Two old women whom the international media had called “former comfort women for the Japanese imperial army” died last week, ending their long hard lives. The deaths of Kim Seon-yi at a hospital in Ulsan on Thursday and Im Jeong-ja in Masan on the same day left 76 women of similar experiences alive. Kim was 83 and Im was 89.
Last year, which marked a century since Japan’s annexation of the Joseon Kingdom, 10 former comfort women passed away. Because of their advanced ages, the number of surviving women will rapidly be reduced while there is little hope that they will be able to fulfill their ardent wishes ― the Japanese government’s admission of guilt on the state level.
The old women from the government-arranged shelter, the House of Sharing, and some others from provinces have held their weekly demonstrations in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to urge the Tokyo government to end its silence and make sincere apology and compensation. Young activists join them in the Wednesday rallies, which they say will continue until Japan changes its attitude and until the last comfort woman dies.
When Japan offered compensation in the name of a private foundation in 1995, the then administration of President Kim Young-sam rejected it and took relief measures for the unfortunate women. Various records revealed as many as 200,000 young girls were mobilized from across Korea from the late 1930s and were sent to war zones in Asia or some factories in Japan.
In wars, armies kill civilians but there was no known precedent of any military systematically operating brothels with women taken from a colony. Japan simply cannot recognize and accept these most shameful deeds in its history. But it cannot extricate itself from the state-level responsibility for the inhumanity by just denying it.
Ten or 20 years from now, there may no longer be a witness to testify the crime. Yet the souls of the victims would still be waiting for words of conscience from the authorities in Tokyo.