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Comfort Women of the Empire

In her most controversial book Comfort Women of the Empire, Park challenges an established description of imperial Japan’s military brothel system.

Based on historical documents and the testimony of comfort women, including several cases of comfort women who fell in love with Japanese soldiers, a soldier who took care of a sick woman, or soldiers who helped comfort women to return their home country, Park asserts the existence of hidden comfort women who have been excluded from the mainstream narrative of comfort women, mainly consisting of “Japanese military coerced Korean women” and “sex-slaves”. She describes a more complex relationship between the comfort women and soldiers.

She says this kind of “comrade-like relationship” tragedy, which is basically a co-operative relationship of mobilized weak people by the name of patriotism, was a result of Japan’s colonization of Joseon (Korea). Since Japan and Korea were superficially not distinguished as separate countries during the period of Japan’s Korean annexation, the act of forcibly arresting Korean women could not have officially taken place, rather the dealers sold women to the “comfort station” by deception.

She also says condemning Japan with requests that it take legal responsibility is not effective, considering the colonial status of Korea and the existence of the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, and criticizes the way of Jong-Dae-Hyup (정대협, the main comfort women supporting NGO in South Korea)’s movement which has insisted on the “legal” responsibility of Japan. Since Jong-Dae-Hyup’s movement has only been focused on the legal responsibility of Japan, even including some forged facts, it has increased hostility between Japan and Korea, and also caused some people in Japan to turn away. Furthermore, excluding other comfort women’s stories which do not fit into the pre-existing image of “pure innocent teen girls who were arrested by Japanese soldiers and coerced to be sex-slaves” is actually suppressing the real victims and makes the victim groups separated.

Therefore, considering the historical situation, the Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea in 1965, and the apology and compensation of Japan in the 1990s, Park gives her opinion that requesting responsibility for Japan’s colonial domination is required, rather than trying to urge Japan to accept legal liability for the War.

While she does state that Korea must face the truth correctly in order to hold Japan properly responsible for its offences, she also criticizes Japan at the same time, for the rightwing extremists in Japan excuse their responsibility by the treaty between Japan and Korea in 1965 and the compensation in 1990. While Park acknowledges the treaty in 1965, she avers that Japan took legal responsibilities only for the individuals as per the necessary process after the War, and also, she censures the compensation of 1990 for failing to be disseminated throughout Korea due to the Japanese government’s ambiguous attitude.

As a result, Park seeks Japan, before other dominant empires of the past, to profoundly apologize for their actions of colonial domination and the case for the Korean comfort women, for this would be significantly meaningful internationally, and also for the Asian integration or co-operation in the near future.

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Park’s book Comfort women of the Empire contains a significantly different narrative about comfort women compared to the previously accepted narratives, as it describes in depth of the imperialistic exploits by Japan, patriarchal system in Korea and also capitalistic exploits of the “dealers”. This explanation brought fierce anger from the comfort women supporters, since her explanation were analyzed as “virtually an exoneration to Japan” from the critics. She was sued by nine comfort women who had filed from Nanume-Jip (나눔의 집) and paid 10 million won, or $8,262, to each of nine women. She was also accused by Korean prosecutor. This trial is on progress.

On 25 November 2015, against the indictment of Park, 54 Japanese scholars and intellectuals including Kenzaburō Ōe (大江 健三郎, Nobel Laureate) Tomiichi Murayama (村山 富市, former Prime minister of Japan), Yōhei Kōno (河野 洋平, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Japan) and Chizuko Ueno (上野 千鶴子, professor, Tokyo University) addressed statements supporting Park Yu-ha, and asking for the Korean government’s withdrawal of the accusation. 190 Korean intellectuals also followed the statements.[14] On January 17 2017, Professor Noam Chomsky at MIT and Professor Bruce Cumings at University of Chicago joined in the previous statements addressed by Japanese scholars previously, with requesting immediate withdrawal of presecusion or sentence ‘Not guilty’, with supporting Park Yu-ha.

On 1 February 2016, Park made the book available online hoping to help solve the comfort women issue.

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