The story of Pak Kumjoo
excerpts from a translation by Caroline Berndt
— Whether it was morning or night, once one soldier left, the next soldier came. Twenty men would come in one day…
— We would try to talk each other out of committing suicide, but even with that, women still did. There were women who stole opium and took it. If they took a lot of it, they would vomit blood and die. There were people who died after gulping medicine whose name they didn’t even know. There were also people who hanged themselves with their clothing when inside the toilet. Because there were people who tried to kill themselves even if they only had some string, we tried to hide string from each other…
— Then, about six months after I was made a “military comfort woman,” I told a colonel in the army, “Do you think we are your maids and your prostitutes? How can you be a human being after making us do such things? We came because we were told we were going to a factory, and we didn’t come knowing we would be prostituted.” I spat in his face.
— From there, that soldier said, “It is the command of the army. The country’s order is the Emperor’s order. If you have something to say, you can say it to the Emperor.” Then he beat me. I was in a coma for three days. Even when I regained consciousness, I couldn’t move. Even now I feel pain from that time, and scars remain.
The Japanese government recently announced that its Asian Women’s Fund would complete its historic mission by March 31, and that by May it would wrap up awarding compensation to South Korean and Taiwanese women forced into prostitution for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Back in 1995, as voices around the world began to call for Japan to address the issue of “comfort women,” the government decided to establish the fund as a private organization. To prevent the Japanese government from having to own up to its responsibility for provoking war in the Pacific and offer an official apology, the foundation traveled across Asia and began offering victims ?2 million (US$17,150) apiece in compensation.
Not a single Taiwanese woman accepted the money, however. Instead, they said they would only accept a formal apology and financial compensation from the Japanese government.
The program will come to a close without the Japanese government having fully apologized to its victims and with only 188 comfort women accepting the money. While answering questions during a press conference on March 1, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that evidence that Japanese troops had forced Asian women into prostitution during World War II was lacking.
Every time I see the scars, I remember how they slashed me. How can they say there is no history of what they did to us when the evidence is on my body? To say that this did not happen, to deny history, this is the most wicked act.
—Ok Seon Lee, surviving sex slave of Japanese military
Most of these women were not women at all, but girls. There was no comfort for them, and it is a perverse word for the torture they endured. They were bartered and traded as goods or chattel.
They were put in small rooms with a mat and ‘serviced’ 40-80 soldiers a day. Surviving on the meagerest of rations.
Often forced to march along with the soldiers many died from malnutrition, miscarriage, beatings, and suicide.
Their pain and suffering acknowledged not even to this day. As reference to them is to be removed from school books, and Japanese magazines often run articles denouncing them as betrayers of their country.
Nothing can make up for the hell these women endured, but they do at the very least deserve not to be forgotten. Not be dismissed. Not to be written out of history or rewritten as happy hookers who willingly and for compensation provided “relief” for the troops.