceful world.

The Museum construction project went on smoothly until it raised 1.7B KRW for eight years and secured a site of about 330 square meters within Seodaemun independence park from Seoul city. However, the whole Museum construction project went to square one when the Restoration Society objected it on the reason that ‘the Museum construction within independence park is an act of defamation to patriotic martyrs’.

A house in the foot of Seongmi-san (mountain) ‘The Council’ bought for ‘The Museum of War and Women’s Rights’ ⓒ MBC-TV capture

As the unfolding of events was aired over the program ‘Though 20 years have passed …’ by MBC, netizens’ denunciations continued. The Council changed the course to buy a house in the foot of Seongmi-san (mountain) with raised fund, rather then build The Museum inside the Independence Park.

The wreckage of The Museum construction project revealed the limitation of our society where remaining premodern values are still insurmountable obstacles. The sense of history of our history where the sacrifice and pain women had to bear as the social weak are simply understood as dents that will taint their outshining saga is nothing but premodern. In this sense, the history mainstream men has claimed to have built up is not only cowardly but also shameful.

Covering the history as ‘perpetrators’ as well as as ‘victims’

Author Yoon Mi-hyang unfolds Korea modern history to young people in a calm and orderly way as if she is having an easy, confortable conversation with them. Though it is written for young people, it is accessible to elderlies too. Numerous related images and raw materials, pictures grandmothers drew themselves, letters by students who participated in Wednesday protests in the book are all very helpful.

The virtue of this book, in particular, is that it depicts us not only as simple victims but also as someone who became perpetrators themselves in the course of history. The author looks deep into the truth of wartime sexual crimes, ‘the nature of incessantly repeated evil relationship between the war and women’. And she awakes us that Japanese military ‘comfort women’ is not a past history but a present history that still exists.

So called 2nd Japanese ‘comfort women’ reappeared in our modern history too. The prostitution that was publicly exercised around US bases in post-liberation period or the ‘geisha tour’ which was implicitly allowed by the government in the industrialization period  were such things. And, above all, the civilian massacres and rapes by Korean soldiers who participated in the Vietnam war were truly historic tragedy that turned us from victims to perpetrators of the same crime.

In the final chapter, the author speaks of ‘the future we have to build ourselves’. Male-oriented patriarchal psyche brings about sexual violence during wartime and suppresses women. Also, she says that extreme colonialism forces personal sacrifices and ‘colonializes’ women. She says that what horrific sacrifices by Japanese military ‘comfort women’ grandmothers have taught us on top of the historical facts is that ‘human rights’ are the value we have to cherish and preserve.

Last August, the constitutional court ruled it is against constitution that our government does not show any effort to resolve bi-lateral issues related to the rights of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ and nuclear bombing victims to demand compensation to Japanese government. However, the Japanese government declined our government’s proposal to discuss the rights of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ to demand compensation.

Young days of grandmothers Kim Bok-soen and Hwang Geum-joo. History pushed these beautiful young women to Japanese military sex slaves. ⓒ ’20 years of Wednesdays’ 20년간의 수요일

Contrary to Japanese government, however, some Japanese civil societies voice ‘healthy remorse’. They choose human rights rather than their own country’s interest or honor overcoming their shameful history. To damages we inflicted on Vietnam in recent past, we are in the middle of seeking solutions starting from establishing new schools or peace activities with civil societies as the epicenter.

The story that grandmother Lee Yong-soo who had appeared in a documentary program that had aired the lives of Japanese military ‘comfort women’ visited Vietnam, met women victims there, and outreached her hands to hold on to their hands touches very exquisite sense of humanity. At first, she is known to have a little reservation to the idea that she met Vietnamese women victims. However, in the end, she was able to identify those Vietnamese women as victims like her who had to live through the hideous lives beyond the boundary of nationality.

The author recommends ‘think right and know right’ attitude and finishes the book. But to know is not enough. That’s why we say ‘history starts to change once we participate and get interested in it’. Younger generations who understand our modern history as an abstract knowledge will see the vivid reality beyond the abstract and ideal veil of history by listening to her tender stories.

Addendum | (윤미향 씀 | 웅진주니어 | 2010.11. | 1만2000원)

In one wing of the book cover says “All royalties of this book will be donated to ‘The Museum of War and Women’s Rights’ construction fund.” Although The Council bought a house in the foot of Seongmi-san (mountain), as said above, they need another 600M KRW to turn it into a museum.

The homepage of Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (http://www.womenandwar.net/index.php) allows you to participate in the construction of The Museum as a member of 10 thousand council by donating 100 thousand KRW. If that is too much, you can buy this book (12,000 KRW) and talk about this with your children. It’s a start good enough.

What I bought was 3rd print, which means it was not sold mere 10 thousand copies at that time. Shamefully, Japanese Library Association selected this book as a book of choice before us. Let’t not blame our children’s ‘absence of history’. It would be a good education to show them ways to meet our history for themselves.

Useful link


One comment

  1. get pregnant
    Strike even though the iron is sizzling

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: