Los Angeles—Bok-dong Kim, an 87-year-old Korean “comfort woman,” came here as part of her U.S. speaking tour on the fifth anniversary of House Resolution 121, which acknowledged Japan’s war crimes against the comfort women. She met with Congressional representatives in Washington, D.C., spoke to 300 students at California State University Los Angeles, and addressed an audience of over 100 at the Glendale Public Library on July 30.
The insulting term “comfort women” came from the Japanese Imperial Army’s “comfort stations” during World War II. Up to 200,000 mostly Korean but also Chinese, Filipina, Taiwanese, Indonesian and Malaysian women were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery, some for years, forced to give sexual service to 20 to 30 soldiers a day. The horror lasted from 1932 to Aug. 16, 1945, when Japan surrendered. But, Bok-dong Kim said, “Korea was liberated but we were not!!”
Bok-dong Kim stated that comfort stations were formed near where the Japanese Army was engaged in battles: in the Philippines, Manchuria, Burma, China, Borneo, Java, Taiwan, etc. She was sent to a comfort station in Guangdong in 1941 at age 15. After Japan surrendered, many comfort women were abandoned, some were killed in bombings and many others were killed and buried in attempts to cover up the atrocities.
The pain and torture of the rapes made it difficult for the women to talk about their past. Many could not have children. Kim was not welcome by relatives so she lived by herself in shelters. Most victims lived an isolated life. During the Korean dictatorship that only ended in 1980, people could not talk of human rights.
As another of the late so-called “comfort women,” Duk-Kyung Kang (1921-2004), stated: “The war was over/ My youth and my whole life was filled with only pain/ Unable to reveal this horrendous story/ I wept alone.”
In 1989, the late Ms. Hak-Soon Kim testified of her experience as a “comfort woman.” This led to weekly protests at the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, South Korea, in 1992. Solidarity movements developed from Asia to North America, from Europe to even Japan.
The Japanese government refuses to apologize or pay reparations even though Japanese soldiers, too, testified against their government at the War Crimes Tribunal. The government claims it was done by contractors or they lie, saying that the women were not forced into sexual slavery but were “paid to come and take care of the troops.”
Today, only 60 of these women survive in Korea. One said that the Japanese government wants all of us to die so they won’t have to pay for their war crimes. She said, “We will not die.” Bok-dong Kim said, “I would use the money to help victims of other countries. Other women of the world are going through the same thing.”