The Long-Standing Debate over South Korean Comfort Women

South Korea and Japan have a differing point of view when it comes to the subject of women being used as sex slaves during the Second World War. The differing points of view is affecting how they write down and account for their own history, and it is becoming a serious issue between them. Although they understand the necessity of being allies, for the sake of standing strong against the threat of North Korea, they still cannot agree on what the facts are concerning South Korean women being used by the Japanese army. South Korean activists insist there were 200,000 women being held against their will, in order to be used as sex slaves in the Second World War. While the Japanese refute the claims, insisting that comfort women were paid for their services and were not in any way kidnapped or being held as a slave.

In December of 2015, the Republic of Korea and the foreign ministers of Japan made an agreement concerning the use of women during the Second World War. Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida made a public statement acknowledging the atrocities committed toward Korean women by the Japanese Imperial army, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe apologized to the women who experienced these painful events. Japan agreed to contribute $9 million toward a foundation to be established by the South Korean government for the well-being of any woman affected by these offenses. In exchange, the South Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se agreed to remove any statues of comfort women currently being displayed in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

The acknowledgement of Korean comfort women being used as sex slaves, by the Japanese army in the Second World War, has been made by the Japanese government. However, there are still issues to be fully agreed upon by many, including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who argue that the facts South Koreans believe to be true, are simply not true. So, for historians, the issue still remains; were women kidnapped and held against their will, by the Japanese, during the Second World War? The comfort women testimonies tell many points of view and can confuse the issue for some people who would like to see a blanket statement being made about the circumstances surrounding the serious accusation of sexual slavery. Park Yu-ha, a professor of Japanese literature, in South Korea, wrote a book about the experiences of women during the Second World War. She included in her 2013 book, Comfort Women of the Empire, many comfort women stories, which disproved that all of the women were there against their will.

Park Yu-ha was sued for defamation by nine women, who claimed her book wrongly discredited their stories about their experiences as South Korean comfort women. Park Yu-ha won her case and was awarded the right to express her own thoughts on the issue. Park also defended the information shared within her book, stating she researched the subject extensively and found women who wanted to work for the Japanese as credible. Her findings revealed there were Korean institutions which were used for recruitment centers for women who were interested. The girls being sent to Japan for these types of sexual services were between the ages of fourteen and twenty. Park also states in her book, there were probably women who were coerced and tricked into agreeing to the terms of service. It seems there may have been some women who agreed to go and some who were sent against their will. We are talking about young girls who may or may not have understood what they were getting themselves into.

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