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The Origins of the US Army’s Korean Comfort Women

By Ch’oe Kil-song,


The Origins of the US Army’s Korean Comfort Women

The Origins of the US Army’s Korean Comfort Women is written by Choi Kilsong, Professor at University of East Asia and Professor Emeritus at Hiroshima University. Professor Choi squarely confronts the general issue of sex and sexual violence head-on by specifically pointing out the extent of prostitution in his native Korea, what Koreans did to address sexual violence during the Korean War and the consequence of adopting prostitution to halt military sexual violence by UN and South Korean soldiers to modern Korean society.

The end of the Second World War brought the end of Japanese rule over Korea and the arrival of US military forces. “Western ideologies, education, and mass media” accompanied the US military. Professor Choi states: “The social chaos resulting from the collapse of the Japanese planned economy, the management of former Japanese-held lands by the New Korea Corporation and subsequent land reform, the in-fighting between left-wing and right-wing factions, the advent of guerrillas in some rural areas, the implementation of compulsory education, and the Korean War were all significant events for Korean society.”

Professor Choi grew up in a rural village during the Korean War. United Nations (i.e. American) soldiers who “liberated” Professor Choi’s village from Chinese troops began attacking Korean women. He heard about the beating and gang-rape of a distant relative who was a communist sympathizer by South Korean soldiers. The extent of the atrocities committed by UN soldiers was limitless. The soldiers would enter homes to abduct women. The villagers attached a soldier while he was raping a Korean woman. One soldier forced a young boy to perform a sex act on him in front of his grandmother. The sexual violence continued until the arrival of prostitutes from Seoul. Professor Choi explains how a Confucian society, one with strong sexual mores and ethics, requiring women to value their chastity, turned into one that allows prostitution. Rather than being reviled, the prostitutes were welcomed, as not only cases of rape decreased but the prostitutes were seen as a source by the villages as a source of income. “To ward off sexual assaults by violent soldiers, the villagers slackened their rigid traditions of Confucian sexual morality and accepted prostitution.” It is for the sake of survival that Koreans adopted prostitution.

The prostitutes were there to earn money and moved with the soldiers. It was known that a few of the village women became prostitutes as well, but none of the villagers ever spoke about their fellow villagers’ past out of respect. Given this, one should seriously question the motives of Korean nationalists who parade so-called Japanese Army Korean comfort women in front of TV cameras. Korean nationalist are not at all concerned with the issue of “sexual violence committed by soldiers” but are merely interested in stirring up “hatred against Japan”.

At the end of the Korean War, “South Koreans came out of the war with a stronger sense of patriotism and a greater appreciation for peace. In war … people develop a sense of values which emphasizes survival through adapting biologically and environmentally to these changes. Furthermore, acculturation takes place through exposure to the guns and horrors of war, and new organizations and products have an impact on the unification, dismantlement, and stratification of parts of society. Hatred of the enemy gives rise to ethnocentrism, government centralization causes the military to gain power, and a national consciousness comes into being.”

Over time, the South Korean government supported prostitution not only as a way of earning foreign currency but also to protect the virtue of the rest of the women from foreigners—hence Korean prostitutes were called “patriotic”. This South Korean duality, of condemning Japan for its so-called comfort women “system” from over 60 years ago and ignoring its own government-approved comfort women system, persists until the current day.

Professor Choi also deals with the issue of Korean women working outside of Korea during the Second World War as so-called comfort women. As Professor Choi points out, Korean women continue to this day to practice prostitution overseas, as a means of earning money or finding a marriage partner. Professor Choi’s main source of information concerning the Korean “comfort women” is the book Diary of a Japanese Military Brothel Manager, written by a Korean brothel manager. While the diaries themselves cover 36 years, the book itself covers the two years relating to the manager’s time in Burma and Singapore. Professor Choi points out that not that brothel and the prostitutes are not directly under military control. Rather, they fall under the regulations that all other civilians in occupied territory are required to follow and were conducted as a business; the brothels were run by Korean civilians and not by the Japanese military. In addition, the “comfort women” were paid, given time off and were even allowed to return home, with travel arranged by the manager. Korean nationalists claim that Korean women were forced to be “sex slaves” by the Japanese Army. However, the contents of the Diary of a Japanese Military Brothel demonstrate that this claim is baseless.

Professor Choi states: “Even while Korean society was in a dramatic state of flux, Korea’s Confucian-based sexual norms and the concept of chastity remained firmly in place. This, in turn, would have a major impact on the current political situation in Korea, specifically the postwar Korean government’s corresponding policies towards sex. In reality though, rather than saying that it had an impact, it would be better to note that the Korean government has always been exploiting sex and sexual morality for political ends, and today’s ongoing controversy over the comfort women is merely another instance of this.”