Real name of comfort women
July 30, 2012 will mark the 5th anniversary of the passage of H.R. 121, a non-binding resolution passed by the House of Representatives in the U.S. Congress that urges the Japanese government to acknowledge and apologize to former ``comfort women” for the crimes that were committed against them.
During WWII, over 200,000 young Asian and Dutch women were tricked, abducted, and coerced into sexual slavery, raped by up to 50 Japanese Imperial soldiers a day, without rest and in squalid barracks that the Japanese Imperial army called ``comfort stations.” In addition to the rapes, these women were regularly beaten, tortured, and killed. As such, comfort women represent the largest case of human trafficking and sexual slavery in modern history.
The comfort women issue is not new. Ever since the first Korean comfort women publicly came out with her story in 1991, a social movement to hold the Japanese government accountable was born. The public debate about comfort women soon moved to the U.S. In the late 1990’s, non–binding House resolutions (the one that passed in 2007 was named H.R. 121) were introduced in successive sessions demanding that the Japanese government officially recognize and apologize to the comfort women for their suffering.
However, these non–binding resolutions were inevitably sidetracked and defeated by the strength of the Japanese lobby that convinced most U.S. lawmakers that embarrassing Japan, a stalwart ally in Asia, by getting involved in essentially an Asian dispute would be counterproductive to American interests in the region. The comfort women issue was painted as a product of rising nationalism in China and Korea that sought to injure Japanese pride by shaming them in the U.S. Congress.
But, after the 7th and last defeat in 2006, the proponents of the House resolution reworked their narrative in two main ways to increase the chances to convince their leaders in the U.S. Congress to pass the resolution.
Previously, the H.R. 121 proponents had pushed for the passage of the resolution on the argument that Japan, as a leading nation of the world, must deal with its past abuses against the peoples of the Asian nations that it had subjugated during WWII. However, such an argument was vulnerable to a counter argument that this issue was all about Japan–bashing by other Asian nations intent on taking some measure of revenge by shaming Japan.
In short, this was a regional issue among myriad Asian nations, and the U.S. shouldn’t take sides in a historical dispute endemic to a different part of the world. In fact, the U.S. should not be used by these other nations to embarrass Japan, a close strategic ally of the U.S.
In response, the H.R. 121 proponents reframed the narrative for what would prove to be a successful attempt. They couched the comfort women issue firmly in the language of human trafficking and wartime rape ― this allowed the Comfort Women issue to be directly connected to the issue of sexual violence against women in regions of conflicts, recalling the still vivid images of systemic rapes of Bosnian women by Serbian forces in the mid–1990’s and the targeting of girls for brutal rapes and murder by the Janjaweed in Darfur most recently.
Mindy Kotler, Director of Asia Policy Point, made the following point in her testimony the House International Relations Committee hearing on Feb. 15, 2007: ``The most important tool in prosecuting/stopping sexual violence in war in the future is the precedent of past recognition of sexual violence, enslavement, and exploitation. Japan’s wartime military rape camps are the modern precedent for all the issues of sexual slavery, sexual violence in war, and human trafficking that so dominate today’s discussion of war and civil conflict ― Bosnia, Rwanda, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Darfur, Burma.
Strategically reframing the narrative ultimately proved successful. More importantly, it stuck. In fact, the New York Times wrote on July 15, 2012, ``Unconfirmed reports that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has banned the use of the Japanese euphemism ‘comfort women’ in favor of the more direct ‘sex slaves’ prompted a curt retort last week in the Japanese parliament by the foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, who called the latter term ‘a mistaken expression.’”
Which goes to show that everyone has fully bought into the ``sex slavery” narrative of the comfort women except, unfortunately, the Japanese leadership. The historical facts are not in question here. Historical documents and testimonies of surviving soldiers and victims show that the Japanese Imperial Army was deeply involved in the planning and implementation of comfort stations throughout Asia.
In 1993, Yohei Kono, then chief cabinet secretary of Japan, even admitted that the Imperial Japanese Army directly planned and coordinated the systemic sexual slavery of these hundreds–of–thousands of young women. Since then, however, multiple Japanese prime ministers from Abe to Noda have been futilely trying to undo the Kono admission in part or in whole. Historical lessons continue to be lost on them.
But the real lesson here is one of the power of the narrative: the leadership power of the right story to tell the truth, move people’s hearts, and define the understanding of an issue. On this 5th anniversary of H.R. 121, kudos to all those who successfully told this story on behalf of the victims who have suffered more than 50 years of silent shame and unforgettable pain.