Weaponizing the Comfort Woman Issue:
Time to Turn the Page
Ms. Charlotte Meyer
Good Morning/Good Afternoon. I want to thank Ms.Yamamato, Mr. Suzuki and Ms.Koyasu for the opportunity to be part of this panel this morning to address the issue of Women’s Rights as misused as political issues in particular within the context of the “Comfort Women Issue from Misunderstanding to Solution”.
Despite the recent Dec. 28th 2015 diplomatic agreement to resolve the longstanding issue of Comfort Women between Korea and Japan, the intensity of activists unhappy with any reapproachment politically, or reconciliation on moral grounds to generate positive relations & cooperation, militant-minded activists on the Left have made it clear they will not put aside their efforts to use the Comfort Women Issue as a means of sabotaging geo-political cooperation between the U.S., Japan and Korea.
As an American of Japanese Dutch heritage who’s Japanese –Dutch grandparents are annually honored by the Japanese Pharmaceutical Association every year for their contribution in bringing western medicine and the modernization of medical-pharmaceutical expertise to Japanese doctors for the good of the Japanese People. I have grown up in a household that respected its Japanese roots as well as its Dutch roots. A family with firsthand experience during war time of being in POW camps in Nagano prefecture, more as a means of protection from the bombing in Kobe, but also as national interests against foreigners living in the country in time of war.
With that background, it was with intense interest that I attending a grass roots meeting of newly founded Stand-Up Japan- New York, founded by my dear friend, Norimasa Suzuki, in conjunction with Yumiko Yamamoto and Their joint “Texas Night” on March 4 2015 designed to promote dialogue and understanding on this important topic.
To my surprise what was intended to be an evening of dialogue and discussion on the topic of Comfort Women Issues in conjunction with UN Commission on the Status of Women being held in the same week. The event was being threatened and its reserved venue, the Japan-American Association was being threatened as well for agreeing to allow the event to take place.
The protesters threatened to block the streets in order to prevent the meeting from taking place. To protect everyone, and to not bring hardship to the community, the venue was changed to a different location. Ultimately 6 protestors had to be arrested for creating chaos. It was a rude awakening that this local program of Comfort Women was threatened of being hijacked by political activists who’s interest in the Rights of Women or Human Dignity was unconvincing if it entailed shutting down dialogue for the sake of protesting against the US & Japan’s Colonialism, U.S. presence in Okinawa, and Hawaii and against any move toward re-militarization of Japan for defensive purposes, according to their protest signs! In the end 6 of them had to be arrested due to the chaos they created.
These local protesters we learned were from a Brooklyn based activist group: “Sloths against Nuclear States”, founded by a Yuko Tonahira, and purported to be against capitalism, imperialism and Nuclear regimes. How I wondered and more importantly WHY were such strident political activists so intent on shutting down a peaceful event meant to educate New York’s Japanese community on issues impacting on Japan? Especially since the topic of Comfort Women’s was not even listed on their website as one of their agendas.
How had a thoughtful dialogue on coming to terms with history, become an opportunity to shut down individual rights and free speech? The desire to investigate the root causes of this politicalization of a human rights and women’s rights issue opened the door to my being before you today, one year later.
What I have discovered is that dialogue on the profoundly moving and poignant Issue of Comfort Women, is meeting continuous resistance and the truth surrounding its existence, is no longer just one to be confined between Korea and Japan, but it has very drastically become an American issue as well.
Casual research will demonstrate that small towns across America are being petitioned by a broad spectrum of activists, fueled by a full blown intention to quite literally SET IN STONE, a convenient “truth” that propagates a Korean perspective of those very left of center on the political scale that can seal a global “mind-set” that shuts down questioning of its validity, or invites clarity of it by other viewpoints.
This issue is just a symptom of a stereotypical agenda within Korea to turn the issue of Comfort Women into psychological propaganda that can keep separation and strife between the two countries alive. Special interest groups on both sides would be wise to find the courage to find common ground to jointly heal the wounds created by the Comfort Woman issue.
Otherwise, this type of one-sided propaganda serves to only generate a timeless indictment against Japan, offering a tribute to a biased truth not fully understood by Americans and well as good intentioned global citizens. One that is far removed from investigating the rights of women, or human dignity, for all.
Thus it is with deep respect I raise your awareness to rays of hope that perhaps the page can be finally turned to move away from this weapon-izing of the Comfort Women issue for political self-interest, and by sincere and courageous Koreans themselves who are risking stepping forward to bring forth a more fair and balanced understanding of the Comfort Women’s history in order to forge a new direction that transcends polarization and hate and moves toward compassion, forgiveness and understanding.
My research into this emotion filled issue, led me to the Work of Professor Park YuHa, of Sejong University in South Korea. Unfortunately, Professor Yuha was recently indicted in November 2015 by the South Korean Government for statements in her recently published book, Comfort Women of the Empire. Published 2014.
Although not translated yet in English, a volunteer website providing English translations summaries from the works of international women scholars provides us a glimpse into Ms. Yuha’s controversial, yet sound and objective research that defies the Korean National Narrative of its Comfort Women, one that purports a uniform indictment of the Japanese military and the sex slavery issue.
Late December, 54 intellectuals & journalists with a figure now reaching 190 voices of protest from Japan and the U.S as well as Canada. have issued statements criticizing South Korean prosecutors for suppressing the freedom of scholarship and free press. Surprisingly and one that shows transformation is possible, is issued by former chief cabinet secretary in Japan, Yohei Kono, who issued the landmark apology in 1993 admitting coercion in the recruitment of comfort women.
In her book, Comfort Women of the Empire, an undeniable truth is sadly voiced by a frail and dying woman, Ms.Bae Chun Hee, a Comfort Woman survivor, living in the famed House of Sharing, who strove to share with Ms.Yuha, here dying wish to be heard as she spoke from her heart, despite her fear of reprisal. Yuha’s accounting of her story where she sought to exonerate Japanese military, while indicting often cruel, Japanese Speaking Korean recruiters, for the conditions they endured as Comfort Women, offerings her sorrowful forgiveness for everyone involved so she could die with dignity and at peace.
We owe Ms. Yuha our admiration for not only capturing Ms. Hee’s words of forgiveness on a recording, but also for having the courage to publish it.
At this forum designed to bring relevance to the issue of the Rights of Women under armed conflict. I offer a tribute to the courage of both Professor Yuha, and the private soulful words of Ms. Bae Chun Hee, who can teach us all what it means to stand tall for human dignity which is perhaps our only hope in finding a path to unity.
Thank you very much,
The UN Commission on the Status of Women( CSW60 ) Parallel Event
Women’s Rights under Armed Conflict – Japan’s Approach to Respect Women －
The Church Center for the United Nations, NY
12:30pm to 14:00pm, 24th of March, 2016
Sponsor:Japanese Women for Justice and Peace