There is no future for those who forget their history. This famous phrase, continuously used by Koreans, was first introduced by Dr. Shin Chae-ho, the most important independence activist in Korea during Japan’s colonization. This phrase is commonly used to emphasize that citizens of South Korea should not forget the painful history of colonization and the hard work of independence activists who were tortured, murdered, and are still missing in order to protect South Korea’s safety and security. This phrase with various meanings means a great deal to me from the perspective of a teenage girl living in a truced nation. Some days, it feels like this phrase is whispering to me, “What would your life look like if you were born during the Korean War, IMF financial crisis, or even during Japanese colonization? During colonization, unless I was the daughter of a one of the pro-Japanese faction or from a rich family, I would have had to work very hard to feed my family, suffer everyday under the tyranny of the Japanese colonization government. If I were really really unlucky, I would have been included in the many girls who were deceived, kidnapped and taken to the sites of World War II as comfort women.
Recently, the movie Unbroken, directed by Angelina Jolie, was released. Unbroken portrays the survival story of the famous Olympic athlete, Louis Zamperini, who survived 47 days shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean followed by a two year imprisonment in a Japanese concentration camp. Except for a mild description of Japan’s war crimes and brutality, Jolie’s movie left me with one question: where are the other victims of war crimes in weak countries under Japanese control during World War I and II, the Japanese Army’s so-called “comfort women,” forced sexual slaves (in Korean, they are called Wianbu, a euphemism that means prostitutes). Where are the vivid descriptions of brutal medical experiments done on living bodies? Unbroken felt more like one lucky soldier’s survival and success story than a war movie. From the viewpoint of a citizen from South Korea, a country that was colonized by Japan and plundered, Unbroken made me very upset. Then, the lucky Louis Zamperini reminded me if the 55 survivors who were once forced to serve as comfort women. Louis Zamperini accepted an apology from Japanese government. But the 55 female survivors, aged 80 to 92, who have been protested in front of the Japanese embassies of Korea and United States for a decade, have been given no apologies to accept.
Many Asian women, including prisoners from Korea, China, the Philippines, and Indonesia, were forced to serve as prostitutes or sex slaves of the Japanese military during World War II. They were even Australian women who were forced to serve, but they received an immediate apology when they publicized that they were comfort women.
During the war, many women were deceived and abducted by the Japanese military, who promised girls work and money. Many of them caught sexually transmitted diseases, were treated brutally every day, and some of them who got pregnant died during forced abortions. Still, 55 survivors, who had been comfort women protest in front of Japanese embassy every week and they haven’t received any appropriate and satisfying apologies or even been offered evidence or the opportunity for fact finding.
In our class’s lower school presentation in the MLK assembly, we told lower schoolers that being a good citizen means standing up for others in the case of injustice. In order to make a good community where everyone can enjoy life, people must act when they see injustice. Being a good citizen should not be limited to the future and present. It should be applied to the past too. If the victims cannot get proper treatment for their wounded minds, good citizens ought to stand up and support them. War crimes that happened 70 years ago are harder to sympathize with than more recent issues, but war crime victims around the world are still waiting for people’s attention. One day, they will hopefully receive the attention they deserve and they will be able to get an apology and proper compensation.
Countless number of war crimes happened during World War I and II. WAR CANNOT JUSTIFY ANY CRIME. More than 20 million girls were forced to leave their homes, living a painful and lonely existence as prostitutes until they died in a foreign country. Only 300 women came back. Now, only 55 survivors remain in Korea, and other unknown victims are still fighting a lonely battle against the injustice they experienced 60 years ago. And they deserve much greater attention.