Presbyterians Today

FEB-MAR 2018

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36 FEBRUARY/MARCH 2018 | Pr e s by te r i a n s To d ay W ar has a human face. Every shadow, every line, every wrinkle is part of the story. In a recent visit to South Korea, a PC(USA) peace delegation witnessed firsthand the human face of war. The delegation visited the War & Women's Human Rights Museum. There they watched video interviews with "comfort women" — women kidnapped or lured by the promise of jobs and forced into sexual slavery in what were known as "comfort stations" for Japanese soldiers during World War II. The women in the video spoke no English. There were English sub- titles to help translate. The subtitles, though, weren't necessary. The women's faces said it all. As many as 200,000 women are estimated to have been part of this slavery. Most came from the Korean Peninsula, but others came from other Asian countries as well, including Thailand, China and the Philippines. Some were as young as 14. "Comfort women" became a derogatory term, so they are now known as halmoni, which means grandmother or grandmothers. The handful still living in South Korea are now in their 80s and 90s. The halmoni speak The halmoni suffered in silence for many years. Many never returned to Korea. Those who did said nothing, out of shame. Their stories began to emerge with the founding of the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan in 1990. Two years later, the halmoni and their supporters began protest- ing outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, asking for Japan to acknowl- edge the crime, make an official apology, provide legal reparation and record the stories in the country's official history. In 2011, they held their 1,000th protest. The halmoni and their supporters still protest outside the Japanese Embassy every Wednesday. Beyond the Japanese Embassy, down an alley in a 30-year-old house in Seongsan-dong, west of the city, the history of these women is care- fully documented. The space is small, only about 15 rooms and areas, but the impact is powerful. After an introductory video, visitors walk on a gravel road with sounds of cannons and soldiers' footsteps playing. The road leads to a dark basement to simulate the feeling of isolation and oppression the women felt. In another room visitors can follow the history with research materials and video footage. The focal point of the room is a replica of a peace statue that depicts a young girl with an empty chair next to her. The original statue faces the Japanese Embassy. In recent years, as more stories of the sexual slavery have been told, comfort women statues have emerged not just in South Korea, but around the world, including one such statue in San Francisco. The entry ticket to the museum changes daily, featuring a different story each day about one of sexual slavery's victims. For example, on the day the PC(USA) delegation visited the museum, the story of Bong Gi Bae, born in the Chungcheongnam-do region of Korea in 1914, was "told." Promised the ability to earn "big money," she was taken to Okinawa in 1943 and forced into sexual slavery, assigned to a comfort station. When U.S. troops bombed the comfort station, she ran away with Japanese soldiers to the mountains. She was later detained in a U.S. prison camp. After her release, she earned a living through prostitution and menial labor. In 1991, she passed away at the age of 77 in Okinawa. She never returned home to South Korea. Quantish Mason, a recent graduate of McCormick Theological Seminary, spent 2014–2015 as a Young Adult Volunteer in South S e x u a l s l a v e r y , s p a s t r e v e a l e d BY KATHY MELVIN

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