A Reply To An Anonymous On Comfort Woman Issues (Revised)

An anonymous person sent me a rather lengthy message:

["After seeing you in Shusenjo, I viewed your blog and read your defense of "why comfort women aren't slaves." The crux of your argument appeared to be, "if comfort women were slaves, then drafted soldiers and nurses must also be slaves, as they also had to go to the war zone and could not leave." This is an absurd argument, because it treats sex as equivalent to these other kinds of work. This is patently ridiculous. Any sexual act performed without consent is RAPE by definition -- the fact that comfort women were sent to war zones as victims of human trafficking and were then, unable to leave, having no choice of whether to consent to sex or not makes them clearly the victims of rape and "sex slaves." You also make the argument that "even now people don't have the right to leave contracts." This is again an absurd dodge of the fact of sexual slavery. Yes, one is not allowed to break a contract, but there is a blatantly obvious difference between being brought to court for breach of contract (with the right to legal representation), and the situation of comfort women, who were living in comfort stations under military administration, literally with guns pointed at them. The fact that you don't see this blatant difference makes me think that you are arguing in bad faith. When it comes to your whiny rejection of the label "denialist," you are simply incorrect, and strawmanning the term denialist. Holocaust denialists/revisionists never claim that Auschwitz didn't exist or that the Nazis did not oppress Jews. Famous Holocaust deniers like David Irving merely deny the NATURE of the death camps, just like comfort women deniers deny the NATURE of the comfort women system. I am perplexed when you say there is a lack of objective evidence. You bring the former military medic's lack of a personal testimony as a lack of objective evidence, but if his (a Japanese man's) testimony would have been objective evidence had it existed, why are the former (Korean women) comfort women's testimonies NOT objective evidence? Does race and gender change whether a testimony is hard evidence or not? I am sorry for the sudden message, but your arguments are so easily countered that I think it is in your best interest to encounter counter-arguments, because anyone with an IQ higher than a paper-bag moron like T*** ****** will be able to answer you.]

 

And below is my reply:

 

Dear Anonymous Yale Graduate: 

Thank you for your message. 

You wrote, “After seeing you in Shusenjo, I viewed your blog and read your defense of "why comfort women aren't slaves." The crux of your argument appeared to be, "if comfort women were slaves, then drafted soldiers and nurses must also be slaves, as they also had to go to the war zone and could not leave." This is an absurd argument, because it treats sex as equivalent to these other kinds of work. This is patently ridiculous.”  

You seem to think prostitution is not equivalent to these other kinds of work, such as nurses and soldiers.  Let me quote some passages from Ikuhiko Hata’s book.  (If you do not know who Ikuhiko Hata is, please google.)

[Kiuchi Yukiko, who began working as an apprentice nurse in an army hospital in Shanxi Province at the age of eighteen, worked for three years and saved about 1,000 yen, after which she returned home and bought a small house.  Egawa Kiku, who worked at a navy hospital on Hainan Island after graduating from a nurse training school attached to a field hospital, earned ninety yen a month.  However, a comfort woman who came to Egawa for her regular medical checks earned 250 yen a month.  When Egawa became friends with the comfort woman, she brought Egawa canned goods and sweets.  Both women earned more than they would have had they been working in Japan, but the gap between their incomes is similar to the gap today between women who work in an office and at a soapland massage parlor.  Interrelations among different groups could be touchy, even when those groups were working in the same battle zone.  Egawa once expressed envy for the comfort women, telling her hospital friends. “Those women have it so good---they have such easy lives and they get to wear such beautiful kimono.”]

(Comfort Women and Sex in the Battle Zone, by Ikuhiko Hata, P.285)

Hata writes many more examples of first hand accounts of the life of the comfort women.  Although you seem to think sex workers are universally the most miserable, despised occupation, but that is not necessarily the case.   As Egawa envied the “easy life of the comfort women,” there are still women today who wonder whether or not they should use sex to earn money.

Other examples of military prostitution in Hawaii also prove my point that the views on prostitution are not universal, but rather cultural: “Some of the reasons for the brothels’ survivals are found in Hawaii’s multiracial and multicultural society.  To many of the people who made up the islands’ varied populations, prostitution was not a ‘social evil.’”  “Though the early 20th century social purity movement came to Hawaii as to every other place there were Americans, the anti-whore laws it spawned were never strictly enforced.  This is partly due to the fact that neither the natives nor the sizable Asian minority saw prostitution as a “social evil” as the puritanical whites did, and the wealthy planters at the top of white society wanted hookers available to protect their daughters from being raped or seduced by laborers or American sailors.”  https://maggiemcneill.wordpress.com/2011/07/05/honolulu-harlots/ 

http://jackiewhiting.net/HonorsUS/Labor/WWII%20Hotel%20Street.pdf

 

f:id:HKennedy:20190527121637j:plain

The U.S. solders line up for brothels on Hotel Street

You seem to be implying that serving as a comfort woman is worse or harder than serving as a soldier.  As a mother of one daughter and two boys, I’d much prefer that they, in fact, live and not die.  There is no greater pain for mothers than to lose their children.  And there is no question that a soldier was more likely to be killed in battle than a comfort woman was. 

(For some unknown reasons, you managed to write, “Holocaust denialists/revisionists never claim that Auschwitz didn't exist or that the Nazis did not oppress Jews.”  I advise you to ask any fifth graders what “never” means, before you irrevocably discredit yourself.)

Further you wrote, “You bring the former military medic's lack of a personal testimony as a lack of objective evidence, but if his testimony would have been objective evidence had it existed, why are the former comfort women's testimonies NOT objective evidence? Does race and gender change whether a testimony is hard evidence or not?”  Believe it or not, this former military medic is the one whom Reuter and BBC are treating as an eyewitness to the Japanese military’s crimes against the comfort women.  However, he admitted, to our surprise, that he actually had not seen any killings of, kidnappings of, nor violence against those women, but had been talking about what he had read in books.  I am not the one who took one Japanese man’s word as evidence.  That’s what Reuters and BBC did.  I’m simply saying he does not qualify to be an “eyewitness.”  The definition of “eyewitness” in only a google away.

But all those arguments above are not the real point. The point is that there was no particular mistreatment of Koreans and others compared to the Japanese, nor that these women were in a worse situation than prostitutes in general in other parts of the world.  Hata has shown that the majority of these women were Japanese. Some of them were sold by their parents, some of them were deceived by brokers, some clearly volunteered, but their conditions were the same. The military prostitutes were paid vastly more than ordinary ones.  Again, many were “voluntary,” exactly the same as prostitutes now. Some were deceived and trafficked, exactly the same as now. The brokers who tricked the Korean women were Korean entrepreneurs who did it for money. When some of them were caught doing that, they were prosecuted by Japanese law enforcement.  In fact, that’s exactly the document Yoshimi Yoshiaki discovered in 1992.   What he found was the documentary evidence in the Defense Agency Library of Tokyo that the Imperial Japanese Army established and ran "comfort stations".

One of these was a notice written on 4 March 1938 by the adjutants to the Chiefs of Staff of the North China Army and Central Expeditionary Army titled "Concerning the Recruitment of Women for Military Comfort Stations". The gist of the document is as below:

"Many agents should have required special attention. Some of them accentuated the name of the armies as much as they might hurt the credibility of the armies and cause misunderstanding among the public, others recruited women without control through war correspondents or entertainers, and others selected the wrong agents who took a kidnapping approach to recruit women so that the police arrested them. In the future, the armies in the field should control recruiting and select the agencies circumspectly and properly, and should build up a closer connection with the local police and the local military police in the implementation of recruiting. Take special care not to have problems which have the potential to damage the armies' credibility or are not acceptable to social standards."   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoshiaki_Yoshimi

I am not defending this kind of practice or the treatment of these women, but the fact is that it was in no sense a crime specifically committed by Japan against Korea. However, the judging of only Japan and applying a double standard only to Japan does not seem a fair argument, knowing that exactly the same system of military prostitution was used by the American, South Korea, and earlier, French, German and Chinese military. (The Soviets, by contrast, raped and often murdered more than a than a million women).  

For example, the U.S. military used prostitutes in Hawaii who were mostly recruited from brothels in San Francisco.  Those American prostitutes were called “Honolulu Harlots,” and many elders in Hawaii, including professor George Akita, still remember the American military personnel lining up in a long line to be served by them.

“The central charge of the police department was to keep the district orderly and to keep the prostitutes out of sight of the respectable part of Honolulu.  The majority of Honolulu prostitutes were white women recruited from San Francisco.  Both police and madams preferred it that way, for women from the mainland had fewer choices but to go along with the system.  Each prostitute arriving from the mainland was met at the dock by a member of the vice squad.  After she was fingerprinted, but before she received her license, she was instructed in the rules that would govern her stay on Hotel street:

“She may not visit Waikiki Beach or any other beach except Kailua Beach [across the mountains from Honolulu].
She may not patronize any bars or better class cafes.
She may not own property or an automobile.
She may not have a steady “boyfriend” or be seen on the streets with any men.
She may not marry service personnel.  
She may not attend dances or visit golf courses.
She may not ride in the front seat of a taxicab, or with a man in the back seat.
She may not wire money to the mainland without permission of the madam.
She may not telephone the mainland without permission of the madam.
She may not change from one house to another.  She may not be out of the brothel after 10:30 at night.”

“To break these rules was to risk a beating at the hands of the police and the possible removal from the islands.  Before the war, few women served in the houses for more than six months before they returned to the West Coast.  The Honolulu service, while lucrative, was not paradise.  A few months was often all a woman could take.” 

“Most brothels required girls to see at least 100 men a day and to work at least 20 days per month…” 

“The going rate per visit was $2.00 (a full day’s wages) for locals and $3.00 for servicemen; most businesses had two separate doors and waiting areas because, due to pervasive racist attitudes of the time, white sailors did not like to think they were being served by the same girls who attended to the Asian locals.” 

“The military was pleased with the system, for regulated prostitution kept venereal disease rate relatively low in Hawaii.  During World War II, this consideration became especially important.  Like any other illnesses, venereal disease hurt the war effort by cutting into military manpower.”

“And many of the islands’ white elites, the respectable people who would have provided the necessary pressure to have the brothels closed down, approved of a regulated system of prostitution.  The brothels, many believed, kept predominately lower-class soldiers and sailors and especially overwhelmingly male and dark-skinned plantation workers (who lived in communities with few women) away from the islands’ respectable women, who were, by their definition, white.  The head of Honolulu police commission (which was comprised solely of leading the white businessman) said it directly: too many men in and around Honolulu were ‘just like animals.’”

“Though the early 20th century social purity movement came to Hawaii as to every other place there were Americans, the anti-whore laws it spawned were never strictly enforced.  This is partly due to the fact that neither the natives nor the sizable Asian minority saw prostitution as a “social evil” as the puritanical whites did, and the wealthy planters at the top of white society wanted hookers available to protect their daughters from being raped or seduced by laborers or American sailors.” 

“For most of the war, Hawaii was under martial law, ruled by a military governor.”

“Prostitution was illegal in Hawaii.  Nonetheless, it existed as a highly and openly regulated system, involving the police department, government officials, and the military.” 

 “The majority of official Honolulu prostitutes were white women recruited through San Francisco.  Both police and madam preferred it that way for women from mainland had fewer choices but to go along with the system.” 

Now, isn’t this what you would call a forced sexual slavery by a government/military?

Now, please note that Hawaii was granted its statehood only in 1959, until then it was a U.S. territory, just as Korea was a part of Japan after its annexation.  The only difference is that Korea became independent in 1948, while Hawaii became the 50th State in the United States.  One must be a hypocrite if he refuses to see substantial similarity between Japan’s practice of comfort stations and the brothels in Honolulu street.

Now, going back to the comfort women issues, you wrote ‘Any sexual act performed without consent is RAPE by definition -- the fact that comfort women were sent to war zones as victims of human trafficking and were then, unable to leave, having no choice of whether to consent to sex or not makes them clearly the victims of rape and "sex slaves."’  

Your only argument left sounds like “those Korean comfort women were the victims of human trafficking.”  However, the lack of evidence of the Japanese military forcefully kidnapping those women is what even the New York Times admits, no matter what you heard from the documentary.  

https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/03/world/asia/japanese-right-attacks-newspaper-on-the-left-emboldening-war-revisionists.html

Moreover, today’s moral judgement aside, the sad practice of parents selling their daughters into brothels was common among the poor and was legal at the time.  Today’s Japanese government cannot be legally responsible for what the poor families did to their daughters roughly seventy or eighty years ago.  When it comes to brokers deceiving women into prostitution, it is still happening in Japan, South Korea, and even in the U.S., despite the efforts by the government to prosecute those criminals.  Again, this is not something for which we can demand a government to apologize.  For example, if some young women from Guatemala were smuggled and forced to work as prostitutes in Los Angeles by human traffickers and brokers, the best the local U.S. government can do is to arrest and prosecute the criminals, rescue the women, and close down the brothels, but not to apologize to Guatemala nor compensate for those women.  What today’s United States government does is what the war-time Japanese government did: try to prevent the human trafficking and enforce laws.  

Let me also add an important fact, since you sounded to not be aware of this: just as is done in private brothels, every comfort woman was asked to sign a statement that she was acting voluntarily and without compulsion. Many of these women had been recruited from civilian brothels, just has Honolulu prostitutes were recruited from brothels in San Francisco.  The point about slavery is that there were among these women many who had been prostitutes before and others who were promised other jobs (often as a waitress, sometimes as a coffee plantation worker).  Therefore, the natural question is: were all of them sex slaves?  Or only the ones who were deceived? If all of them were slaves, then they must have been slaves when they were not working for the military.  Does it mean that all prostitutes are slaves?  

My long quotes from “Prostitutes on Strike: The Women on Hotel Street During World War II” and “The Honest Courtesan” are to point out that the living conditions of the comfort women and other prostitutes were quite similar. Discussing this issue of military and sex as something that only the Japanese did to Koreans is based either on completely ignoring the evidence or on deliberate distortion.  Discussing it in separation from the practices in other countries and other wars is simply anti-Japanese propaganda which is based on fanatical biases.

I have my own views on this subject, based on the evidence. I can change my mind only when I see evidence.  No amount of accusation will change my mind. I do not care what Japanese nationalists, Korean nationalists, leftist or rightist think, only what makes sense to me. And also, I don’t care if I convince you or others – I am only interested in understanding things and not in propagandizing anyone.  I have had enough of propaganda from both sides.  It only stupefies people and stops them from thinking for themselves or looking impartially at the evidence.  And lastly, I could add that I appreciate your “civil manner” in discussing the issues, although you accused me of being a racist and a sexist if I don’t take Korean women’s words as evidence.  I, as an Asian woman, have never thought I’d be called a racist and a sexist by a white male, such as yourself.  With your own logic, you are a racist and a sexist if you question me ever again.  😉

Thank you.