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Our never-ending story

The United States has the most museums of any country in the world. There are over 35,000 museums in America - more than its 12,000 Starbucks and 14,000 McDonald’s combined.

Countless museums are dedicated to tragic parts of U.S. history, including the Civil War and the massacres of American Indians. There are 51 Holocaust museums, more than double the total number of museums in Israel, Germany and Poland combined.

However, until recently, there had not been a single museum dedicated to slavery. In late 2014, a philanthropist established the first slavery museum on a sugar plantation in Louisiana. It is a modest venue, about an hour from downtown New Orleans.

Slavery is such a significant chapter in American history and deserves to have a museum in Washington, much less in every state. So how can this really be the first?

Surprisingly, many African-Americans are opposed to the idea. They argue that museums should be about the past, but because racial discrimination exists today, it is still a present issue.

Last weekend, I watched “Spirits’ Homecoming,” a film about the Japanese military’s sexual enslavement of thousands of women during World War II. In December, Seoul and Tokyo agreed during a foreign ministerial meeting to conclude this longtime dispute. They attempted to solve an issue that still very much exists.

The previous September, officials organized a seminar to review relations between the United States and South Korea. At the event, Chung Chin-sung, a professor at Seoul National University and an expert on the “comfort women” dispute, said that the issue could never be covered up.

“Recently, a list of former comfort women, including their names and ages, was discovered in Thailand,” she said. “And more materials are likely to be unveiled in China, Japan, the U.S. and U.K.”

Films, novels, plays, cartoons and other creative works concerning these women abound, and many moviegoers have found themselves weeping at the thought that such young girls were forced to work as sex slaves.

But the survivors are not the only victims. The Koreans agonizing over how our ancestors’ humiliation and suffering have been properly acknowledged are also victims. No matter how adamantly the government insists this dispute has been settled, this issue has not been put to rest. Tokyo’s denial that it forcefully mobilized young women and girls is part of an ongoing chapter in history.

The controversy over this government-led conclusion is growing. And the anniversary of the March 1st Independence Movement today is the perfect opportunity to calmly contemplate what we will do about this from now on.

The author is an editorial writer for the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Feb. 29, Page 31

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