Korean author Dai Sil Kim-Gibson writes of her interview with Hwang Keum Ju a seventy-year-old Korean woman who tells of her experience at the hands of the Japanese Military in the Second World War.[i] “As she talked, I felt the tremors going through her body, the pain from her past, so remote and so close.” Imprisoned in a front-line brothel, a Japanese officer exposed himself to Hwang Keum Ju, then a chaste seventeen-year-old virgin, and demanded that she perform unspeakable varieties of sexual intercourse. When she refused,
She was kicked and beaten until she passed out. When she woke up, her friends told her that she had been unconscious for three days and nights. She was not happy to regain consciousness.
In August of 1910 an ascendant Japanese Imperial army surrounded Korea’s emperor Sunjong and forced him to accept Japanese annexation. Dai Sil Kim-Gibson writes that for the Japanese, “Control of the Korean mind was considered of major importance. Scholars, cultural agencies, newspapers and journals were strictly controlled and people who protested were placed under surveillance or imprisoned as “thought criminals.” In a profoundly conservative Confucian Korea, agents of the Japanese government conned, kidnapped, drafted or beat into submission about 200,000 adolescent and teenaged Korean women and used them to stock front-line brothels. I use the word “stock” because the Japanese government did not distinguish the women it abducted from other military supplies.
The Japanese Government referred to the cold, shabby brothels as “Comfort Stations” and barely pubescent girls as Jungshindae, “volunteers” or comfort women as they came to be known. Japanese agents also kidnapped Indonesian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Dutch Women. They built and stocked brothels “…in China, Hong Kong, Amoi, French Indochina, the Philippines, Malay Singapore, British Borneo, Dutch East Indies, Burma, Thailand, East New Guinea, in the Pacific Regions, The Okinawan islands, the Ogasa Wara islands, the Chishima Archipelago, Sakhalin and Hokkaido.”
The Japanese built comfort stations wherever they placed troops, from the border of Siberia to equatorial New Guinea—and “…in anticipation of a decisive battle on the mainland” in Japan as well…. the Japanese soldiers joked that on every battlefront women arrived with the ammunition. They were nothing more than military supplies of the Emperor.”
While the Japanese government took a diverse and multicultural approach to its selection of the young women it used to stock brothels, other than for known Japanese prostitutes, it did not “draft” Japanese women into the military with the offer of adventure, good jobs and great pay.
Hwang Keum Ju’s abduction was typical of the Korean experience.[ii] She actually volunteered for the draft in the mistaken believe that her future would be a bright one. She intended to work hard, earn money, return to Korea and pay her debts. She was trucked to the brothels and raped by as many as forty soldiers every day. The high and the low, the Japanese General and the common soldier used the “comfort women” steadily until venereal disease, physical and psychological collapse or death compromised their fitness for indiscriminate rape. Dai Sil Kim-Gibson’s book shows a picture of one such comfort station. A long line of soldiers wait outside.
They were adolescents. They were young hopeful women. They died from exhaustion, torture and disease. They died by their own hand in desolate suicide. Still others wasted away simply because they could not bear the shame. Those who survived were an embarrassment; “soiled women” were not always welcomed home. Of the hundreds of thousands of “volunteers” only 25 percent survive. “Most were unable to have children as a consequence of the multiple rapes or the disease they contracted.”
Defenses graceless and shameful, cynical and mendacious still abound. The Japanese government claims that the girls were volunteers, that they were well paid and treated well. But listen to Japanese soldier Yasuji Kaneko,
The women cried out, but it didn't matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor's soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.[iii]
Jungshindae[iv] is a symbol of the impenetrable malice that seethes in the human heart. For all the “wisdom” of psychology, and the posturing priests of social science, evil exists, and will always exist. Jungshindae: It is a symbol of our common grief. It is a symbol of our anger and tears. [v]
[i] Dai Sil Kim-Gibson, Silence Broken, Comfort Women, (M-Prairie Books, 1999). My quotes are to her book and to the website militarybrothels.bolgsspot.com.
[ii] The Japanese also kidnapped Vietnamese, Indonesian and Chinese women. The Chinese government places the estimate of women taken at 400,000.
[iii] “Military Brothels and Comfort Women” militarybrothels.blogspot.com
[iv] (Literally Voluntarily Committing Body Corps).
[v] For those interested, I would recommend Ms. Gibson’s Silence Broken. Ms.Gibson gave a well-received lecture at Colorado College several years ago. For the strong of heart, I might also recommend a look at the photos and script set forth in militarybrothels.blogspot.com.