The military trafficking in women


"Militarism, Colonialism, and the Trafficking of Women: 'Comfort Women' Forced into Sexual Labor for Japanese Soldiers"
By Watanabe Kazuko
Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars, Vol. 26, No. 4, Oct-Dec 1994
Reviewed by Eva Cheng
Kazuko's lengthy article gives a useful account of an important movement that is unfolding in Asia, that of the so-called "comfort women" — the euphemism for sex slaves forced to serve the Japanese army before and during World War II, numbering no less than 200,000 in 1945. They are fighting for the recognition of, and compensation for, this crime which the Japanese government committed against them. Despite the significant scale of this dehumanising operation, few details were revealed about it, let alone redress sought for its victims, until recent years. These sex slaves were massacred in big numbers at the end of the war, with most survivors too ridden by shame and fear of further humiliation to talk about their past. The ongoing movement came surprisingly late, half a century after the events. The Japanese army started to draw Korean women into coercive sex slavery after it colonised Korea in 1910. It extended the recruitment to many other Asian countries that it invaded or colonised from then until the end of the World War II. The Asian media in the last few years carried sporadic reports about the actions or protests initiated by, or on behalf of, these women, but comprehensive assessments — especially from a progressive point of view — are hard to come by. Kazuko's article has filled this gap. It is rich in facts and historical context as well as recent developments, giving a clear sense that this is a movement of great political importance, one that challenges some key manifestations of the capitalist social order — imperialism and sexism (in an extreme form). The unfolding struggle is drawing strength from, and has given impetus to, the women's movement in Asia, particularly in South Korea and Japan. It has shown the understanding that Japanese imperialism is the common force behind the thriving sex industry in Asia today — driven primarily by male Japanese "consumers" — as well as the institutionalised sex slavery under which these "comfort women" suffered. The political nature of the movement opens opportunities for a broadening and deepening of anti-capitalist consciousness in Asia. Kazuko also analyses the nature and political inclinations of the groups in this movement, providing details for 23 of them (including ways to contact them), in addition to offering ways to get involved in the ongoing campaign. This movement emerged in 1991, when the first lawsuits were launched against Tokyo. Korea's Kim Hak-soon, 68, was the only plaintiff who revealed her name, having overcome the burden of shame after all her close family members died. More have taken similar steps since, infuriated and drawn into action by Tokyo's initial denial of any involvement and persistent refusal to provide compensation even to the dwindling and relatively small number of long-suffering and aged survivors. Apart from Japan, the movement has mobilised support elsewhere in Asia, especially South Korea, China, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, where Tokyo had recruited sex slaves. A few hundred Dutch women were also forced to be sex slaves by the Japanese army. Despite belated admission in 1993 of "constant control" of the women (only after incriminating documents were uncovered), Tokyo rejected any compensation, arguing that it had been relieved of such obligations through reparation agreements with the South Korean and Philippine governments. Kazuko does not counter this argument, which is a major stumbling block in furthering the movement. This failure is consistent with a certain lack of clarity in the article on the causes and nature of Japan's "militarism", colonialism, sexism and racism. The fact that the chastity myth for women had inflicted utter shame on the "comfort women" is recognised, but little is said of it being a powerful and general ideological tool to control and oppress women. Kazuko attributes this problem to the unique influence of Confucianism in Asia (particularly east and south-east Asia). But this double standard and burden of morality imposed on women is a cornerstone of ruling-class control common to all capitalist societies. The conflict of interests between the ruling class and the "comfort women" must be recognised before the stumbling block presented by the reparation treaties can be politically overcome. The South Korean and the Filipino ruling classes committed themselves to the treaties for their own interests, not those of the "comfort women". Kazuko has rightly pointed out that Japanese men were also victims of this dehumanising process, then under the sex slavery system and now in exploiting Asian women through sex tours. They were conditioned to be incapable of controlling their sexual impulses, and prostituting or even raping is the reward. Women's groups are campaigning in Japan against a key condom manufacturer which adopted the name "Attack Champion" for one of its latest product lines, after the name of the condoms issued to Japanese soldiers in World War II.