The “comfort women” deal between South Korea & Japan is shabby & not a bit historic

Deceased comfort women (Kim Hong-Ji:Reuters) Dec 30 2015

We should take a moment to stand with these students in Seoul, South Korea to honor the tens of thousands of deceased Korean “comfort women” who did not live to see justice. Not that this current agreement between South Korea & Japan, 70 years in the making, is justice. We should note that sexual slavery by the Japanese military occupation included women throughout Korea, now divided into North & South.

The deal is being heralded as landmark & historic. Enough with the hyperbole. It’s a shabby agreement based solely on the expediences of military collaboration between South Korea, Japan, & the US & the need to make the issue to go away if military buildup in the region is to go forward without popular resistance.

These students hold weekly rallies with portraits of the deceased women in front of the Japanese embassy. There is little available information on the role of Korean & Japanese feminists in educating about & protesting the issue of sexual slavery by Japan. Since prostitution remains an issue in both countries because of the US military presence of nearly 100,000 troops, we can be sure they have been a central part of that campaign from its inception–as the “comfort women” survivors themselves have lead it. Any information on that would be appreciated.

Our deepest solidarity with the women survivors who are our sisters & with those men & women who continue to campaign for justice in both countries. You can see in the photos that many of the women survivors were part of that campaign. Our deepest respect & honor. It isn’t just a matter of acknowledging the past but of changing the future for women & our girls.

(Photo by Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

The Nation magazine & Islamophobia: a regrettable tale

Color me vengeful but over a day ago I commented on The Nation article entitled “Is hijab really a symbol of liberation when millions are oppressed into wearing it?” by a Muslim woman named Arshia Malik. Shades of Asra Nomani. Over 24 hours later & the comment objecting to the article has not been published.

The Nation is seen as a liberal publication but it’s similar in many ways to the Guardian-UK: sometimes it’s liberal, sometimes–especially on issues of Islamophobia & Zionism–it skirts right-wing. To me, it’s always been a bore. I’m no sophisticado but it’s just lowbrow intellectualism & often politically banal.

Katha Pollitt was their resident feminist writer & a few years ago they did publish my comment on one of her Islamophobic articles. I don’t recall now what the exact issue was. The point is, The Nation has a pattern when it comes to Muslims & Palestinians.

I don’t care if they post my comment. It’s not like burning down the library at Alexandria. I’m posting this because their refusal to publish my objection is an editorial choice & one which sides with Islamophobia. That should be noted.

Japan offers paltry contrition & chump change for decades of sexual slavery involving thousands of women

Comfort women (REUTERS:Hong Ki-won:Yonhap) Dec 29 2015

It’s politically fashionable these days to defend prostitution as just another way for women to earn a living & to rebrand the commodification of women & children’s bodies as “sex work.” That approach derives from the prostitution industry itself (much like the 2011 “slut walks” phenomenon) as a public relations stunt to legitimize prostitution which has taken in many elite feminists as well as leftist anti-feminists. Flaunting a regrettable disdain, they think it suitable work for poor & working class women but not a career choice for their own daughters. Rebranding & cinematic glorification notwithstanding, prostitution remains what it has always been–the often violent sexual exploitation of poor women & children. And for the record, it is not the ‘oldest profession for women’. That would be farming.

Those unable to envision a world where women are not for sale, or even worse, women & children are not trafficked, are suffering the cognitive dislocations of misogyny. Part of the cognitive problem is the denial of realities about the character of prostitution which begins with economic coercion, proceeds with degradation & violence, & often ends in murder. It has an astronomical humiliation & homicide rate which office & factory work do not.

Prostitution & the trafficking of women & children is inextricably connected to militarism. It’s often the place young men are introduced to the notion of women as commodity & where they develop a violent twisted attitude toward sex & women. There is an excellent library of research by feminists on the relationship of prostitution & militarism–most of it difficult to read because of the sadism & hatred involved in the flesh market.

Now we are confronted with the undeniable realities of militarism & prostitution in the agreement reached between the governments of South Korea & Japan over the Japanese military practice of sexual slavery in WWII & earlier involving an estimated 200,000 to 410,000 “comfort women” from countries occupied by Japan. (The numbers are disputed–especially by Japan.) Women from Korea, China, the Philippines, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), Portuguese Timor (now East Timor) were forcibly relocated to military brothels in those same countries as well as New Guinea, Hong Kong, Macau, & French Indochina. Some Dutch & Australian women were also involved as sex slaves.

Most of this history was buried because of the social shame involved & more importantly, the massive physical & psychological trauma suffered by so many women. They began to speak out in the 1950s & since then considerable research & political agitation has been done to demand the Japanese government face the music for these monstrous crimes against so many women. It’s taken over 70 years for Japan to even acknowledge what it did.

The agreement reached Monday between South Korea & Japan was brokered by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe whose own father was involved in sex trafficking for the Japanese army. The agreement doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. Japan made a reluctant apology & pledged $8.3 million to provide care for the women who are now in their 80s & older & suffer many health problems as a result of the violence & psychological abuse. Paltry contrition & chump change is not what justice demands. There are only about 50 South Korean women still alive. What about the women from the other countries involved?

Media is portraying the US as a morality broker in this dispute just as they were often portrayed as liberating the “comfort women” when they defeated Japan. It’s like a rendition of Hollywood WWII movies glorifying the US Marines. Except that the US still has nearly 100,000 troops in South Korea & Japan where prostitution serves as an auxiliary force. It may not be sexual slavery but it does involve children–which is rape. The US war in Vietnam created massive problems with prostitution in Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, & elsewhere in Southeast Asia. There were lawsuits by Filipino women against the US Navy because it administered prostitution, including children, & when it pulled out left thousands of orphaned homeless children by US soldiers without providing for their welfare.

The remilitarization of Japan & the entire US buildup in the region going on now is a direct threat to women & children. That’s why it is so important to oppose the current in US feminism supporting war as a way to liberate women. That’s why it’s so imperative that the antiwar current in feminism become more assertive & organize women to oppose every damn US move to war.

The women here are former South Korean “comfort women” watching television news about the new agreement. They reside at the House of Sharing, a special shelter in Gwangju, South Korea for Japan’s sexual victims from the occupation of Korea & WWII.

(Photo by Hong Ki-won/Yonhap/Reuters)