Editorial Conference Part II – How to connect with the public over the issue of the 'comfort women'

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  • Created at2019.03.10
  • Updated at2021.11.26
Kwon Myung-ah (Professor, Department of Korean Language and Literature, Dong-A University) / Kim Heonju (Research Professor, the Korea University Center for Korean History) / So Hyun-suk(Research Team Leader, Research Institue on Japanese Military Sexual Slavery (RIJMSS) ) / Yeo Sun-ju ((Former) Researcher at the Korea Chongshindae’s Institute) / Yoon Myung-sook (Research Team Leader, Japan Military 'Comfort Women’ Research Institute) / Lee Seon-i (Research Professor, KyungHee University Institute of Humanities) / Lim Kyung-wha (Research Professor, Institute for Historical Studies at Chung-Ang University) / Jo Gyeonghee (HK Professor, Institute for East Asian Studies at Sungkonghoe University) / Jeong Yongsuk (Research Professor, Center for German and European Studies) / Heo Yun (Professor, BUFS College of Mano General Education)


How to connect with the public over the issue of the 'comfort women'

So Hyun-suk 

As you have discussed, a wide variety of issues have been raised, including the relationship between the testimony researchers and the victims, the reproduction of the comfort women in the mass media, the tension between nationalism and feminism, and the issue raised over voluntariness and mobilization. These are all highly controversial topics, and I think we will be covering these topics in the webzine. As the webzine <kyeol> we want to create is the one created by RIJMSS, it seems that it should differ from webzines created by other 'comfort women' support groups. First of all, it is necessary to actively reflect the contents of the research, but since it is a work that must connect with the public anyhow, it is also necessary to examine what roles should be played and against whom.

Jeong Yongsuk

Since the issue of 'comfort women' has been frequently dealt with in the media, most people believe that they are knowledgeable about the issue of the 'comfort women', but in many cases, their knowledge remains superficial. Even among the general public, the depth of understanding of the issue of the 'comfort women' varies greatly. What kind of people make up the 'public' that the webzine <kyeol> specifically targets?

So Hyun-suk

When I first designed the webzine project at the research institute, I hoped that the webzine would be able to provide good information and things to ponder upon to those who care about and seek to obtain an in-depth understanding of the issue of the 'comfort women'. In addition, I thought it would be important for the researchers to provide contents that will allow the readers to identify new research trends and obtain new information through this webzine.

Kim Heonju

Even if we begin to write for the general public, I think that in the end, the webzine <kyeol> will be visited by the related majors or the public who take an interest in intellectual issues. For these people, what the webzine <kyeol> will be able to provide is greater reference. When pseudohistory, for example, gained popularity, it was the references compiled in Wikipedia that played a major role in settling the controversies. On Wikipedia, someone has summarized articles written by experts who are critical of pseudohistory. For those who seek a greater understanding, I think the articles in the webzine will be an important reference that supports the issue of the 'comfort women'.

Yoon Myung-sook

To assume and largely divide the readers of the webzine into two, one will be the researchers or the general public with a particular interest or a high intellectual level, while the students will also form a substantial percentage of the visitors. The former would have obtained most of the information from published books so far. However, from my teaching experience at university, students seemed to acquire information from the Internet, such as blogs, websites, and Wikipedia, rather than books. Therefore, it would be reasonable to regard one of the main targets that the webzine <kyeol> should take care of should be the students. However, it would be ideal for the writing style to be presented in such a way that it would be easily accessible to even middle school students. Although I am a researcher myself, most of the writings of the researchers tend to be formal and difficult to understand. Under the premise that the webzine targets the general public who takes great interest in the issue of the ‘comfort women’ but lacks the required knowledge, it would be desirable to adopt plain terms that those around the age of middle school students would understand. Certainly, it will be unnecessary to write academic works in relation to the research papers or discussions and debates in plain terms, but I believe that it should be, in general, easy to understand for anyone.

Kwon Myung-ah

Many studies have already been conducted on the issue of the ‘comfort women’ in the Japanese military. Since the 1990s, there have been studies dealing with this matter as a universal human rights issue beyond nationalism. However, many people still criticize the lack of studies related to the 'comfort women' or that they are too nationalistic. Such reactions could be partly because not all the studies have been satisfactory, but I suspect there may be another channel that raises such arguments. For example, the issue of the 'comfort women' has been used to feed hate speeches in Japan for an awfully long period of time. There is a separate narrative about the issue of the 'comfort women' processed for hate speeches. Recently, in Japan, a book of hate speech has been published to talk about the two themes of the 'comfort women' and the trials on forced mobilization. They all contain similar content, but they are constantly being updated through new versions. Books, the so-called anti-Korean publications continue to be released in popular versions. On the other hand, in Korea, accurate information is currently lacking on the 'comfort women' that can counter such arguments. Because most of these stories are told primarily on the Internet, rather than in books, people tend to find information on the Internet about 'comfort women' that can counter the Japanese hate speech. However, such information is often inaccurate because it is usually published through an unprofessional channel. Thus, there is a pressing need for media to point out how the discussions on the issue of 'comfort women' have been made, how researches have been conducted in Korea, and what is acutely wrong with the hate speech of the Japanese right-wing.

The counter-narrative should be much more professional and able to address the blind spots of the existing narrative. As of this year, a hate speech book published in Japan argues that ‘Korea is a heaven for prostitution.’ It wrote, “Does Korea have the right to raise the issue of mobilizing the 'comfort women'?” Not only that it continues, “Korean nationalist education is racism that reinforces homo-ethnicity nationalism. Even the UN has also advised on abolishing Korean nationalist education,” “Japan is not the problem, Korea is the problem.” it added. In fact, researchers (in Japan) have also stated that the mobilization of the 'comfort women' is (a universal issue) combining sex management and wartime sexual violence by the state. It was not only the Second World War, but Korea also followed that step in the Vietnam War. We need to create our own narrative against this crafty narrative, but no one is attempting to do so in Korea.

Jo Gyeonghee  

I keep talking about Japan because I believe that the webzine <kyeol> will eventually be distributed in multiple languages in the future. The post-Cold War era in the 1990s became the 'era of testimony', especially in East Asia, largely due to the ‘comfort woman’ victims who came forward with their testimonies. This has been reflected in the academic tendencies and the overall discussions dealing with the issues of 'experience’, ‘memory' or 'minority', although any hostility or hatred towards these is found in any advanced countries. In Japan, the young public, in particular, tends to view the liberal camp who talks about ‘good deeds’ as the Establishment, and thus they are more easily drawn to historical revisionist arguments. As Professor Kwon Myung-ah pointed out, the hate forces are becoming more and more crafty. They insult the 'comfort woman’ victims, detest Koreans in Japan, and discriminate against LGBT (sexual minorities). Not many people have put it into practice yet, but the arguments have a lasting public influence. Certainly, these people are not the main targets of the webzine <kyeol>, but I think we require appropriate ingenuity for the so-called times of post-truth or anti-intellectualism. This is because the issue of the 'comfort women' is already at the heart of the discourse struggle.

Yoon Myung-sook

Discussions have taken place about the concrete perspectives and discourse compositions, and I would like to add how it would be better to deal with the historical facts in harmony. First, historical facts, that is, facts, are important, and perspectives are also important. What matters is that it is necessary for the webzine to show that these perspectives will be extended through facts. In particular, as the movements focus on the desperate goal of the resolution, they tend to be much more biased towards nationalism. To speak on behalf of the experience of schoolteachers, as they give classes with the previous textbooks for school education, many curricula easily ended up simply blaming the ‘Japanese as evil bastards’. In the future, the webzine will need to provide accurate contents to gradually overcome this trend. In that sense, as editors with various subjects and majors have gathered together, the webzine may be able to present different perspectives on the issue of the 'comfort women' with the respective issue awareness. It should not be about whether it is a fact or a point of view, but to employ a way that extends those different perspectives through the facts.

(From left) Heo Yun, Lee Seon-i, and Jeong Yongsuk


Contents you want the webzine <kyeol> to cover

Lee Seon-i

On December 28, 2015, the governments of both Korea and Japan agreed to resolve the issue of the 'comfort women' in the Japanese military. The Korean government declared it was an “irreversible and final solution”. The declaration itself was a tremendous shock. I believe the issue of the 'comfort women' may not be solved forever as the victims clearly exist. I do not believe this is an issue that will be resolved simply by the Japanese government's apology and compensation. Since this remains an issue that has to be criticized constantly in the process and it casts various implications for Korean society, we need to continuously encourage contemplation on this matter. I hope that the webzine <kyeol> will effectively portray these concerns.

Kim Heonju

It is also necessary to cover the parts that the media has been unable to project. There are quite a few people who are completely unaware of the basic issues that are commonly known among researchers such as the issue with national funds and the Kono Statement. While working on the 'Comfort Women' project, I picked and organized articles from the Korean and Japanese media, and during this process I realized something. Korean media from the Hankyoreh to the Chosunilbo all report only the arguments of the right-wing in Japan. They offer a great topic for the media to consume. Only right-wing arguments inside Japan are reported, and various arguments raised by the liberal and progressive camps are not conveyed through the media. I have compiled parliamentary stenographic records as well, and the centrist and leftist parties in Japan have voiced the criticism of Abe Shinzo. Such voices have not been introduced at all in Korea. Since the public builds the image of the Japanese dealing with the ‘comfort women’ through the articles provided by the media, the webzine <kyeol> needs to demonstrate that there are diverse voices, too, in Japan.

Kwon Myung-ah

Therefore, we need to provide contents that can introduce the groups and organizations supporting the “comfort women” of the Japanese military overseas, including Japan. Many progressive organizations and scholars in Japan are also highly interested in the issue of the 'comfort women', and a considerable number of researches have also been carried out. Such facts have not yet been well introduced in Korea, and thus the views of the Japanese people towards the issue of the ‘comfort women’ available in Korea are bundled up into one category.

Yeo Sun-ju

There exist many related organizations in Korea. Perhaps because the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan is at the center stage in terms of the activities related to 'comfort women', the media coverage focuses on the Council and the activities of organizations in other regions are rarely reported. I hope that the webzine will be able to introduce and forge links with various domestic organizations. Also, although this may appear to be a slightly different story, a lawsuit was filed by the forced recruitment of women in Gwangju 4 years ago, and an appeal decision was delivered last year. It is not directly related to the issue of the 'comfort women', but since it is related to forced labor during the Japanese colonial period, it would be ideal to introduce this issue on the webzine . At the time, the newspaper covered only one page of the news and no additional reports have been made since. If the webzine covers such news as well, it will have the power to help many people.

Yoon Myung-sook

Among the remarks made by Professor Yeo Sun-ju, the forced recruitment of women is not unrelated to the 'comfort women'. In short, even in the early 1990s, the 'comfort women' were referred to as the forced recruitment of women in Korea. In addition, in Joseon during the colonial period, it became a means of recruitment fraud for mobilizing the 'comfort women’, as business operators defrauded the young women in rural areas in insisting that they should join their factories if they wanted to avoid being conscripted into the forced recruitment of women. The research institute should not only collect the data directly related to the issue of the 'comfort women’ but all the data required to study the 'issue of the comfort stations/comfort women'. The recruitment fraud used for mobilizing the ‘comfort women’, for example, required the status of the female workers in Joseon during the colonial era, so it would be ideal to introduce the data related to the female workers or research achievements through the webzine to the researchers at home and abroad and the general public.

Jeong Yongsuk 

When the issue of the 'comfort women' is suddenly called upon for something like a pending diplomatic issue, then the non-professional researchers are not aware of the process and context underlying the incident that has popped up. Even if they have heard of it before, then the issue is likely to have escaped their memory unless they continue to pay attention. Therefore, they only grasp the situation superficially, repeat the same story, and end up consuming the one-off issue. Therefore, the webzine should play the role of pointing out that if the webzine is published on a regular basis, it would be better to deal with the issues proactively. For example, if the webzine is released in August, it should deal with things that have happened in that month or the things to be remembered in that month. It would be appropriate to pay attention to topical aspects as well.

Heo Yun  

A friend of mine who has become an avid BTS fan and started to engage in the ARMY (BTS Fan Club) activities, spent many nights fighting against the anti-Korean collaborators in Japan and the United States, at the time of the atomic bomb t-shirt incident of BTS. My friend said framing BTS as a fascist group was in the context of intentional accusations designed by the anti-Korean collaborators. In order to find data to counter this argument, my friend searched for data from the Anglo-American region, but data on the 'comfort women' in the Japanese military or the relationship between the atomic bomb and the Korean people could not be found. In the end, the ARMY chose to make donations to the Korea Atomic Bomb Victim Association and the 'comfort woman’ victims. Seeing this incident as an opportunity, they (fandom) began to deal with such issues by paying attention to historical issues and making the efforts to address them. They are attempting to study the memories recorded in history regarding the imperialism and colonial rule of Japan in an active manner. Similarly, the webzine may also need to combat varying popular issues. If the subject is too difficult and the threshold is too high, then there may be no need to employ the form of a ‘webzine’. Also, I believe it is necessary to enrich the typical narrative that Korean society takes for granted as common sense. What makes the issue of the 'comfort women' in the Japanese military rather difficult to access seems to be the attitude of believing that 'I am already well aware of the issue of the Japanese military 'comfort women’’. It is necessary to create contents that will enrich discussions while at the same time breaking such stereotypes.

So Hyun-suk

What I realized while teaching at the university, is that the students already believe that they are well aware of the issue even though they have limited knowledge and that it is a very easy issue that will end once Japan apologizes. Then, they appear quite surprised to learn that this issue is not an easy one to address and there are many dilemmas to overcome, through lectures. I believe that such issues are indeed important. The function of criticizing the Japanese government and building reasonable arguments against the hate speech should be carried out by the webzine, but at the same time, it would be ideal to include contents that will allow the readers to consider the issues as their own, such as why the Japanese military had to turn women into sexual tools, why the historical experience continued after liberation in the history from the comfort stations for the Korean military to the US military camptown, why the victims had to remain silent after the war, and how to assume historical responsibility for this issue ourselves as well as Japan.

Jo Gyeonghee

Since last year, I have taught seminars classes for freshmen and took on the subject of 'Human Rights and Peace'. In particular, because of the Me Too movement last year, female students appeared to have a strong tendency to understand the issue of the 'comfort women' in connection with gender violence. On the other hand, they took less interest in colonialism or the issue of Koreans in Japan, and as all of you have stated, the issue of past wrongdoings was basically focused on 'eliciting Japan’s apology'. On the contrary, there is no issue that spans as many different issues as the issue of the 'comfort women'. We could write featured articles for areas including class, violence against women, the mobilization system, the US military government in Korea, anti-communism, democracy, and the post-Cold War. However, no matter where we place our focus, it is bound to be part of the issue of the 'comfort women'. In that way, I still feel that the victims' testimony should be the starting point that tells the whole story. Even if the webzine cannot directly cover the testimony, it will serve as a truthful guide that bridges the gap between the public and the testimony.

(From left) Yeo Sun-ju and Yoon Myung-sook




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    웹진 <결> 편집팀 2019.03.11

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