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During WWII, while the rest of the world was preoccupied with fighting against Germany’s takeover of Europe, there was little concern or interest over Asia. This gave Japan an opportunity to flex its muscle unchecked. Japan was on a mission to expand its economic influence and military power, and moved southward through China into Southeast Asia. Japan’s military propaganda declared that Asia should be ruled by the people of Asia, and promised independence from Western colonial/imperialist rule. At first some Southeast Asian countries admired and welcomed the Japanese. But it soon grew apparent that their promises of independence were merely a ploy for domination and subjugation.
|1910:||Japan invades and captures Korea|
|1932:||the Japanese army institutes the first “comfort houses” during the battle of Shanghai|
|Dec 1937:||Japan captures Nanjing (350,000 Chinese are killed and 100,000 women are raped during the “Rape of Nanking”)|
|1938:||Japan opens the first wartime facility for “sexual comfort” in Nanjing|
|1939:||Japan establishes the “Unit 731″ research laboratory for biological warfare in Harbin, China, and tests biological weapons on war prisoners (10,000 civilians are killed)|
|1940:||Japan inherits French Indochina (Vietnam) from France (Vichy government) and announces the intention of creating a “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”|
|Sept 1940:||Italy, Germany and Japan sign the pact of the “axis”|
|1941:||Japan invades the Philippines and Thailand|
|Dec 1941:||Japan attacks the USA fleet at Pearl Harbor|
|1942:||Japan invades the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) and British India|
|Aug 1945:||USA drops two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and emperor Hirohito surrenders, World War II ends and Japan is forced to retreat from the land it occupied|
During WWII, while men were being drafted to fight, thousands of women all across Asia were being drafted for sexual slavery. It has taken more than 50 years for this atrocity to be uncovered. Thousands of girls were “duped, abducted, or coerced” into an institutionalized system of rape set up by the Japanese Imperial Army from 1928 till the end of WWII.
So-called “comfort stations” were set up for three main reasons: To prevent Japanese soldiers from committing rape crimes in public, and thus prevent increasing hostility from the local civilians in occupied territories; to prevent the spread of venereal diseases; and finally, to provide comfort to soldiers and ward off espionage.
The first groups of women were shipped from Nagasaki to Shanghai in 1932, where the first comfort station was established.
At first, Japanese prostitutes were recruited as “comfort women”, but as Japan’s military expanded, more women were needed. The Japanese Army provided these women to pacify the boiling discontentment of their soldiers. They thought that potential riots and revolts could be avoided if their military forces had outlets for their frustration, and those outlets would be young girls and women – about 200,000 to be more specific. Some as young as 8 years old, were forced to have sex with up to 40 soldiers everyday in comfort stations. If the “comfort women” refused sex, they were beaten or tortured with cigarette burns and bayonets; in some extreme cases, even mutilated and murdered. Many women died as a result of disease, malnutrition, exhaustion and suicide..
At a typical comfort station, each woman would be detained in a tiny cubicle, which might have been just a bed partitioned with sheets. Every comfort station had rules about service charges, and Japanese soldiers had to pay military checks or tickets to the stationmaster. Soldiers would line up outside to pay the fee, obtain a ticket and a condom (though these were rarely used), before getting access to a woman’s quarters.
Escape was virtually impossible. The women were heavily monitored and the comfort stations were usually surrounded with barbed wire. Even if a woman managed to make it outside the perimeters, she’d find herself in the middle of a war zone, and often in a foreign place. With no money and no ability to speak the local language, she’d have nowhere to go.
The areas where comfort women were found are shockingly widespread, covering all territories occupied by the Japanese between 1930 and 1945.
Comfort stations existed in countries and areas such as China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Korea, Amoi, French Indochina, the Philippines, Guam, Malaysia, Singapore, British Borneo, the Dutch East Indies, Burma, Thailand, East New Guinea, New Britain, Trobriand, Okinawa, and Sakhalin. Women were also shipped to the Japanese islands of Kyushu, Honshu, and Hokkaido.
Since the war in the Pacific, South Korea has had the most contact with Japan. In 1910, Japan colonized the Korean Peninsula, and Koreans were forced to become Japanese subjects.
Thus, it should come as no surprise that an estimated 80 per cent of comfort women were Korean. The other 20 per cent came from mainly China, as well as some Asian and Dutch countries that Japan had invaded. Korean women probably served the longest amount of time at various comfort stations because they were often forced to travel with the Japanese troops. However, the women in Japanese occupied territories might have been released or abandoned when the troops moved on to other areas.
When the war ended, a minority of women did manage to make it home. But they would never be the same again, broken both physically and emotionally. Many former comfort women could no longer bear children and were left with a slew of physical ailments due to years of sexual servitude. Despite these problems, the worst aftermath of their experience as comfort women is probably the lifelong shame they’ve been branded with, and the need to keep silent about it. In countries like China and Korea there is a high moral value attached to chastity. Many women feared that if they spoke out about their horrific experiences, not only their communities, but also their own families might shun them. Some women who did disclose their past only got punished with ostracism and ended up taking their own life. But the ones who lived returned to what looked like a pretty normal existence to the outside world. As the years went by, these surviving comfort women went about their daily routines. They became grandmothers looking after their family’s homes. They would go to the market on weekends, chat and perhaps even laugh along with the other local ladies. But appearances are deceiving, and the façade of normalcy has only been sustained by their burden of silence. Within every former comfort woman is a shattered soul: she is emotionally numb, but the overbearing sense of isolation and alienation from her society is almost as bad, if not worse than her experience as a comfort woman.
In the early 1990s, Asian women broke almost five decades of painful silence to demand apology and compensation for the atrocities they and others suffered under Japanese military sexual slavery during the Second World War. The voices of these women, speaking out about their enslavement as ‘comfort women’, reached a crescendo at the end of 2000 when they gathered together to demand justice at the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal in Tokyo, Japan. Organized by the Violence Against Women in War Network (VAWW-Net), the tribunal took place from 8th-12th December 2000 and was attended by 1300 people, including 390 survivors from the seven victimized countries of North and South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, China, the Philippines and Indonesia.