Were There South Korean Government Involved in the Abuse of Comfort Women?
For decades, Japan has been universally maligned for its war crimes during World War ll, notably with regards to the comfort women issue. This subject continues to be an emotionally charged conflict between South Korea and Japan, with historians putting the figure at as many as 200,000 at that time. The South Korean administration and affiliated organizations, have continuously demanded apologies against the Japanese government as well as compensation for the suffering of the comfort women.
After several of official apologies and compensation from Japanese government, the two countries reached a final and irreversible settlement concerning the issue in 2015, with Japan pledging $8.3 million into a fund for the women and Prime Minister Abe Shinzo issuing a “heartfelt apology and remorse.” But two years after, President Moon Jae-in, who replaced ousted president Park Geun-hye, has again called on Japan to issue a “heartfelt apology.” The deal in 2015 was between Park and Abe.
As endless demands from South Korea for apologies from Japan continue, a deafening silence surrounds the participation of US troops in the abuse of comfort women. Evidence that the US troops are involved in the sexual abuse of South Korean women come from the women’s testimonies and research on archives of history.
The “camptown prostitution” began as early as the 1950s, at the start of the Korean War and lasted well in the 1980s. Camp towns are areas in South Korea located outside the US military bases. They are thriving municipalities, buzzing with the activities of shops, restaurants and bars that cater to the US military stationed in the bases. “Western princesses,” as the prostitutes are commonly referred to, gather in these places to earn a living.
Although prostitution in South Korea is illegal, it is common knowledge that the South Korean government turns a blind eye to it where US troops are involved. Their tacit permission and implicit arrangement with the United States has angered the women.
In June 2014, a group of 122 women filed a lawsuit against the South Korean government, claiming that the government forced them to have sex with US soldiers stationed in the bases. They were deceived by job placements agencies into these jobs and poverty forced them to accept. In 2012, a committee ordered the Ministry of Gender Equality to make an investigation. The failure of the Ministry to submit its results provoked these women into going to court.
Further evidence of the South Korean government’s participation in the forced prostitution was presented in an official document, “Measures to Clean Up Women in the Jungchon,” written and signed in May 1977 by former president Park Chung-hee. The document contained proposals to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, rearrange the base village areas, and provision of clean water. This constituted an indirect admission of the government’s knowledge of the existence of prostitution and its support.
South Korea was totally destroyed after the Korean War. The dictator Park is credited with rebuilding the country’s economy and infrastructure in the years following the war. The United States was its main benefactor, shelling out billions of dollars in grants, loans, and aids. Park had requested for the US military to remain in South Korea. The military alliance assured national security against foreign invaders, specifically from North Korea since the war had ended in a stalemate. The prostitutes were necessary to maintain the morale of the troops, and keep the foreign currency flowing into the country.
In a historic ruling, Seoul High Court’s Judge Lee Beom-gyun gave credence to the camptown women’s case, ordering the state to pay the 117 women in amounts of $6,370 and $2,730. He chided the government for using the women to achieve the state’s goals by violating its obligation to protect them.
This rare circumstance of uncovering South Korea’s skeletons in its national official history should make its government reconsider its pretentiousness in pressuring Japan for countless heartfelt apologies when it cannot even admit to its own sex crimes.