Are comfort women lying? "Humans lie, but circumstances don't," goes a slogan of those bent on discrediting former sex slaves of the Japanese army during WWII. Chunghee Sarah Soh, a Korean professor at San Francisco State University, echoes this notion when she cites examples of women who gave contradictory testimonies or told "lies."
"In an interview, Kim Sun-ok said that she was sold by her parents four times," Soh writes. "Yet, Kim testified in front of U.N. interrogator Radhika Coomaraswamy that she was abducted by the Japanese military." Likewise, Professor Park Yu-ha of Sejong University in Korea recounts that the late Bae Chun-hee told her she "hated her father who sold her. Yet, Bae later testified she was abducted by the Japanese military." Their lists continue.
These excerpts from the authors' publications, however, reveal no contradictions. Being "sold" and being "abducted by the Japanese military" are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Yet, using such a line of argument seems common to these researchers. Some comfort women/girls testified they were "hired or adopted" or "entrusted" or "sold" to food business operators or land owners, then while working, they were abducted by the Japanese military or Korean collaborators.
Ironically, those who recorded genuine inconsistencies were the members of the Korean Council for Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, whom Park and her colleagues suspect as having "coached" the comfort women to falsify their testimonies to make Japan look worse.
The council members, who interviewed former Korean comfort women in the 1990s and early 2000s, acknowledged the inconsistencies, which they attributed to the women's failing memories and the pain of recalling a traumatic past.
They also noted that, as public appearances increased, some comfort women became audience-savvy. When addressing Japanese visitors, a woman might mention the kindness of a Japanese soldier. Facing Koreans, the same person would describe being mutilated by Japanese soldiers. Some interviewees narrated Korea-bashing stories, which caused the interviewers to worry that such testimonies might provide ammunition to activists sympathetic to the Japanese. However, the interviewers left the testimonies as they told them, believing uncensored words would do more good in the long run (Former Korean Comfort Women's Testimonies, Vol. 5, p.16). As a result, the volumes present the expected depictions of brutal treatment the comfort women claimed they received from the Japanese, as well as a significant number of indictments that cause Koreans and their government to cringe.
For example, the late comfort woman Kim Soon-duk testified, "Japan was and is bad. But those I am angrier with are my people. They acted as agents of the Japanese." (Testimonies, Vol. 1, p.57). Lee Ok-seon, 90, who was forced into sexual slavery at the age of 16 after being abducted by two Korean men, testified that at age 12 she received a sound beating from her own father for asking to be sent to school. (Introduction to The Museum of Comfort Women, p. 152). Such narratives do not exonerate Korea and its patriarchal system of oppressing their own women and girls long before the Japanese drafted them into the women's volunteer labor corps to "support efforts in aircraft manufacturing and other essential industries." The Japanese military then transported a significant number of these draftees to comfort stations overseas.
Overall, the former Korean comfort women told the truth as much as their memories allowed, especially in their early published testimonies, indicting mostly Japan, but also Korea. Whatever may have been the motives of some activists to demonize Japan and "coach" the former comfort women, the women's own aged bodies remembered the blows Japan ― and Korea ― dealt them, and the women spoke from their wounds.
Maija Rhee Devine authored an autobiographical novel about Korea, "The Voices of Heaven." Her TEDx Talk about the book is at: http://youtu.be/GFD-6JFLF5A). Also, she wrote a book of poetry, "Long Walks on Short Days." Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.MaijaRheeDevine.com.