The Long Denial: Truth Delayed, and Truth Denied

The Long Denial:
Truth Delayed &Truth Denied

The need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. For suffering is objectivity that weighs upon the subject. -Theodor Adorno, 1966
The Comfort Houses were our Killing Fields. -survivor of forced sex slavery by Japan in WWII, 2016

To politics falls the tasks of taking care of the present; and history is the act of remembering the past in the present. Both are art forms. 

Politics oftentimes finds history to be inconvenient truths, especially when current political chaos is rooted in history. As I write this (July 2016) in Seoul, several current events vie for our political attention, and because they intersect with history and memory, we ever-revisit them because the two-way conversation between the past and present is missing.

(1) The epidemic of US law actually failing, if not outright killing, African Americans is a clear-cut case of a heated political situation not willing to listen to the full sonic forces of U.S. history. Our chaotic story of racism is never fully addressed on countless levels, from the personal to the social, the economic to the political. To pull just one thread of a story of racism (and its denial) and hear just it without hearing the justice in the full range of other stories, is to wind up today in the USA with "Black Lives Matter" seen as an enemy of the status quo maintainers. As long as the full range of stories remain untold or denied, there will be no peace. Guaranteed.

(2) Here in Korea, among the many unheard stories, are 50,000 - 300,000 persons' histories that began, for our purposes, when they were teen-aged girls. Japan was the ruler of this country, and in World War Two its military strategy was to become a world power. We know how that ended. Along the way, however, acts of war require often unspeakable crimes.

They were called "Comfort Women" -- teen-aged Korean girls forcibly or deceptively ("You'll get a job at a place like Paradise.") taken from their homes, shipped to front lines across Asia, and forced into sexual slavery in Japanese "Comfort Stations". Sexual violence - rape - was a military strategy used by the Japanese.

Above and below:
Statue dedicated to "Comfort Women" of Korea outside the main gate of Ewha Womans University, Seoul

Japan lost the war. And from these surviving women, there was shame, silence and secrecy. Until 1991... 
For these fifty years, I have lived, by bearing and again bearing the unbearable. For fifty years, I have had a heavy, painful feeling, but kept thinking in my heart about telling my experience some day ... As I try to speak now, my heart pounds against my chest, because what happened in the past was something extremely unconscionable ... Why does the Japanese government tell such a lie to deny its knowledge of the comfort women system? Actually I was made into a comfort woman, and I am here alive. -Kim Hak-Soon-Source

Thus the log jam of historical secrecy broke open into ... politics. The political tilt of Japan since the war, and still today, is to deny culpability and apologize. (Maybe the Japanese feel Nagasaki and Hiroshima afford them this privilege?). Instead, Japan waits out the deaths of their former sex slaves (average age: 89), perhaps hoping that when the last survivor dies, their voices will re-enter history and leave the political field.

  • That waiting takes place every Wednesday outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul (Click for images here.)
  • That waiting takes place in an untold number of private places across Asia where former comfort women (Korean and other nationalities) still live in secret and in shame.
  • That waiting takes place at The House of Sharing near Seoul, where 60 other Ewha students, professors and I visited yesterday.

The waiting game is political: (1) In 2012 Japanese Prime Minister Abe said before the Diet that "there was no evidence that the 'comfort women' were abducted or taken by force."

(2) In 2013, the placement of comfort women memorials in Korea was quoted to be in "conflict with the views of the Japanese Government."

(3) In 2015 Prime Minister Abe said that "Japanese military 'comfort women' issue is not a political or diplomatic problem.

(4) In December 2015, an "agreement" occurred between Japan and Korea, whereby Japan acknowledged almost everything except their culpability, offering apologies and remorse for "immeasurable and painful experiences" and "incurable physical and psychological wounds." But for critics of the deal, Prime Minister Abe’s apology statement was not specific or convincing enough. He did not acknowledge the extent of official Japanese military involvement in the forced prostitution program nor detail the specific atrocities committed by the Japanese military.

A good video response to that "apology" by the survivors is just below. 

(5) Japan also refuses to include their stories in public school history textbooks. 

It felt a little bizarre to sing and dance with these survivors yesterday, but as I wrote in the last blog, the untying of "Han" might-need to include the arts. Here is a video I shot yesterday.

Maybe a "condition of truth" is to let suffering sing, and dance.
Full-spread documentary on the Comfort Women is just below; every one of its 52 minutes is good and worthy. Click even if
you have just five minutes right now: 

Thank you for reading, and Considering Korea.


  1. Yes, yes. Thanks for this testimony.

  2. This is painfull to read, Marc. Thank you for sharing this. I hope John's daughter, Martha, has been able to learn about this while in Korea this summer.

    1. Yes she has. She was there.
      That said, your identity did not come through. Thank you for writing, but I don't know who I am thanking!