The Foreign Ministries of the Republic of Korea and Japan recently announced that a deal has been reached to “finally and irreversibly” resolve the historically sensitive issue of “comfort women” – the euphemism used to refer to the innocent girls who were abducted and forced into sexual servitude by Japanese Imperial Forces during World War II.
U.S. Secretary of State John KerryJohn Kerry Overnight Energy & Environment — Presented by Climate Power — Interior returns BLM HQ to Washington Biden confirms 30 percent global methane reduction goal, urges 'highest possible ambitions' 9/11 and US-China policy: The geopolitics of distraction MORE heralded the “resolution of the comfort women issue” and applauded Japanese Prime Minister Abe for having the “courage” to reach this agreement, although no survivors, now affectionately known as “grandmothers,” were consulted before, during or after the announcement of the agreement or the posting of Kerry’s press statement. Until they are, it is my sincere hope that those speaking on behalf of the United States will choose their words more responsibly when referring to human suffering because, in this case, proclaiming that the issue is “resolved” or that it takes “courage” to apologize for wrongdoing is an affront to all “grandmothers” past and present.
While I understand the necessity for trilateral economic ties and security cooperation, the word “courage” is only rightly applied to the victims who were brutalized by Japanese Imperial Forces – not to the perpetrators and perpetuators of the crime. On many occasions, I have met with “comfort women” survivors – my “grandmothers” – at the House of Sharing in Gyeonngi Province in South Korea. In my official capacity as chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment, I also held a hearing in 2007 in which three “grandmothers” – two Korean and one Dutch – courageously spoke for many, recollecting the humiliation and torture they endured. To this day and always, there testimony stands as a matter of record, immovable and unalterable, and I would encourage any and all to read it.
President Park Geun-hye, who was then a National Assembly Member, attended that historic hearing – the first and only hearing of its kind held in the U.S. Congress. Her commitment to this issue is and always has been genuine and profound, and I urge the United States to learn from her example by being kinder to those whose hearts have been pierced with deep wounds.
In 2014, the White House allowed a petition to be posted on the president’s “We the People” website in support of taking down a “comfort women” memorial in Glendale, California. Despite calls for the petition to be removed from the White House website, neither the U.S. Department of State nor the White House obliged. Why does any of this matter? It matters because civilized governments do not condone the targeting of civilians during war. In an unconscionable manner, the government of Japan – much like Boko Haram – condoned the targeting of civilians, stripping young girls from their homes and of their future. Out of respect and reverence for the young girls who once had hopes and dreams like your daughters and mine, the United States government should have removed the offensive petition from its government operated, taxpayer funded website, just like the United States should review Abe’s apology before applauding.
By omitting any and all references to the daughters of China, the Philippines, Australia, South Pacific Island nations, Myanmar, Indonesia, the Netherlands, Taiwan and many others who were also used as sex slaves by Japan’s Imperial Forces, or to stipulate that the $8.3 million promised by the government of Japan for the daughters of Korea is not compensation and may be contingent on the removal of a “comfort women” statue located in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Abe missed the mark of his apology on all points. In so doing, he managed to both regionalize the scope of suffering and marginalize Japan’s war crimes.
This issue will never be finally and irreversibly resolved until the true and living Judge says so. Until then, I commend President Park for doing all she can to hold Japan accountable, and I applaud my “grandmothers” for their courage.
Faleomavaega served as American Samoa’s delegate in the House of Representatives from 1989 to 2015.