« 48 movements for fitness and health | Main | Physics happens after the classroom »

Write what you think

SEOUL, South Korea -- WHEN she published her book about Korean "comfort women" in 2013, Park Yu-ha wrote that she felt "a bit fearful" of how it might be received.

After all, she said, it challenged "the common knowledge" about the wartime sex slaves.

But even she was not prepared for the severity of the backlash.

In February, a South Korean court ordered Ms. Park's book, "Comfort Women of the Empire," redacted in 34 sections where it found her guilty of defaming former comfort women with false facts. Ms. Park is also on trial on the criminal charge of defaming the aging women, widely accepted here as an inviolable symbol of Korea's suffering under colonial rule by Japan and its need for historical justice, and she is being sued for defamation by some of the women themselves.

Op-Ed Contributor: South Korea's Textbook Whitewash:
The women have called for Ms. Park's expulsion from Sejong University in Seoul, where she is a professor of Japanese literature. Other researchers say she is an apologist for Japan's war crimes. On social media, she has been vilified as a "pro-Japanese traitor."

Japan's Apologies for World War II:
"They do not want you to see other aspects of the comfort women," the soft-spoken Ms. Park said during a recent interview at a quiet street-corner cafe run by one of her supporters. "If you do, they think you are diluting the issue, giving Japan indulgence."

In her book, she emphasized that it was profiteering Korean collaborators, as well as private Japanese recruiters, who forced or lured women into the "comfort stations," where life included both rape and prostitution. There is no evidence, she wrote, that the Japanese government was officially involved in, and therefore legally responsible for, coercing Korean women.


Continue reading the main story

Although often brutalized in a "slavelike condition" in their brothels, Ms. Park added, the women from the Japanese colonies of Korea and Taiwan were also treated as citizens of the empire and were expected to consider their service patriotic. They forged a "comradelike relationship" with the Japanese soldiers and sometimes fell in love with them, she wrote. She cited cases where Japanese soldiers took loving care of sick women and even returned those who did not want to become prostitutes.

The book sold only a few thousand copies. But it set off an outsize controversy.

"Her case shows how difficult it has become in South Korea to challenge the conventional wisdom about comfort women," said Kim Gyu-hang, a social critic.

The Saturday Profile
A weekly profile of the individuals who are shaping the world around them.
An Enduring and Erudite Court Jester in Britain
Comic's Task: Get Young Germans to Log Off, Tune In and Laugh Out Loud
Finding a Path Back to Iraq, and Toward Securing Women's Freedom
WWII Hero Credits Luck and Chance in Foiling Hitler's Nuclear Ambitions
Day at Office for Afghan Drug Prosecutor: Paperwork, and Death Threats
See More ยป

Ms. Park's book, published in Japan last year, won awards there. Last month, 54 intellectuals from Japan and the United States issued a statement criticizing South Korean prosecutors for "suppressing the freedom of scholarship and press." Among them was a former chief cabinet secretary in Japan, Yohei Kono, who issued a landmark apology in 1993 admitting coercion in the recruitment of comfort women.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Post a comment

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)