Lee Yong-Soo
Former comfort woman, Lee Yong-Soo

Recently there have been hearings in the US house of representatives to condemn Japan for its involvement in the comfort women system. A Korean woman that claims to be a former comfort woman appeared before the house of representatives to give testimony. The woman, Lee Yong-soo, gave testimony that in the house of representatives that contradicts her earlier testimony.

Excerpt of testimony in the house of representatives

In the autumn of 1944, when I was 16 years old, my friend, Kim Punsun, and I were collecting shellfish at the riverside when we noticed an elderly man and a Japanese man looking down at us form the hillside. The older man pointed at us with his finger, and the Japanese man started to walk towards us. The older man disappeared, and the Japanese beckoned to us to follow him. I was scared and ran away, not caring about what happened to my friend. A few days later, Punsun knocked on my window early in the morning, and whispered to me to follow her quietly. I tip-toed out of the house after her. I lift without telling my mother. I was wearing a dark skirt, a long cotton blouse buttoned up at the front and slippers on my feet. I followed my friend until we met the same man who had tried to approach us on the riverbank. He looked as if he was in his late thirties and he wore a sort of People’s Army uniform with a combat cap. Altogether, there were five girls with him, including myself.

Testimony given previously

Lee Yong-soo, 78, a South Korean who was interviewed during a recent trip to Tokyo, said she was 14 when Japanese soldiers took her from her home in 1944 to work as a sex slave in Taiwan.

“The Japanese government must not run from its responsibilities,” said Lee, who has long campaigned for Japanese compensation. “I want them to apologize. To admit that they took me away, when I was a little girl, to be a sex slave. To admit that history.”

“I was so young. I did not understand what had happened to me,” she said. “My cries then still ring in my years. Even now, I can’t sleep.”

Obviously these testimonies contradict each other, and in normal circumstances would call into doubt the validity of the claim of being forced to be a sex slave. However, in the comfort woman controversy, anyone that even dares to doubt the testimony of a self described former comfort woman is an evil beast that supports the sexual slavery of women. Truly examining the testimonies the comfort woman has reached level of an untouchable taboo.

Lee Yong-soo is not the only person claiming to be a former comfort woman to give contradictory testimony. There are many. From what I have read from comfort woman supporters, the contradictory testimonies can be accounted for by –

*The interviewers of the comfort women are injecting their own words into the testimony
*The women suffer from a “fragmentation” of memory, and thus unable to give a consistent chronological account of their experiences

Which testimony are we supposed to believe? Since questioning the factual validity of womens testimonies is taboo, we are expected to believe every single testimony, even those that contradict each other. I think there is some truth to some of the testimony, but I do not think that testimony should be the only way of determining what happened. Testimony should be cross referenced with existing documents to determine what really happened.

Posted by Matt, filed under diplomacy, finger chopping wacky. Date: March 3, 2007, 8:57 pm | 17 Comments »

17 Responses

  1. tomato Says:

    I know it’s ugly, but the allegations are indeed serious enough that they merit rather strict scrutiny. I’m quite alarmed that people from the west tend to jump conclusions on this without really knowing about the issue…for example, the “Have Your Say” in the BBC net is opening discussions for this, and it’s apparent the vast majority are critical against the Japanese PM.

  2. shadkt Says:

    Yeah.
    The most absurd thing is that U.S., a country not directly involved with the issue, is trying to pass a legislation to forcce apology from Japan, but they do not even do extensive research on it besides hearing testimonies from one side. U.S., the justice of the world!
    Rather than trying to judge other countries, shouldn’t U.S. congress be doing more internal judgement, like the guilt of the U.S. invading Iraq with no real reason (I mean, the weapon of mass destruction was not found, never even in the process of building even, and their relation to Al Qaeda was fuzzy at best).

  3. HanComplex Says:

    There are complications with this issue. Recalling events that took place more than 60 years ago could become cloudy for these women. Add to that cultural factors of shame, guilt, etc. and their testimonies might come out shaky and not as rock-solid as their lawyers would hope them to be. Hence, even if their stories were factual, inaccuracies or inconsistencies in their statements could easily be attacked and used against them. Credible witnesses from the other side supporting their claims would be a boost to their claims.

    At any rate, I can only hope for true justice to prevail. I hope that this case doesn’t drag on for too long, as the women are already advanced in their years and may not have that much time left.

  4. Matt Says:

    There are complications with this issue. Recalling events that took place more than 60 years ago could become cloudy for these women. Add to that cultural factors of shame, guilt, etc. and their testimonies might come out shaky and not as rock-solid as their lawyers would hope them to be. Hence, even if their stories were factual, inaccuracies or inconsistencies in their statements could easily be attacked and used against them. Credible witnesses from the other side supporting their claims would be a boost to their claims.

    I agree. I have a theory about the inconsistencies. I will write about it in my upcoming post about comfort women. I think I have managed to create a thesis that is understanding and sympathetic of the comfort women, while not accepting that every testimony is the pure truth.

  5. bad_moon_rising Says:

    tomato said:
    “Have Your Say” in the BBC net is opening discussions for this, and it’s apparent the vast majority are critical against the Japanese PM.

    That is not surprising. During the First World War, the British public was quick to accept stories of atrocities committed by Germans even when the evidence to support such allegations was less than credible.

    From the start of World War I, stories of German atrocities filled British and American newspapers. Most emanated from the German march through Belgium to outflank French defenses in their drive on Paris. Eyewitnesses described infantrymen spearing Belgian babies on their bayonets as they marched along, singing war songs. Accounts of Belgian boys with amputated hands (supposedly to prevent them from using guns) abounded. Tales of women with amputated breasts multiplied even faster.

    At the top of the atrocity hit parade were rape stories. One eyewitness claimed the Germans dragged twenty young women out of their houses in a captured Belgian town and stretched them on tables in the village square, where each was violated by at least twelve “Huns” while the rest of the division watched and cheered. At British expense, a group of Belgians toured the United States telling these stories. President Woodrow Wilson solemnly received them in the White House.

    See The Historian Who Sold Out

    Most people have little to no knowledge of the “comfort women” issue. Because Japan during this period is viewed as the “bad guy” and there is no concerted effort by the present Japanese government to debunk these claims, the result is a one sided negative view of Japan regarding its treatment of “comfort women.”

    What Japan needs is a present day Clarence Darrow to look into the matter and challenge the Koreans in the same way Clarence Darrow challenged the Belgians and their British supporters during WWI.

    Clarence Darrow, the famously iconoclastic American lawyer, who specialized in winning acquittals for seemingly guilty clients, was another skeptic. He went to France later in 1915 and searched in vain for a single eyewitness who could confirm even one of the Bryce stories. Increasingly dubious, Darrow announced he would pay $1,000, a very large sum in 1915 — more than $17,000 in 21st Century money — to anyone who could produce a Belgian or French boy whose hands had been amputated by a German soldier. There were no takers.

    shadkt said:

    The most absurd thing is that U.S., a country not directly involved with the issue, is trying to pass a legislation to forcce apology from Japan, but they do not even do extensive research on it besides hearing testimonies from one side. U.S., the justice of the world!

    The US Congress has a history of allowing dubious testimony without critical analyses of the facts or verification as to the credibility of witnesses.

    One of the most blatant manipulations of the press during the Gulf War involved the story of a 15-year-Kuwaiti girl named Nayirah (her last name was kept confidential). In testimony before the US Congress on October 10, 1990, she said, “I volunteered at the al-Addan hospital. While I was there, I saw the Iraqi soldiers come into the hospital with guns, and go into the room where … babies were in incubators. They took the babies out of the incubators, took the incubators, and left the babies on the cold floor to die.” This terrible news about 312 babies made headlines worldwide and helped turn public opinion and Congress against Iraq. This writer, too, was very shocked.

    Later it was learnt that Nayirah was the daughter of Saud Nasir al-Sabah, Kuwait’s ambassador to the US. She had reportedly left Kuwait before the Iraqi invasion.

    See Iraq and the war of words

    The US Congress should be reminded that not everyone who speaks before Congress is speaking truthfully. Any testimony given should not be taken at face value unless there is separate evidence corroborating the testimony, especially where there are inconsistencies in the testimony of the witness.

  6. jion999 Says:

    There were many Japanese comfort women, too. Most of them were sold by poor farmers of Japanese north east.
    They never asked for apology or compensation to the government because so many soldiers they worked for were killed in the battle fields.
    Korean shows its anger or sadness so clearly, extremely, which is very different from Japanese custom.
    Someone may criticize me as a racist.
    But I am sure this is the typical difference between Japanese and Korean.
    Is Japanese guilty because Korean old women show their anger so clearly?
    If it is so, it means all of Korean violent protesters insist a right thing.

  7. Ryuugakusei Says:

    If the matter of inconsistency between the two versions has to do with her age being either 16 or 14. We’ve got to take into account the Korean perception of aging. Since I was born in 1980 I technically am 26, but according to the Korean aging tradition I am considered as 28 to my peers in South Korea. According to the aging system; “newborns start at one year old, and each passing of a New Year, rather than the birthday, adds one year to the person’s age.”

    Hence, if she followed the Japanese aging scale when she testified in Tokyo she would have been 14 in 1944, and if she had testified in the US using her recollection of her Korean age at the time, she would have been 16 in 1944.

  8. Matt Says:

    If the matter of inconsistency between the two versions has to do with her age being either 16 or 14. We’ve got to take into account the Korean perception of aging. Since I was born in 1980 I technically am 26, but according to the Korean aging tradition I am considered as 28 to my peers in South Korea. According to the aging system; “newborns start at one year old, and each passing of a New Year, rather than the birthday, adds one year to the person’s age.”

    Hence, if she followed the Japanese aging scale when she testified in Tokyo she would have been 14 in 1944, and if she had testified in the US using her recollection of her Korean age at the time, she would have been 16 in 1944.

    It could be. It does not explain the inconsistency in Japanese soldiers taking her from her home in one testimony to being lured away from her home by a friend in another.

  9. jion999 Says:

    If a Korean woman was kidnapped by a pimp, it must be the crime of that pimp, not the crime of Japanese Government or Japanese people.
    Even if a Korean woman insets that she was kidnapped by Japanese who wore Japanese military uniform, it does not mean that Japanese government ordered its soldiers to kidnap Korean women.
    During that war, most of men wore a uniform which is like a soldier.
    Korean and Japanese leftist groups have never discovered the evidences that show Japanese government ordered officially to kidnap Korean women.
    Even now, Korean pimps cheat Korean women and force them to work as prostitutes.
    But it is not the fault of Japanese government.

  10. Gerry-Bevers Says:

    Ryuugakusei,

    Ms. Lee said she was born in 1928, which means she would have been 16, going on 17, in the autumn of 1944, not 14.

    Also, in the CNN article Ms. Lee said “Japanese soldiers took her from her home in 1944,” but before Congress she said she willing left her home at the bidding of a friend and met a comfort station proprietor, not Japanese soldiers. Even with the passing of all that time, how could her story be so different?

    I wonder why she and her friend left with a strange man in the first place? And it was not until a couple of days later before she started to have a change of heart. Did she leave because she was promised money?

    Anyway, Japanese soldiers did not take her from her home, as she reportedly said in Tokyo. I suspect that her friend told her about all the money they could make and convinced her to leave home in the middle of the night. In the autumn of 1944, ads in Korean newspapers were offering women 300 yen a month to work as comfort women. Isn’t it possible that Ms. Lee, her friend, and the other girls were enticed by 300 yen a month to leave their homes in the middle of the night?

  11. Sweet Water Says:

    In her testimony at the U.S. Congress, Lee Yong-soo stated “I was born in 1928 in the Korean city of Taegu.” So, in “the autumn of 1944,” she was 16 in the usual aging system and 17 in the Korean system.
    I think her testimony under oath was “relatively” more accurate than any other speeches at the organized events. She may have concocted the 14-year-old version to please her supporters. She claimed she had been captured as a sex slave for 3 years (from 14 through 17), rather than less than 1 year, in another testimony.

  12. Matt Says:

    Anyway, Japanese soldiers did not take her from her home, as she reportedly said in Tokyo. I suspect that her friend told her about all the money they could make and convinced her to leave home in the middle of the night. In the autumn of 1944, ads in Korean newspapers were offering women 300 yen a month to work as comfort women. Isn’t it possible that Ms. Lee, her friend, and the other girls were enticed by 300 yen a month to leave their homes in the middle of the night?

    According to this US army report, a woman could make 1500 yen (with half taken out for expenses, leaving 750 yen) for working in a brothel on the front lines. I think this discrepancy can be accounted for by the size of the advance (in the case of the newspaper advertisement you posted, the advance was 3000 yen, a fortune). The size of the advance directly influences the amount of money taken out, leaving 300 yen each month for the women that choose to take up the offer in the advertisement. The women in the US army report only got a few hundred yen in advance, so they were able to earn 750 yen a month, clear.

  13. Congress backstabs US ally; Times lie trashes Abe « AMPONTAN Says:

    [...] Fortunately, the Korean-based blogger Occidentalism decided to do their work for them. For example, he found that one of the three witnesses, Lee Yong-soo, gave sharply inconsistent accounts of her experience within a matter of days. [...]

  14. More contradictory comfort woman testimony » Occidentalism Says:

    [...] Previously I introduced the contradictory testimony of Lee Yong-Soo, who appeared before congress appeared before a Congressional committee considering House Resolution 121 unconditionally apologise to all of the 200,000 women it is claimed were kidnapped by the Japanese army or their agents. [...]

  15. HanComplex Says:

    I just came across this Mainichi article. Just thought it’s worth mentioning in the context of the above topic.

    Philippine wartime sex slaves call Japanese prime minister ‘liar’ for denying evidence

    I don’t know if any of them have given official testimonies of any kind. The article does say that they have accepted remunerations through the fund. In considering their claims vis-a-vis Korean comfort women’s, I’m inclined to think their situation is a bit different due to different historical and cultural relations with Japan. Same thing can be said with other Asian countries with claims such as Taiwan, Indonesia, etc. Each should examined on a case-by-case basis.

  16. beechtreem Says:

    From this fragment of her testimony no contradiction is apparent. A meeting with a Japanese man late at night does not indicate willingness to be a sex slave in Taiwan. I would like to know the rest of her account. The soldiers may indeed have swarmed the unsuspecting girls and abducted them. From this account it is not apparent that she and her friend were expecting anything less innocent than a late-night crooning session with some swaggering Jap.

  17. USFK comfort women | Occidentalism Says:

    [...] Comfort woman gives contradictory testimony [...]