Time to comfort our forgotten 'comfort' women


Modified 29 Jan 2008, 10:21 am

I am distressed to hear Nakahara Michiko's account, if true, that efforts by Mustapha Yaakub of the Umno Youth International Bureau to report his findings of testimonies from Malaysian 'comfort women' at the 1993 United Nations Human Rights Conference were forestalled by the then Umno Youth chief Najib Abdul Razak quite like how MCA public complaints bureau chief Michael Chong dropped his investigation after being contacted by the Japanese Embassy. ('Umno Youth's bid to highlight plight of Malaysian "comfort women" foiled', Aug 11) What did the Japanese Embassy have to say?

After all, 1993 was the year when for the first time Japan officially admitted that thousands of women were forced to be prostitutes, or 'comfort women', during World War II.

To what grave and important economic and diplomatic considerations did we owe such an obsequious display of deference and subservience to the Japanese Embassy - and by extension, the Japanese government, to suppress this war rape perpetrated by the Japanese Army in World War II, on innocent women on our soil, as had happened elsewhere in China and other parts of the Southeast Asia.

Not given a chance to come out in the open, it would give the false impression that during the Japanese occupation of Malaya, there was no comfort women of the category that was forcibly abducted and forced into sexual slavery by the occupation forces, and that only those who volunteered for financial gain existed! So the question of apology and reparation from the Japanese government does not even arise here as it did elsewhere in (say) Korea and Taiwan.

Sure, I understand that back in 1993, the country was trying to encourage direct Japanese investments here, in the manufacture of electrical, electronics and chemical products, machinery manufacturing, as well as knowledge and R&D; transfer. That was business.

But we did not have to pawn our soul and abandon justice in the quest for investments especially when, Malaysia offered all kinds of other incentives to the Japanese investors.

The Japanese government should have the maturity to legally own up for the war crimes of its army in World War II which, out of misguided pride and sense of supremacy, it cannot even now, find it in its heart to do so.

Japan is a wealthy country and can afford appropriate compensations. I understand that there would be a problem of verifying who was really a comfort woman as distinguished from those who would change their personal history for financial gains.

Also, even amongst comfort women, there would be those who wanted and volunteered to be so, the ones who didn't want it, but did it in order to survive, and finally the ones who didn't want it at all and were forcibly abducted. The difficulty of deciding who belonged to the last group is only a technical issue and should not constitute a general bar to the whole issue being brought up and investigated upon.

Perhaps both the Japanese and the Malaysian governments would like it to be forgotten. It is too long ago to verify. War is war and rape is part of war. According to Comfort women: sexual slavery in the Japanese military during World War II (Columbia Uni Press) by history professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi, even after the Japanese surrendered, US and British troops happily used comfort stations the Japanese government set up for the use of occupational forces.

Moreover, though not as widespread as the Japanese comfort stations, Yoshimi noted that the US, British and German armies ran their own brothels in Europe, North Africa, India and China in World War II. Americans had their share of rapes perpetrated during the Vietnam War. Women are a natural casualty of war. Present economic and diplomatic relations are more important.

Well, the present generation may not know or have forgotten but not so for some of our parents and grandparents in their twilight years. It must be heartrending to suffer for over 50 years with their plight unrecognised or without a meaningful apology from the Japanese government.

To refuse to acknowledge and accept responsibility for past generation's atrocities is to refuse to acknowledge right from wrong based on the misplaced pride that it would harm the honour of the Japanese nation and race and desecrate her heroes who died for the nation at its time of crisis.

It has even come to such an extent that facts in history textbooks are twisted by euphemistic portrayals of the Asia-Pacific war as not an invasion but a 'liberation' for Asian countries, deleting parts on the 'comfort women' system in occupied Manchuria and Korea and denying the Nanking massacre in China just so that young Japanese would not feel ashamed of what happened.

Such state of denial is warped. Admission did not harm the German nation from progressing to yet greater heights with reunification. I understand that the German premier had even knelt in apology and the German government paid reparations to holocaust survivors for Hitler's Third Reich excesses, whilst Japanese premier(s) still pay periodic homage to the Yasukuni War Shrine in honour of the soldiers.

For history not to be repeated, it has to be first known, not twisted. And true national dignity emanates from a willingness to acknowledge past mistakes and atone for them, given a nation's life is one long continuum from barbarity to development and from development to mental and emotional maturity, each milestone being marked by what noble act the nation does including, sometimes, a sincere contrition of mistakes.

Only with the Japanese government's acknowledgment of legal responsibility for past heinous depredations of the Japanese imperial army, can forgiveness and healing of the past from the aggrieved peoples and their posterity ever set in to form the foundation of trust in dealing with the Japanese in future.

For Japan to regain an honoured place in the international society, the government should give an unequivocal apology and pay due compensations to comfort women who could prove their case.

I call on then Umno Youth International Bureau representative, Mustapha Yaakub, who was barred from raising the issue in 1993 to now disclose his findings whether in official or personal capacity to the public (through malaysiakini if it were the only avenue).

Should Malaysian comfort women come out from the silent shadows to seek redress directly from the Japanese government through help of support groups or NGOs or through the auspices of the Malaysian government?

MCA public complaints bureau chief Michael Chong should disclose which comfort woman contacted him before his investigations were halted by the Japanese Embassy, and what compelling reasons he was given.

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