Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Comfort Women and Justice? And revisionism!

From what little time I have for the news, I gather that, for some time now, the Japanese government has been asserting that it will clear up the issue of comfort women with Korea by the end of the year. Personally, I applaud this effort to try and reconcile differences between Japan and Korea, and I hope this marks a greater shift towards a deeper understanding between Japan and its neighbouring countries.

However, I have a couple of issues with how this reconciliation is being approached. The short version is that the approach of both governments is fundamentally flawed.

1) The necessity for financial compensation.

It makes sense from a legal perspective that victims be compensated for the traumas (in this case, quite horrific ones) incurred. However, who should be paying that compensation? The issue is such an old one now that it is no longer possible to round up the responsible people and impart justice.

From the agreements reached so far it looks like the Japanese government will be paying compensation, which superficially seems fair: it was the Japanese government that occupied Korea, right? Well, I have problems with this.

Firstly, the Japanese government now is nothing like the organization that rampaged around East Asia during the war. To my mind, it is a separate entity, established largely by the US when they demolished Imperial Japan and led them by the hand to a truer democracy*. Since then, it has evolved yet more. As such, I think it odd that modern Japan be held directly responsible for the compensation of the comfort women.

Secondly, where does this money come from? The government gets its money from taxes, which are paid by working individuals in Japanese society that are entirely innocent. Sure, the figure per head is going to be infinitesimal** (7.8 yen, something like 4p), but to my mind this is foundationally flawed.

2)Japanese revisionism

Just so we're clear, it's not just the Korean side I have issue with here, the Japanese side is equally flawed. It is plain to see on the news, Abe wants to "put an end to the issue before the year is out". Why the rush? Is this really the best premise for discussion? He may as well announce "Let's just get this over with quickly so that when the new year comes we can forget all about it". Anyway, part of the initial terms drawn up by Japan was the removal of a statue erected outside the Japanese embassy. This statue symbolizes the pains inflicted by Imperial Japan and a defiance, which I applaud, towards Japanese indifference to the issue.

I think part of the issue here is that the statue hurts Japanese honour. But let's be honest, it should do. The actions of Imperial Japan are a shame to the name of Japan, and it is by overcoming that shame that Japan should move forward; the Japanese government should be working towards building a society where past lessons are learned and can never be repeated. Instead, Japan has focussed on this shame as something that needs removing, rather than a harsh lesson.

I feel slightly alleviated by the fact that Korea haven't agreed to this term yet; however, I am somewhat disappointed that revisionism isn't the main thrust of Korea's discussions. If you're going to hold modern Japan to account, at least do so for its own wrongdoings***...

*The barbarism the US displayed (admittedly blood was on everyone's hands back then) is at least partially offset by the spirit of cooperation the US managed to forge with their vanquished.

**1 billion yen divided by 127 million people. 7.8 yen doesn't sound like much, but 1 billion yen is. A lot of good could be done with that money; lives could be saved with it, but as it stands a lot of elderly people and their families are going to get large sums of money. Yeah, they deserve a break, but so do starving children in the slums of the places we like to forget about.

*** My greatest fear here is that, by focussing on the money, the solution will only be a temporary one. I'm sure there is still plenty of anger in Korea regarding this issue, and while Japan keeps avoiding the issue, the Japanese will be less informed as to why such a sentiment exists. This in turn reinforces Japanese hostility. In such a situation, one can only hope that time passing will counteract this.