Exploiting pain for academic gains
The prosecution has indicted Sejong University Professor Park Yu-ha on charges that she defamed Korea’s “comfort women,” who were forced to serve in Japanese military brothels during World War II, in her 2013 book “Comfort Women of the Empire.” The case has since sparked a heated debate among scholars and intellectuals here and abroad on the freedom of academic expression, particularly when it comes to sensitive historical facts. The following are opposing views over the controversial publication.
The prosecution last month indicted Park Yu-ha, a professor at Sejong University, on charges of stating “false facts” in the narratives and descriptions in her new book to suggest that some young women in Korea voluntarily engaged in prostitution for the Japanese military during World War II.
Fifty-four American and Japanese scholars issued a statement condemning Korean prosecutors of infringing upon the freedom of academic research, expression and publication.
They claim the author’s book “Comfort Women of the Empire” does not falsify or distort facts, but presents the suffering of Korea’s uneducated and socially disadvantaged during the days of colonial rule. They also contend that it illustrates the patriarchal system of the day in a more in-depth context.
About 191 local figures have sided with the vexing arguments made by the Japanese right-wing, who claim that the women were not systematically forced to serve in military brothels.
Additionally, some 380 people who claim to represent the researchers and activists “working toward a just definition and solution to the comfort women issue” recently held a press conference to challenge the author’s argument that local prosecutors were distorting the intention of her book. But they nevertheless said it was wrong for state prosecutors to try an author for her “research” in court. They, too, were siding with Park’s proponents, who believe that the complaints by the surviving comfort women are unjustified.
The “freedom of academic research and expression” has eclipsed the rights Korea’s surviving victims. Contrarily, local academics kept silent when historian Lee Deok-il was indicted and challenged at court by prosecutors for his views questioning established historical interpretations in his book.
The people who signed the statement advocating for Park Yu-ha included Yohei Kono, who served as Japan’s chief cabinet secretary in 1993 and issued Tokyo’s first apology to its wartime victims, and Tomiichi Murayama, who as prime minister in 1995 issued a statement expressing “deep remorse and a heartfelt apology” for the damage caused to Japan’s former colonies.
Japanese officials were behind the launch of the Asian Women’s Fund, a private fund that gave Tokyo a reprieve from formal legal and ethical accountability in its wrongdoings committed during the colonial period and World War II. Park’s design for her book is underscored through their signatory.
Park and her advocates claim that the term “voluntary prostitutes” was used to cite the same reference used by Japanese right-wing figures to challenge their refusal to admit to the existence of comfort women. The “camaraderie” some of the women on the frontline forged with the soldiers was based on historical fact that Koreans under colonization were forced to serve in the war by Imperial Japan.
But she nevertheless sides with Japanese nationalists by stating that not all Korean women were forced into servitude. Some of them joined the service in order to flee poverty and patriarchal discriminations in society.
Most Japanese researchers do not believe Park attempted to challenge the nationalistic view of Japan nor state objective views. They judge that she distorted the facts to serve right-wing logic. None of them - Park or her advocates - seem to be aware that they were rubbing salt into the wounds of Korea’s victims by reminding them of the pain they endured.
One of an academic’s tasks is to differentiate between right and wrong. That judgment on right and wrong should be based on the experience and memory of the victims. To deny their testimonies and dismiss their pain in the name of academia is an act of glorified cruelty and brutality.
The author is a researcher at the Ahn Jung-geun Institute.
by Shin Woon-yong