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When Will The US Government Own Up To Its Involvement In The Comfort Women Issue?

The United States foreign policy includes covert actions to protect its interests abroad. Examples of these are CIA-assisted Guatemala coup d’état in 1954 that ousted left-leaning president Jacobo Arbenz and installed a military officer who later ruled as a dictator.

It also denies involvement in events that occur during wartime or peace. The El Mozote village massacre of 767 civilians in El Salvador in December 1981 was committed by a Salvadoran elite army unit that was educated and trained by US Special Forces in Fort Bragg, NC. Reagan’s administration denied any that a massacre took place but in 1992, investigative reports, survivor accounts, and declassified documents proved the US military’s actual participation in the carnage and rape that occurred.

Comfort Women Issue

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A recent exposure regarding South Korean comfort women has again raised the question of the US government’s involvement in affairs overseas that are unsavory. In June 2014, a group of more than a hundred of these comfort women filed a lawsuit against their own government for encouraging to enter into prostitution during the American occupation after WWII (1945-1948,) again during the Korean War (1950-1953,) and until the end of the 1970s.

These women are now in their old age and living in poverty, stigmatized by conventional society for being former prostitutes of US troops in the military bases in the Republic of Korea. In their petition, they claimed that they were young girls looking for work. The fledgling republic was in dire straits, completely damaged by two successive wars. The women arrived or lived in the villages outside the US bases. The villages were called camp towns.

Businesses in camp towns were thriving. The American soldiers were the primary customers of the fast food outlets, diners, bars, and nightclubs that burgeoned. As in other parts of the world where bases are located, prostitution in the camptowns also flourished. But in South Korea, it was different. Prostitution was and still is, illegal. So how did these camp town women manage to make it their living?

The South Korean government did not only look the other way where servicing the US troops sexually was concerned, they “actively encouraged” it, if only to slake the carnal desires of the soldiers enough to make them stay. Considering that the Korean War did not technically end, the fear that North Korea would attack again was intense. The presence of US troops would be a powerful deterrent against another invasion. Further, a military alliance between South Korean and the United States was already in effect.

Another primary goal of the South Korean government was to bring the economy back to life. Post-war, the ROK was the poorest country in the world, with a per capita income of less than $100. Every dollar counted, and the expenditures of the US troops were precious. Katharine Moon, author of the book “Sex Between Allies,” says that the foreign currency from the camp towns at that time contributed to 25 percent of the economy. Without the prostitutes, it would have been much less. (South Korea’s rise was short of a miracle. In 20 years, they have become one of the richest countries in the world.)

The women alleged that their government officials praised them for their services, calling them “dollar-earning patriots,” “personal ambassadors,” and other flattering labels. Their prostitution was confined only to the camp towns and only the American troops could avail of their bodies. This was done to preserve the dignity and national pride of the women of South Korea.

The US government was complicit in the official understanding. During the American occupation that oversaw the transition of government from the Japanese, US military officials took over the brothels that the Japan Army had constructed. Instead of demolishing them, they continued the operations of the comfort stations, staffing them with Korean women. In peacetime Korea, after the Korean War, the US military doctors made regular checkups of the camp town women to ensure that the soldiers do not get sexually transmitted diseases.

South Korean and United States officials collaborated to allow prostitution, as recounted by Americans to David Vine, a professor of American University who did an extensive research on overseas military bases.  Declassified documents and first-hand tales from the comfort women prove the involvement of the US government in this shameful event.

But true to its nature, the US government would not admit it. Asked for comment, embassy officers would hedge on the issue. Their silence brings to mind the No Gun Ri massacre in 1950 that was committed by US soldiers and revealed 49 years later, and the coverup attempts of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam in 1968.

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Aqeel Arif

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