[Former ‘comfort women’ organize]

Editorial in The Korea Herald, 19 March 2004

At first, there were only a few women brave enough to appear in public and say what had happened to them. Few had the courage to look up at passers-by, who were mostly indifferent, while some just gave them a curious side glance.

Things have changed tremendously in the past 12 years and two months. The small gatherings of a few former comfort women, and a similar number of supporters and sympathizers, have developed into professionally organized street rallies featuring famous human rights activists and liberal politicians from both home and abroad.

No wonder the old ladies have grown even older, their hair has turned silvery white and their feeble bodies are aching more acutely with old sores. But they have shed their stiff demeanor. They now feel incredibly comfortable, raising their pickets high in the air, swinging their colored balloons and telling any stranger or camera what they think.

Sadly, though, they have lost more than a few friends. As many as 80 out of the total 212 women who, mostly owing to their advanced age, came out to identify themselves as former sex slaves for Japan’s WWII imperial army have passed away without seeing their last wishes realized.

Throughout the past 600 weeks, however, one thing has remained unmistakably the same. As the poor old ladies assembled in all weathers at noon every Wednesday before its embassy since Jan. 8, 1992, the Japanese government has kept its ears firmly shut to their tearful appeals for an official apology and compensation for the unspeakable suffering they endured at the infamous military comfort stations around Asia more than half a century ago.

Historical records say that up to 200,000 Asian women, mostly from Korea, were forcibly recruited to provide sex to Japanese soldiers during the last World War. But Japan adamantly refused to recognize the wartime atrocities it committed on other Asians. In 1993, Tokyo reluctantly admitted to its military’s involvement in the operation of frontline brothels. It arranged for a private fund to offer financial compensation, without an apology, which was rejected by most surviving victims.

Japan cannot avoid criticism that it is waiting for the aged women to die away, in a notorious effort to whitewash its dark past. No less incredulous is that the Korean government has maintained a similarly heartless, and gutless, attitude regarding this unresolved page in the tragic national history of the 20th century.

Again, we repeat that a future-oriented partnership between the two neighbors, a popular slogan for leaders of both nations in recent years, will just prove to be a pipedream if neither side is prepared to face the past as it is, though for different reasons.