“Honor and human rights for ex-comfort women!” Since January 8th, 1992, every Wednesday, weekly demonstrations requesting the Japanese government to make a formal apology and compensate comfort women of the war have been held. This is quite a sensitive issue for Koreans. However, people “putting their money where their mouth is” are merely the politicians or existing human right activists. Therefore, for some time, it was difficult to commence a long-term civil right movement towards compensation for the comfort women. Recently, however, the younger generation has taken command of the movement for ex-comfort women, and now, a new spring has begun for the ex-comfort women.
• Stand Up For You
Have you ever heard the phrase, Blooming their hopes with you? This phrase was made by the company, Heeum, established with the purpose of supporting former comfort women — women who were coerced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops during World War II. The phrase is used on awareness bracelets, postcards and bags, and the phrase aims to promote public awareness of the plight of former comfort women. The project was started by students from the club, Enactus, which aims at promoting social contribution. Member, Kim Daejung from Korea University said, “We developed the project to bloom withering flowers, former comfort women. Donations from the younger generation will make them bloom once again.”1 Recently, Yang Yosub, member of an idol group, wore an awareness bracelet and is responsible for its popularity. Since then, people bought so many bracelets that the company ran out of stock. This action shows how small effort from today’s youth lit a fuse and grabbed the general public’s attention.
The younger generation’s passion to revitalize the movement for former comfort women does not end there. With fresh new vitality, various cultural activities such as exhibitions and performances are being held for people of all ages by the younger generation. On July 26th, there was the Pyung-hwa-na-bi concert at Seoul City Hall Square, the first concert for former comfort woman ever hosted solely by students. Including Sookmyung Women’s University, 30 universities from across Seoul and Gyeonggi Province formed a network and acted as concert planners and supporters. Lee Eunhye from Kyunghee University said, “Our hearts ache for the former comfort women and their continuing pain over the past 20~30 years. So, we started to move ahead.”2 Compared to events held by existing human rights groups, people can participate more actively and pleasantly with novel and unique ideas from younger people.
In addition to active field movements, on-line movements are just as comparable. Recently, the video clip, Herstory has become a national topic of conversation, gathering over 100,000 hits on YouTube. The animation discusses the past using the voice of the late Jeong Seowoon, who vividly testified about the brutality of the Japanese soldiers. The animation received attention with its production staff, composed of students from the Contents School of Chungkang College of Cultural Industries. Director, Kim Junki said, “I thought students should strive towards solutions for the problem and hoped that students would feel the need to act on impulse from the animation. I hope more people empathize with it.”3
• Think Deeply, Act Widely
What has caused the younger generation to move both online and off-line compared to their passiveness of the past? To answer this question, we need to simultaneously consider both social and personal aspects and grasp the situation.
When considering societal perspectives, the biggest factors influencing the younger generation’s actions are blatant distortion of history and ludicrous statements by Japan. If truth be told, today’s era of globalization sees all countries cooperating as one global nation, so countries such as Germany are taking responsibility for their wrongs and apologizing for past behaviour. However, nowadays, Japan is being irrational by concealing and glorifying its past. The whole world is expressing concerns. Japan is reopening old wounds by claiming, “We should follow the Nazis’ manner of constitution revision” and turning a blind eye from former comfort women. Japan justifies its action claiming it was past convention to regard women as sexual objects during wartime. What’s worse, Japan drove in a wooden stake in front of the statue of peace dedicated to victims and belittled comfort women of the war, calling the ladies prostitutes. This prompted Koreans, and especially young intellectual agents of social change, to rise up. At the national level, there is ongoing effort to right the wrongs of history such as adding Korean history as a compulsory subject on the scholastic ability test and organizing Memorandums of Understanding (MOU) between Seoul and the Korean History Justly Know Civilians Coalition, but more is needed. To console war victims and promote historical consciousness, vast general public attention is needed rather than activities only by human right activists or politicians.
Moreover, heightened publicity such as reports of weekly demonstrations and erection of the statue of peace are huge shakers that make young people act. Recently, media is covering the weekly demonstrations in detail, and there are even weekly demonstrations being held in other countries. Also, last May, the MBC entertainment program Infinite Challenge aired a story about our history. The show touched our hearts and had a viewing of 13.4%. Producers detailed controversial subjects such as the absence of history awareness or the reality of history education on the show by having celebrities pretend to be history teachers and teach the subject. The broadcasted episodes were praised for their subliminal messages of shame and sincerity. Jo Kyungjin, Department of TESL ’13 said, “It’s a shame about the absence of history awareness. Watching members of Infinite Challenge, I realized that my small action can change the world.” Also, a member of advisory committee of EBS history education, Choi Taesung, said, “As a history teacher, I am glad the show aired. It arouse much needed attention regarding our history, which had had its fire dwindling.”4
Also, with great interest in history, the younger generation feels more personal concern for the struggles of former women. Today all former comfort women are elderly citizens, so young people feel more pressured to act as elderly people do not have not long to live. In August, Choi Seonsun, a former comfort women passed away, and now there are only 56 left. In the past, people knew the seriousness of the situation, but stepped away with the thought that ‘It is none of my business’ and remained observers of the conflict. However, now, due to its urgency, the youth of today feel responsibility for these women and have started to take action.
• May You Bloom and Glow
It is great that the younger generation is joining the movement to aid former comfort women. With their participation, movement can advance into a movement for human rights of women, becoming more than merely political concern or a diplomatic dispute. Kim Dongseok, Standing Director of the Korean Citizen Participation Center said, “There is concern that foreigners will misunderstand this matter as simply another conflict between Korea and Japan. To prevent this possible side effect, Koreans should clarify the movement as the struggle for human rights of women.”5 That is to say, Koreans should deal with the issue wisely to unify domestic citizens, maintain political circles, and grow civil support from other countries. Thus, the fact that police estimated crowds at the Pyung-hwa-na-bi concert to be about 700 has socially great significance.
Besides, as the movement grows, greater interest arises among today’s youth. Youth are no longer indifferent towards historical events. Korean society was once saddened to discover its youth did not know about Sam-il-jeol or the Yasukuni Shrine*. Shin Cheaho, a fighter for independence left an immortal saying, “There’s no future for people who forget their history.” The younger generation who once lacked history knowledge is now paying attention and holding the hand of the statue of peace, showing Korea’s future is bright.
Until recently, past problems always evoked a one-time flash of rage and ended in little headway towards proper solutions or cognition. Even though lots of people are hurt by Japan’s current political attitude, the passion and vitality of Korean’s youth patted and consoled the masses including former comfort women. Kim Bokdeuk, former comfort woman expressed gratitude after watching the Ex-comfort Report, a musical dedicated to them by students. “Students have given me so much by this. I am so grateful, I could cry.”6
• Hold My Hand!
By selling the products, holding performances and making impressive video clips, the young are taking their action for former comfort women. Through this, the movement for former comfort women is entering a new dawn. The statue of peace doesn’t only represent the past. It is also not merely a simple sculpture that shows our history. The statue of peace is not only an old wound, but a daughter, a sister and a mother. A few months ago, the photo of a man holding an umbrella over the statue of peace on a rainy day caught people’s eyes. It was heart-warming and left a profound feeling among citizens. He said, “When I looked at the statue, it looked like tears were flowing from her the girl’s eyes. Suddenly, I felt a deep pain in my heart.”7 Just like this, with the returned swallows, their action has truly put life back into the plight of former comfort women.
1 Kim Wooseob, “We Will Make You Bloom Again—Former Comfort Women,” Hankyung, February 29, 2012
2 Song Saetbyul, “Concert for Ex-comfort Women,” KTV, August 8, 2013
3 Yoo Hyunjin, “We Should Publicize the Plight of Former Comfort Women,” Munhwa ilbo, August 27, 2013
4 An Sungeun, “Infinite Challenge, the History Feature, Epilogue of Choi Taesung, “Thank you… I was Happy”,” Interview365, May 5, 2013
5 Wang Seontek, “The Matter of Ex-comfort Women Should be Argued in the Context of Human Rights of Women,” YTN, August 15, 2013
6 Shin Eunjeong, “The Pain of Ex-comfort Women Became ‘Musical’…Produced by Teacher and Students,” MBC NEWS, July 18, 2013
7 YTN FM, “The Police Who Hold Umbrella For the Statue of Peace “Netizen Also Cried” [YTN FM],” YTN, July 23, 2012
* The Yasukuni Shrine is the spirit tablets of some Class-A war criminals are enshrined.