I've been meaning to post these emails and photos from Stacey McDermott, a spunky and fierce young Korean American hapa (like me!) that we met when we performed at William & Mary College earlier this year. Stacey is currently studying in Korea, and I asked her to email me with details of things she's doing so I can live vicariously through her as she visits the motherland.
Since October, Stacey has sent me 2 emails about the weekly protests that surviving former "Comfort Women" have been holding outside of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul for the last 17 years. If you know nothing about the Comfort Women--and most people don't--they were women that the Japanese military forced into sexual slavery to "service" their troops during WWII. While some Comfort Women were Chinese, Filipina, Taiwanese, and even Japanese, the majority of Comfort Women were Korean. The numbers of women forced into sexual slavery are estimated in the hundreds of thousands though we can't be sure b/c the Japanese military did not keep records of the women they held imprisoned and, therefore, so many of their murders went undocumented. For the women who survived being tortured and raped repeatedly and mercilessly by Japanese military personnel, their suffering has continued throughout their lives in numerous ways: they have endured debilitating damage to their reproductive systems preventing many from ever having children and, thus, making them unmarryable, their families turned their backs on them ashamed or were dead or missing after the war, and the Korean government also have been reluctant to support them or their cause.
The Japanese government has not issued a formal apology for the war crimes committed against these women and refuses to compensate them for destroying their lives. Some Japanese officials have even publicly questioned the veracity of the Comfort Women, saying there was no proof such crimes were ever committed--even suggesting these women volunteered to provide sexual services to Japanese soldiers, a claim that further strips the honor and dignity from these women who have already suffered so much.
Even more shameful, on December 10, the Korean government and law enforcement unconscionably disrespected the Halmoni and their supporters by sending police out in RIOT GEAR to intimidate them during one of their protests outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
I will let Stacey's emails and pictures do the rest of the talking. I hope you will educate yourselves about this issue and find one way to support these women. Sexual slavery at any time and anywhere must be confronted and its perpetrators held accountable for their reprehensible actions.
Many thanks to Stacey for sending these so that we, too, may bear witness.
From October 8, 2008:
today i attended a demonstration outside of the japanese embassy in seoul. surviving korean former comfort women (from wwII) and their supporters have protested outside of the japanese embassy in seoul every wednesday at noon for the past 17 years--demanding an official apology from the japanese gov't as well as recognition/acknowledgement in their history books of the events and legal compensation for the victims and survivors.
anyways, i wanted to send you some photos from the event. they had a free speech segment at the end where ppl could speak to the halmonis (survivors) and also just express their thoughts about the situation. i told them that i thought they were extremely brave and amazing women, that i am ashamed of my country for not pressuring the japanese government to own up to and apologise for their involvement in military sexual enslavement of thousands of women, and that we will not forget what they have been through-- because even when i am a halmoni, i will tell my daughter and her daughters what has happened even if it never makes the history books (i told them we will continue to write and speak of our (women's) own history). it is really sad because many of the survivors have died ... and a lot of these halmonis i saw today were around 70 and 80... never letting up about demanding justice & dignity for what they have suffered... but they might never see recognition or an apology from the japanese government.
This last picture is Stacey addressing the Halmoni:
From December 10, 2008:
For 17 years, the surviving former "comfort women" who were victims of military sexual enslavement by the Japanese government, and their supporters, have protested outside of the Japanese embassy in Seoul every Wednesday from 12-1PM. Every Wednesday, for over seventeen years. They had seven demands:
Seven Demands to the Japanese Goverment
* Admit the drafting of the Japanese military "comfort women"!
* Apologize officially!http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
* Reveal the truth about the crime!
* Erect memorial tablets for the victims!
* Pay restitution to the victims or their families!
* Teach the truth about this so you do not repeat the same crimes!
* Punish the war criminals!
In addition to these demands, "Stop Talking Nonsense", "Repeal the Asian Women's Fund", and "Establish a special law" were added.
(Visit the House of Sharing website
for more info: http://www.houseofsharing.org/
Many of the halmonis (a term for grandmother in the Korean language) have passed away without seeing any apology and in many ways seeing what happened to them denied and even taken out of the history books. Yesterday, in honor of the 60th anniversary of the International Declaration of Human Rights, some activists in Seoul decided to expand the halmoni's weekly protest longer than the usual hour period and mobilized a large international crowd of supporters to come and join the protest outside of the Japanese embassy. I arrived there at about 12:50PM, just as the halmoni's were wrapping up their usual protest only to be informed by one of the organizers that the Korean police were planning to arrest anyone who stayed to protest longer than the usual one hour period.
They called in hundreds of riot police when they got wind that the protest would continue longer than the usual hour period. For a crowd of protestors that perhaps amounted to about forty or so, after the halmonis had left, the riot police began to move in-- with shields! It felt really threatening, as our group of activists were blocked in from both sides of the streets-- the protest was entirely peaceful and included chants, speeches and song... and we were eventually shoved out of the area (literally) by Korean police guards (two rows of them!) and their people-shields.
While we stood our ground for as long as possible--- we did not resist their 'pressure' and nobody got arrested. Some were curious to see if the Korean police would have gone so far and risked embarassment to arrest tens of foreigners for a mere peaceful protest in support of the Korean survivors of military sexual enslavement... but I am pretty sure that if anyone had shown any sign of resistance under the current Korean government... we would have been arrested for sure.
Anyways, the group collectively decided to move the protest a couple blocks away to a popular protest spot in busy tourist-area Insadong. The Korean police kept a close eye on us even there. From there we marched in the busiest street and tourist-spot in Insadong, basically slowing traffic to a crawl. We continued the protest at the end of the street which was great because there were so many people there who came to listen to speeches and get more information about the Sharing House--a location in Seoul that houses several survivors.
I have attached some pictures to this email so you can see the ridiculous amount of police that gathered to 'scare us off'.
Just thought I would share some news and this story about the halmoni's human rights struggle from this side of the world!
Peace and solidarity,
The Halmoni protest:
Supporters protest outside the Japanese embassy:
The riot police move in:
The march to Insadong: