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Comfort Woman Continues Quest For Compensation

Published: Thu 3 Nov 2005 11:31 AM
72-Yr-Old Comfort Woman Continues Quest For Compensation
by Richard S. Ehrlich
BANGKOK, Thailand -- A kamikaze suicide pilot fell in love with imprisoned "comfort woman" Lee Yong Soo, but that did nothing to stop the atrocity of her being raped by hundreds of Japanese soldiers during World War II.
Up to 200,000 females -- mostly teenagers -- were enslaved for rape by Japan's military in China, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore, according to London-based Amnesty International.
The human rights organization recently brought Ms. Lee and another so-called "comfort woman" to Bangkok, to emphasize the launch of Amnesty International's new report titled, "Still Waiting After 60 Years: Justice for Survivors of Japan's Military Sexual Slavery System".
Ms. Lee's one-and-a-half years as a sex slave is merely a haunting slice of Japan's various war crimes.
But Tokyo continues to shrug off international demands for official compensation to its rape victims.
"I was 15, in my home in southern Korea, when a Japanese man came behind me at night, put his hand over my mouth and kidnapped me," said Ms. Lee, now a 70-year-old South Korean, recalling her ordeal in an interview.
In the autumn of 1944, the innocent girl was taken to Pyongyang, now in North Korea, and put on a ship where she was tortured, threatened, and forced to submit.
"There were five of us girls, with 300 soldiers, on the ship and we were repeatedly raped on the journey which took maybe two months from North Korea to Taiwan," she said, speaking in Korean language.
"There was a 'comfort station' in Taiwan where I then received pilots who belonged to the kamikaze, a special suicide brigade."
One of Japanese kamikaze pilots, who repeatedly raped her in Taiwan, told Ms. Lee that she was his first love.
"That Japanese soldier gave me a Japanese nick-name, 'Toshiko'. And the kamikaze pilot taught me a song. He made up a song, because he was afraid he would die when he finally had to fly.
"It's in Japanese," Ms. Lee said, and then she softly sang the lilting tune which she never forgot.
"The song goes like this," she added, translating the Japanese into Korean, which was then rendered into English by a translator during the interview:
"The fighting planes are taking off / Taiwan is disappearing far below / Clouds appear / Nobody is saying goodbye to me / One person who can cry for me is Toshiko / We will fight in Okinawa / If I die, I will guide you to your mother / So please don't cry, because you will go back to your mother."
That shred of hope, amid their mutual doom and suffering, at least allowed Ms. Lee to believe she might survive.
"I think he is my savior. I still thank him," she said, clarifying that she felt no romance for him.
"He came to me many times. That soldier told me I was his first love."
Occasionally weeping while telling her tale, Ms. Lee said the kamikaze pilot "gave me all his soap, and other things for taking care of myself, because he said he was leaving tomorrow to die."
Ms. Lee never married.
"I returned home to Korea in May 1946, after more than one-and-a-half years" of sexual abuse.
Today, she continues to demand justice from Tokyo, despite Japan's official dismissal of any current legal responsibility for its military abusing "comfort women" during the war.
Ms. Lee and other victims of sexual slavery under the Japanese during World War II are demanding "a full package of reparations that requires rehabilitation, compensation for the victims, restoration of lost homes, property, and livelihood, and guarantee of non-repetition," said Dr. Purna Sen, Amnesty International's director for the Asia-Pacific Program.
"Before and during World War II, up to 200,000 women were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial army, [some] as young as 12. They were held by the army in so-called 'comfort stations' for months, and some for many years," said Dr. Sen, who accompanied Ms. Lee in Bangkok.
"Some were shackled together for long periods of time. They were forced to have sex with 40 to 50 men a day. The women and girls came from China, Taiwan, Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Holland, East Timor and Japan.
"The 'comfort stations' were set up by the army in China, Taiwan, Borneo, the Philippines, the Pacific islands, Singapore, Malaya, Burma and Indonesia," Dr. Sen said.
"For 60 years, these women have waited for justice."
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Richard S. Ehrlich, a freelance journalist who has reported news from Asia for the past 27 years, is co-author of the non-fiction book, "HELLO MY BIG BIG HONEY!" -- Love Letters to Bangkok Bar Girls and Their Revealing Interviews. His web page is http://www.geocities.com/asia_correspondent/

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