Korean Comfort Women

The exact number of women forced to serve as “comfort women” is not known but may run as high as 200,000. The Japanese government rationalized that the use of comfort women during the war would control prostitution and would reduce the number of rapes in the areas where the Japanese army was based.

In January 2016, President Obama spoke about a recent North Korean nuclear weapons test with the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Park Geun-hye. After discussing the nuclear test issue, the President congratulated the leaders of these two countries on resolving the dispute over Japan’s use of wartime sex slaves referred to as “comfort women”. Comfort women, an euphemism for prostitutes, were women abducted or lured from Korea, China and the Phillipines who were under the impression that they were being recruited to work in factories, restaurants or as nurses but instead were kept as prisoners in comfort stations where Japanese soldiers could use them for their sexual pleasure.

President Obama felt that it was important to repair the Japanese South Korean relationship so as to establish a strong alliance between the two countries so that they could work together to keep North Korean aggression in check. The United States did not broker this deal but rather worked at pivotal points over the preceding two years to help to bring Prime Minister Abe and President Park closer together so that they would be able to settle any existing issues that still remained regarding their grievances over the South Korean comfort women.

The deal that was agreed upon by Japan and South Korea governments was for Japan to put $8.3 million into a South Korean fund to support the 46 surviving comfort women and to help restore their dignity and honor and to help to repair any psychological wounds that might exist. However, an 86 year old woman, Yoo Hee-nam, who had been a comfort woman during the war,after hearing about the deal between Japan and South Korea wrote in an email that she and other victims should have been allowed to participate in the talks. She said that the issue was not a political dispute that needs to be resolved “but the issue of humanity and reclaim (ing part) of it that was destroyed a long time ago.”

Under the deal, Japanese Prime Minister Abe offered his “most sincere apologies and remorse” to all former “comfort women” and the two countries, Japan and South Korea, also agreed to refrain from criticizing and blaming each other, not only in the international community, but also at the United Nations.

Throughout the talks, the United States remained impartial and tried to encourage both Japan and South Korea to reach a settlement. That said, the deal that was reached has continued to be criticized by factions on the left in South Korea and on the right in Japan as well as from the comfort women themselves. The most important contribution that the US made to the deal was to bring Japan and South Korea together at pivotal points over the course of several years.