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Former sex slaves thank U.S. historians

A group of Korean victims of Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement on Monday expressed their gratitude to 19 U.S. historians who criticized Tokyo’s attempts to whitewash the dark side of its history in a joint statement earlier this month.

In a letter to the historians, victims from the House of Sharing, a civilian shelter for them in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, said they were grateful to the scholars for “courageously pointing out Japan’s wrongs.”

“We express our gratitude and support to you for standing firm against the Abe government, which has attempted to erase facts about the comfort women (a euphemism for wartime sex slaves) from its history,” the letter reads.

“Should the scholars visit Korea in the future, we would like to invite them to the House of Sharing and be of any help for their historical research.”

The American historians had decried Tokyo’s recent request to the U.S. publishing firm McGraw-Hill to change the description of “comfort women” in one of its textbooks. They stressed that no government has the right to “censor history.”

The textbook says Japanese troops forcibly mobilized some 200,000 women, aged between 14 and 20, to make them work at comfort stations, or frontline military brothels. It also touches on the harrowing lives of the victims including some who were allegedly murdered after being caught fleeing.

During a parliamentary session late last month, Abe said he was “very surprised (by the false description),” a comment that reignited criticism from South Korea and other countries.

“Since the international community failed to fix what should have been corrected, such a textbook is being used in the U.S. Should we just sit quietly, the world will not look at us positively. We should clearly make our claims,” Abe reportedly said during the session.

The comfort women topic has long been the thorniest issue in South Korea-Japan relations.

Tokyo argues that all colonial-era concerns including the sexual slavery issue have been settled under a 1965 deal that normalized the bilateral relationship, and that there is no evidence to confirm the victims were forcibly mobilized by Japan’s military.

But Seoul argues that the issue was not covered under the deal and should be dealt with separately from other issues, given that it concerns universal human rights.

By Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldcorp.com)
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