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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

We reject as false the choice between revisionism and nationalism - for a Global Truth and Reconciliation Network

Interesting roundtable about 'Comfort Women' yesterday at the ASAN Institute*. Q and As were not allowed, but anyway I mostly came to listen, and to see how each player perceived the situation and their own roles. I got the confirmations I expected, but was also glad to hear loud and clear all the major concerns I had regarding the way Korea and Japan are coping with the issue.

From left to right: BAEK Buhm-suk, PARK Gitae, Annabel PARK, YOON Mee-hy James ROTUNDO, Jason KIM*
So where are we standing right now?

For The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, the Japanese government has to perform 7 actions to fully restore the victim's dignity and resolve the crime:
- "acknowledge the war crime
- reveal the truth in its entirety about the crimes of military sexual slavery
- make an official apology
- make legal reparations
- punish those responsible for the war crime
- accurately record the crime in history textbooks
- erect a memorial for the victims of military sexual slavery, and establish a historical museum"

The USA stand for the US House Resolution 121 passed in 2007 with the help of Annabel PARK. Financial reparations may come later, but this is not about money, and money certainly shouldn't be a motive to delay the resolution. It states that "it is the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Japan:
(1) should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces' coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as 'comfort women', during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II;
(2) would help to resolve recurring questions about the sincerity and status of prior statements if the Prime Minister of Japan were to make such an apology as a public statement in his official capacity;
(3) should clearly and publicly refute any claims that the sexual enslavement and trafficking of the 'comfort women' for the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces never occurred; and
(4) should educate current and future generations about this horrible crime while following the recommendations of the international community with respect to the 'comfort women'."

Apparently, nothing has changed since the mass protest of last december (see "One Thousand Wednesdays"):
- the "halmoni" keep demonstrating every wednesday, and they're not getting any younger,
- the Japanese government keeps refusing to apologize and to distance itself from the country's darkest moments,
- the Korean government keeps adding "diplomatic" pressure on their Japanese counterparts... without of course restoring the Truth and Reconciliation Commission at home
- Korean ultranationalists keep undermining the cause by making a "bibim" with all issues between Korea and Japan, and by attacking everything Japanese

But the Japanese government seems to be significantly losing ground:
- Recent attempts to attack or remove 'Comfort Women' memorials have spectacularly backfired: worldwide media have slammed the radical activist who vandalized the statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, and the delegation who tried to have the Palisades Park memorial removed** only managed to raise local, national, and international awareness for the cause they wanted to cover up
- The USA are not only maintaining US House Resolution 121, but also renewing requests: last July, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that when it came to qualify those war crimes, 'Enforced Sex Slaves' was more relevant an expression than the mild 'Comfort Women' generally used
- The cause is gaining momentum everywhere, reaching for victims of similar institutionalized sexual slavery systems, even in Africa. You simply can't fight against such an universal cause: when Mayor James RETUNDO tells how he reached the conclusion that a memorial had to be erected in his borough to stand for universal values, he's never raising his voice, only following his heart and his brain. Now Palisades Park can be proud of showing the way for the rest of the world
- More than ever, voices are being heard across the globe, and more than ever from Japanese people who strongly disagree with their own government's behavior. Hundreds of Japanese women have demonstrated in protest earlier this year, and a couple of days ago Yohei Kono, the former Chief Cabinet Secretary who first issued an embryo of apology in 1993, said that persisting in denial was very counterproductive for the nation***.

To me, it's not a matter of if but of when official apologies will be issued, and the more Japan waits, the worst it will get for its image, not to mention of course for the victims. I also know for sure that change cannot come from the corrupt bureaucracy that still today controls the Japanese political system (see "Japan politics? No to Comfort women, yes to Political whoring").

If YOON Mee-hyang regrets that little can be expected from lawmakers who sometimes have familial ties with people who planned or condoned war crimes, she sees hope in Japanese NGOs that disagree with that suicidal position. Annabel PARK met many Japanese people who refuse to see their country associated with unresolved war crimes any longer, and think the time has come to set the record straight, to embrace real democracy, and to reform a political system too often tainted by corruption and incompetence, a sentiment growing considerably after Fukushima. Of course, the hate game between nationalists from both countries perpetuates the gridlock.

Again, war crimes were committed, and again, justice needs to be carried out for the victims as well as for perpetrators, but ultimately, this is between Japan and itself: the Japanese people and the Japanese government must face their country's past if they want to build a better future, and for that they must finally condemn the Imperialist regime, and everything that tried to protect and glorify it afterwards (honoring war criminals, honoring the imperial flag, promoting revisionism, denying war crimes...). Germany did just that and now, everybody makes the difference between the country and Nazism, another regime that committed atrocious crimes and cast a dark shadow over the whole nation. 

Which brings us to the Godwin point I mentioned recently****: the sometimes confusing and abusive parallels with the Holocaust. I'm glad Deputy Major Jason KIM insisted wisely on the necessary distinction between "Japan" the country and "Imperialist Japan" the criminal regime from the past. It's a necessity to depollute a nationalism-contaminated issue, and to help the Japanese people achieve the duty to remember. But in Korea, where too many wounds are still open, many people have a problem grasping this kind of distinctions.

The first time I heard about the Voluntary Agency Network of Korea (VANK), I was happy to see younger generations get involved in the fight against historical distorsions. But the first time I met their volunteers, I started worrying about how counterproductive it could become. As you well know I strongly denounce the claims on Dokdo by Japan's extreme right, but some of these youngsters were proselytizing as blindly as members of some nationalist cult. Now that I've seen and heard the founder, I understand: Mr PARK Gitae is a very energetic person motivated with the best intentions, but self-restraint and diplomacy are obviously not his forte, and he seems more interested in propaganda techniques than in moral issues. Typically, where everybody else talked about how to ensure peace in the future, Mr Park frantically insisted on copying everything that had been done to "promote" the memory of the Holocaust, mentioning Steven Spielberg's "Schindler's List" as if it were some kind of PR operation. Maybe because VANK's website is I guess the time has come to tune up wisdom in the mix for this otherwise formidable tool.

Of course, it's not about Korea vs Japan, and all other members of the roundtable were very clear about that. And the gridlock between the Korean and the Japanese governments will not last long precisely because of the constructive involvement of the international community and international media around them, and because of the grassroot, peaceful involvement of moderate people from all nations who reject as false the choice between revisionism and nationalism.

A Global Truth and Reconciliation Network?

Seoul Village 2012
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* "The 'Comfort Women' issue: what is the solution?"(2012/10/10)
An ASAN Institute Roundtable moderated by BAEK Buhm-suk, Research Fellow, The ASAN Institute, with:
PARK Gitae, Founder, VANK (Voluntary Agency Network of Korea)
Annabel PARK, Filmmaker and activist (helped pass the US House Resolution 121 in 2007)
James ROTUNDO, Mayor, and Jason KIM, Deputy Mayor, Palisades Park, NJ (erected the first memorial to the victims outside of Korea)
YOON Mee-hyang, Co-representative, The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (
NB: opening remarks by Hahm Chaibong, President, The ASAN Institute, followed by a chronology by YUN Yelim, Program Officer, The ASAN Institute.

**  "In New Jersey, Memorial for ‘Comfort Women’ Deepens Old Animosity" (NY Times - 20120519)

*** "Japan Must Stop Dodging Sex Slave Guilt, Kono Warns" (Chosun Ilbo - 20121009)

****   "Dokdo, Senkaku, Ieodo, Kuril,... Hashima?"

20121014 UPDATE: extract from Resolution 121 (HRES 121 EH)
20121015 UPDATE: a second memorial in New Jersey has been announced this week-end by Bergen County:
Change is coming!!!
PS: I had the pleasure to meet with one of the 'halmoni' yesterday. She radiated so much positive energy and hope, an inspiration for all generations.

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