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Korean testimony docs highlight ethnic, gender discrimination under Japanese colonial rule

Testimonies given by Korean civilians to U.S. military officials on their treatment under Japanese colonial rule, which were recently re-discovered at the U.S. National Archives, highlight the ethnic and gender discrimination that governed Japanese policy at the time.

The documents contain rare testimonies that shed some light on the reality of Japanese colonial rule of the Korean peninsula. The U.S. military is believed to have focused on "comfort women" and forced laborers in order to hold Japan accountable.

The interrogations are valuable also for having been conducted at a time when the prisoners did not know where the war was headed, were under little pressure, and had a fair amount of freedom. The testimonies represent the sentiments of the lowest ranks of Korean society at the time.

The POWs spoke about the horrific conditions of their forced labor, which included torture, and noted that the Japanese treatment of Koreans was worse than that of POWs from the Allied Forces. They also said that had there been explicitly forced conscription of so-called "comfort women," the Korean people would be infuriated. Such testimony could be interpreted as backing the Japanese government's position, expressed to U.N. committees and elsewhere, that it does not have any documented proof that "comfort women" were forcibly conscripted. However, upon reading the recently rediscovered testimonies in full, it becomes evident that debating "forcibility" does not get at the heart of the suffering of the Korean people.

According to testimonies from former "comfort women," we know that there were many cases of women being defrauded into becoming "comfort women" after they were told they'd be given lucrative work. The sexism ingrained in society and the poverty faced by the Korean peninsula under Japanese colonial rule made it particularly easy to commit such employment fraud.

Ethnic discrimination and human rights violations toward Koreans were major problems of the Japanese administration of Korea.

The agreement on "comfort women" reached by the governments of Japan and South Korea in December 2015 is sorely lacking an approach of inheriting the past and furthering historical research. The South Korean government is now rushing to set up the foundation that was agreed upon in the bilateral accord. What we need is to face Japanese colonialism head-on, and fill in the gap that exists in Japanese and Korean interpretations of history. (By Toshimitsu Kishi, Editorial Writer)

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