“[My] stomach seemed to turn upside down,” said Lee Yong-soo. “I remember crawling towards the bathroom, throwing up as I went along, when I was grabbed by a man and dragged into a cabin. I tried to shake him off, biting his arm. I did my best to get away. But he slapped me and threw me into the cabin with such force that I couldn’t fight him off. In this way I was raped. It was my first sexual experience.”
Lee, born in Taegu, Korea, in 1928, lost her innocence during World War II, when she was forced by the Japanese Imperial Army to live as a sex slave — a “comfort woman”— at age 16.
According to historians’ estimates, about 200,000 women from China, Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere suffered similar fates.
Lee’s testimony was heard by the House Committee on Foreign Relations Feb. 15, during an ongoing debate over HR 121, calling on Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner” for the Japanese Imperial Army’s coercion of young women, known as “comfort women,” into sexual slavery during its occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through World War II.”
On March 5, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that no matter what the House of Representatives decides, there will be no official apology from Japan. Abe has also threatened to rescind a 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono, in which Japan for the first time admitted and apologized for its crimes.
Kono said the army was “directly or indirectly involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women” and that “this was an act with the involvement of the military authorities of the day that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women.”
Ichida Tadayoshi, a leader of the Japanese Communist Party, said, “The government must stick to the position of admitting to the wrongdoing and offering an apology.”
Abe’s statements have provoked condemnation from governments and citizens of China, the two Korean states and other nations as well as a large portion of Japan’s public.
Calling the issue “undeniable fact,” Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Qin Gang said, “We hope Japan can exert courage and adopt a responsible attitude towards history, the people and the future, so as to respond earnestly to the call of justice from the international community and properly handle the issue left over from history.”
Many nations have urged Japan to admit and apologize. Recently, Australia’s prime minister said he “completely repudiated” what he called an attempt by Japan to rewrite history.
dmargolis @ pww.org. Japan Press Service contributed to this article.