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Comfort women statues carry deeper historical meaning

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By Kyung Moon Hwang

A year ago this column predicted that the just-signed agreement between the South Korean and Japanese governments to resolve the "comfort women" issue, once and for all, would instead last only as long as the two current administrations are in power. This appears to have been an over-estimation. Without even knowing the life span of Park Geun-hye's presidency, the brouhaha over the latest statue, which will not be the last, indicates that the agreement is already unraveling.

As usual, there are important historical factors worth examining. Due to the terrible nature of what happened and the postwar amnesia in Japan, the comfort women issue will always arouse nationalist passions across Asia. In South Korea, however, it would be beneficial also to consider the country's complicated history of sexual exploitation and state-sponsored prostitution.

"Comfort Women" or "Comfort Corps" was the euphemism for the military prostitution system servicing the Japanese imperial army in World War II, an offshoot of the "Sacrifice Corps" ("Jeongsindae" in Korean) that produced goods and services for the battle fronts. Various studies over the years have painted a fairly secure picture of how this system worked: The Japanese military helped mobilize and provided the clientele for numerous "comfort stations," run mostly by non-military entrepreneurs (pimps and human traffickers, more or less), that followed the soldiers as they rampaged through Asia.

The question that will never get fully........

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