[KS] KSR 2002-08: _Legacies of the Comfort Women of World War II_, ed. by Margaret Stetz and Bonnie B. C. Oh

Stephen Epstein Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
Wed Jul 3 04:40:53 EDT 2002

_Legacies of the Comfort Women of World War II_, ed. by Margaret Stetz and
Bonnie B. C. Oh. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, Inc.  2001.  230 pages.  ISBN:

Reviewed by Thomas Clark Tufts
University of Leeds

	_Legacies of the Comfort Women of World War II_, a book of essays,
was inspired by an international conference on "Comfort Women" held at
Georgetown University in Washington, D. C. in 1996.  The collection is a
must read for scholars, activists, and Asianists interested not only in
historical detail, but also in understanding the persisting, unresolved
issues of World War II that cloud Japan's relations with its Asian
neighbors and many of its former Allied enemies.  The essence of the book
is conveyed in the title, which emphasizes the 'legacies' of the comfort
women, rather than their 'stories', some of which can be found in the
existing literature by many of the authors of individual chapters.  The
book reflects the activist tone of the conference and the positive results
that such activism has played in the international arena in the past decade.

	Since the end of World War II and the subsequent War Crimes Trials
of the late 1940s, many of the war crimes of the Imperial Japanese army
have been suppressed, for personal as well as political reasons, by both
victims and victimizers. The essays in this book both explain and help the
reader understand the reasons for such suppression.  Each essay, from a
differing perspective, presents an argument for the need for justice for
the comfort women.  Collectively, the essays compel the conclusion that
restitution, in the form of monetary reparations, formal state apology, and
official recognition by Japan of its responsibility for the systematic
exploitation of women as sex slaves, is thoroughly justified and long

	The essays examine the institution of prostitution and attitudes
toward sex generally prevalent in Japan and Asia but also provide evidence
that such institutions and attitudes have not been exclusively Asian.
However, Japanese apologists, and those Japanese in complete denial that
these institutions constitute'war crimes' claim, and thus excuse, them as
part of the culture of the East.  The honest scholarship of the authors and
their even-handed presentation of the facts, perhaps ironically, exposes
the basis for such misguided interpretations; more importantly, though, the
collective work of the book clearly articulates and condemns the Japanese
government's outrageous denial of responsibility and its obstinate refusal
to tackle the issue forthrightly.

	The book is divided into three sections: "Historical and Cultural
Contexts,""Academic and Activist Responses," and "Artistic Responses."  In
"The Japanese Imperial System and the Korean'Comfort Women' of World War
II", Bonnie B. C. Oh, describes the historical basis of the Imperial system
and develops the issue of the Korean comfort women to its present-day
status.  " 'Comfort Women' and the Cultural Tradition of Prostitution in
Japanese Erotic Art," by Linda Gertner Zatlin is a fascinating essay about
the history of the art and culture of the "floating world" (Ukiyo-e).
According to Zatlin, "the formalized system of prostitution, as much as the
erotic visual art to which it gave birth, can be viewed as significant
elements of the Japanese cultural preparation for its exportation of the
brothel system and the conscription of 'comfort women' " (36). " 'Comfort
Women' in the Dutch East Indies" by Yuki Tanaka describes sexual violence
against women in what is now Indonesia.  Importantly, Tanaka examines the
exploitation of the existing prostitutes by Japanese troops, a fact that
has helped to reinforce ultra-right-wing Japanese denials of 'war crimes',
while revealing the Dutch military authorities' indifference to Indonesian
"comfort women" during the post-war investigations into war crimes.
Chunghee Sarah Soh's "Prostitutes Versus Sex Slaves: The Politics of
Representing the 'Comfort Women'," illuminates the tensions resulting from
contrasting perspectives--humanitarians versus nationalists who are
committed to the notion that the women were just 'prostitutes'.  She
concludes that "[t]he resolution of the redress movement appears to hinge
much on the definition of 'comfort women' as either prostitutes or sex
slaves, because of the importance of its symbolism for Japan's national
identity and for the social meaning of the sufferings endured by the
survivors." (84)

	Margaret Stetz's "Wartime Sexual Violence Against Women: A Feminist
Response," is the first essay in the section on academic and activist
responses. The author argues strongly for the use of the term "legacy" in
the title of this volume in noting, for example, that "[m]ost recently,
feminist pressure world wide has resulted in a changed legal concept of
rape as a war crime - a development that, for the first time ever, holds
out hope for the prosecution and punishment by international tribunals of
those who commit sexual violence, or order it to occur" (92).  Stetz
credits feminists in particular with placing the comfort women issue on the
global stage: "Through feminist efforts, the stories of women raped during
war are being broadcast globally, and are becoming the stuff of
international legal action and of historical narratives, forcing the
rewriting of war to highlight crimes based on gender." (95)

	In "' Such an Unthinkable Thing': Asian American Transnational
Feminism and the 'Comfort Women' of World War II Conference," Pamela Thoma
both describes the conference structure and focuses on its role in ensuring
"that those attending...would have a certain amount of shared information
and be familiar with the discourse of Asian American transnational feminist
coalition politics." (120) Thoma has an occasional tendency to lapse into
jargon, which can make her piece difficult reading at times.  Specialized
terminology used in the essay, however, is defined in the extensive

	 "Urgent Matters: Redress for the Surviving 'Comfort Women'" by
Dongwoo Lee Hahm, draws attention to the rapidly decreasing number of
living comfort women, and therefore the urgency for action.  Grant K.
Goodman, who served with the Allied Translation and Interpreter Section
(ATIS) at MacArthur's headquarters in the Philippines contributes "My Own
Gaiatsu: A Document from 1945 Provides Proof." In this piece he describes
how publicity about Chuo University's Professor Yoshimi Yoshiaki's finding
of documents in the Defense Agency archives that demonstrated the Japanese
military's direct involvement in the organization and utilization of
brothels led him to recall his own translation work on captured documents
in 1945.  Professor Goodman discovered he still had a copy of his own
Research Report No. 120, and turned it over to Miura Junji of Kyodo News
Agency's Washington bureau, who used the report as the basis of many
articles in the Japanese press in the early 1990s.  The final piece, John
Y. Lee's "Placing Japanese War Criminals on the U.S. Justice Department's
'Watch List' of 3 December 1996: the Legal and Political Background"
focuses on "[t]he various legal determinations arising from the
'International Commission of Jurists Mission Report on 'Comfort Women' and
the 'UN Special Rapporteur's Report on Violence against Women' " (166).
Lee shows how these determinations have provided the Justice Department
with solid legal support for the Watch List," which specifically excludes
"those Japanese who aided in the operation and sexual slavery system from
entering the United States."

	Chapters 10 thru 14, which treat "artistic responses," offer an
interesting culmination to the book and further explain the choice of the
term "legacy" in the volume's title.  Dai Sil Kim-Gibson's account of her
making of a documentary film about the Korean comfort women, which was
shown on PBS, and Christine Choy's account of filming "In the Name of the
Emperor" each reveal much about the present conditions of the Korean
comfort women, as well as national attitudes about resurrecting the past.
Choy, for example, was denied access to film in Nanjing by the government
of the PRC, and was prohibited from doing research or interviewing Chinese
citizens who were actual witnesses to, or were victims of, the Nanjing
incident in 1937.  The government feared instigating "bad relations" with
Japan at a time when they were encouraging Japanese business investment.
As a result, Choy interviewed former Japanese soldiers, now old men living
in Japan, who had participated in the "Rape of Nanking" and other
atrocities in China.

	The editors introduce the Japanese artist Tomiyama Taeko, a 'living
treasure of Japan' and describe a collection of her works entitled "A
Memory of the Sea," that uses three illustrations to connect the 'legacy'
theme of the book to her work.  Jill Medvedow describes an abstract exhibit
of Mona Higuchi's dedicated to the comfort women and displayed at the
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston in which a bamboo frame with
glittering golden squares was suspended in cages.  Finally, "To Give a
Voice" is Therese Park's description of the events and research that
inspired her to write A Gift from the Emperor (Spinsters' Ink, 1997), a
novel about a fictional Korean girl's travails as a war time sex slave.

	The legacy of the comfort women of World War II is currently much
in evidence as international legal action against gender-based war crimes
in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda proceeds.  Their struggle for justice,
as delineated in this volume, encourages hope of a better outlook for women
in the historical narratives of future wars yet to be written.

Tufts, Thomas Clark 2002
Review of _Legacies of the Comfort Women of World War II_, ed. by Margaret
Stetz and Bonnie B. C. Oh (2001)
Korean Studies Review_ 2002, no. 8
Electronic file: http://www.koreaweb.ws/ks/ksr/ksr02-08.htm

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