Monday, December 01, 2014

A Unique View of 'Comfort Women'

Why am I qualified to make a SMALL statement about 'Korean comfort women'?

Possibly because I was IN Korea 1965-68, and possibly because... well, let me share my story.

At 17 I enlisted Regular Army, wanting to honor America and honor my father's Korean wartime service as well, and most importantly to keep me OUT of Vietnam, which in 1964 at the time of my enlistment, was heating up somewhat.

My gamble when I enlisted for 4 years instead of the normal 3, was that I would NOT qualify for language training at Defense Language Institute, Monterey, Calif. I DID qualify, however, and went on to graduate in late September '65, at the TOP... of the bottom half of my class, which meant that the 'smart' guys went to Seoul and us 'dumb' guys went out onto the mountain tops and danger spots on the Korean DMZ proper.

What also made my time in Korea far out of the ordinary was my faith in Christ's return in the Glory of God, Baha'u'llah (Google 'May 23, 1844) This meant, among other things, that I had extended 'family' in Seoul, decent God-fearing people who weren't beer-guzzling GIs.

After 11 months in the Korean-language learning process, I deplaned at Kimp'o airport, reported to HQ, and quickly learned that I COULD NEITHER speak Korean nor understand the vernacular.

Why? Because our teachers at the DLI were multi-lingual, college-educated Koreans who taught us- and REQUIRED that we speak- HIGH Formal, courteous Korean... almost NONE of which was ever spoken on the street.

That first day for me in-country went something like this: "Prithee, good Madame, couldst thou but direct me to the terminus wherein reside the self-driving autobuses, methinks I would be muchly obliged...' at which the food-seller broke into gut-clutching laughter, turned to the man beside her, and said, 'I think he wants the bus station!'

So began approximately 9 more months of daily study and practice, in addition to the 8-12 hours of work required as part of my army job. I was cleared for Top Secret codeword, and worked on an island on the Korean DMZ, so you know I did more than wash dishes up on our mountain top, 400 meters across the Han River estuary from Communist North Korea.

In 1966, while on pass from the island, and being on the mainland, I do recall speaking with an older Korean who mentioned Japanese atrocities against the Korean people, and may have implied 'comfort women' forced into sexual service, but I NEVER heard a figure like 200,000 people.

Remember, Korea was OCCUPIED and owned like a colony, for years, prior to World War II, when the defeat of imperial Japan freed the Koreans. Those years of occupation created some seriously BAD and LONG-TERM resentment, naturally enough, as Koreans were treated like servants, slaves and in some cases like animals.

And yet, to speak concisely, although Korean sentiment in the mid-to-late 1960's ran deeply anti-Japanese, there was LITTLE talk of organized recruitment or abduction of Korean women for sexual slavery purposes.

Attribute the silence to shame? Perhaps, but the reality in 1965-68 was that while 98% of Korean women would rather die than accept sex partners for pay, there WERE thousands who engaged in the comfort-for-hire and sent money home every month to younger brothers (for school), parents (to stay alive or prosper) and a few stashed money in the bank.

Korea, in '65 was, after all, JUST BARELY out of a horrific war with North Koreans, who were themselves supported by Russian tanks and Chinese soldiers. The hills around the DMZ were still, after 12 years, denuded and bare of all but tiny shrubs and flowers. The roads were 14 inches of talcum-fine red clay powder in the summer and 14 inches of red, slick MUD in the winter.

Electricity usually went through the night IN SEOUL, but not much elsewhere. Seoul had blacktop, but a lot of that had been torn up, piece by piece every year, by Koreans burning it to stay warm through the sub-Siberian winters in Korea. In a word, it was a VERY DIFFICULT TIME in Korea's recent history, and I am loathe to criticize and find fault with women who, during the war, were pre-teens trying to stay alive in the murderous mayhem roaring around them.

So if you want to hear only of the Japanese 'comfort women' disinformation being peddled today, that's it. I didn't have more than that.

The 'comfort women' of MY time, AFTER the Korean War ground to a Cease-Fire, was a little more detailed, varied and interesting, and I may share THAT here, IF there is enough interest shown in the Comments below.

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Blogger Karridine said...

Thatch-roofed, mud-and-wattle houses were the NORM in 1965. The 'Market Day' shows stores with WARES to sell, as this was the beginning of the material comeback and modernization of the industrious, hard-working Korean people. Pharmacy right of center...

Monday, December 01, 2014 3:18:00 AM  

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