TORU HASHIMOTO, the mayor of Osaka and co-leader of the Japanese Restoration Party, has been known for his provocative statements. In May, while speaking with reporters on Japanese wartime behavior, he endorsed rape and sexual enslavement, saying, “When soldiers are risking their lives by running through storms of bullets, and you want to give these emotionally charged soldiers a rest somewhere, it’s clear that you need a comfort-women system.” These comments drew international condemnation, but they also revealed the all-too-familiar interlocking of sexism, militarism, and sexual violence. Far too often, the idea of a greater “noble cause” is used to justify the sacrifice of women to a military sexual slavery system.
During World War II, historians estimate that 100,000 to 200,000 Korean women and girls, ages 11 to 30, along with women and girls from China, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Taiwan, were kidnapped or falsely promised jobs and taken to various locations to serve as “comfort women”—the euphemism for sexual slaves. They “served” an average of 30 to 40 soldiers a day and suffered through beatings, venereal disease, forced abortions, mental anguish, and often death. At the end of the war, these women and girls were killed, forced into suicide, or abandoned. Of the few who were able to return to their homeland, many suffered social alienation, humiliation, poverty, STDs, and endless mental anguish.
The Japanese government had largely denied the existence of Japanese military sexual slavery until 20 years ago, when it offered a statement of apology. The apology was seen as empty by many people, as Japanese politicians and revisionist historians not only reneged on the apology but sought to omit the tragedy from the telling of Japanese history. In response, surviving Korean “comfort women” or halmulni (a term of endearment and respect meaning grandmother) have gathered every Wednesday since 1992 in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul as a reminder that they demand to be seen, heard, and offered a genuine apology.