Comfort Women: The North Korean Connection
63 Pages Posted: 17 Aug 2022
Date Written: August 8, 2022
Through its "comfort women" framework, the World War II Japanese military extended its licensing regime for domestic prostitution to the brothels next to its overseas bases. That regime imposed strenuous health standards, which the military needed to control the venereal disease that had debilitated its troops in earlier wars. These "comfort stations" recruited their prostitutes (we limit this article to women recruited from Korea and Japan) through variations on the standard indenture contracts that the licensed brothels had used in Korea and Japan. Some women took the jobs because they were tricked by fraudulent recruiters. Some took them under pressure from abusive parents. But the rest seem to have taken the jobs for the money.
The notion that the comfort stations were anything else dates from the 1980s. In 1983, a Japanese writer published a memoir in which he claimed to have led a posse of soldiers to Korea and conscripted women at bayonet-point. Soon, several women sued the Japanese government for compensation. The government apologized (the Kono statement), and the U.N. issued two scathing reports.
In fact, the Japanese author had made up the story. By the end of the century, historians and journalists (in both Japan and South Korea) had determined that he had fabricated the entire memoir. In the meantime, however, an apparently corrupt organization (its leader is currently on trial for embezzlement) with close ties to North Korea (the leader's husband served prison time for passing documents to a North Korean agent) took control of the comfort-women movement. Steadily, it inflamed the ethno-nationalism within South Korea and stalled rapprochement with Japan.
All this took place while North Korea steadily developed its nuclear weapons arsenal. Given the close ties between North Korea and the organization running the comfort women movement, that may be the point. Under pressure from the South Korean left, however, the government continues to launch criminal prosecutions against scholars who point out the genesis of the movement in the fabricated memoir. Readers in the Anglophone world need to realize that scholars who contest the fabricated comfort women story in South Korea face potential prison time for doing so.
Keywords: prostitution, indentured servitude, Japan, Korea
JEL Classification: J47, K12 K36, N15, N35, N45
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation