Within Every Woman . . . . . There is a Story. Yes.
This is a very important film. I am glad that it is made.
I am also worried that it also promotes a violence, a silent violence that most people cannot detect. There are other critiques of this I have, but I will focus on one issue for this commentary.
I am not “for” or “against” this film being made. I feel that it needs to be made and for stories to be told, to give the silenced voices their place for our deaf ears to notice. It is heartbreaking.
I am intimately linked to these stories.
However, I critique some of the contours that are presented. I present one of them i this post.
The “good vs. evil” dynamic comes into play, to make a story strong. However, it is also a problem.
The continued subjugation of women as bodies for violent unleashings for men and women’s use, especially in contexts of conquest and militarism, is a story that goes back to imperialism, if we speak of mass scale. This does not make it “normal” or “natural.” It is not inevitable. That kind of “naturalizing” of violence as inevitable is used by the privileged and the dominant to maintain those violences in their repertoire. The length of centuries and trillions of minutes for impunity and ignoring, is more the culprit. The nation-state system and its prerequisite militarism and neo-liberal qualities, make the sexual slavery of women and children of all genders, possible.
In this important video, on the Comfort Women, which is the translation of the Japanese term for women who sexually served the imperial soldiers of the Japanese military soldiers during World War II, is something that needs to be seen.
My critique of this presentation is in its discursive function, its frames of identity.
The Japanese did this, the Japanese did that. Is this so? So now, of course, there are millions of people who continue to hate “the Japanese.” This hatred is passed on to children. I am not saying this should not happen. It happens because of the tremendous violence and abuse. Unhealed traumas that all nations submerge, hide, suppress. Then there is internalize oppression. When women who have been enslaved talk about these things, if they can, they are often scorned, abused, made to feel dirty and small and excluded. So increased silence.
The Japanese commanders during the war were various. Within wars, we often use terms of nations and national armies, which in turn, represent an ethnic group which has become synonymous with nation. This is a problem if we are to move forward to heal and to address. We cannot go backwards in time. But what moves forward? Certainly, hatred does. Regret does, Shame does. And so does this frame of nation-as-a-people.
In the Comfort Woman issue, there is the demand for redress. The Japanese government is accused. The movement is intensified by the national identities of the women who were entrapped into the system as Comfort Women. Filipino, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, Taiwanese, Indonesian, Malay, Burmese women and others, wherever the Japanese created “comfort stations” the women who were forced to work at these places come forward. Some Dutch women, who were in the Dutch Indies colonies in Asia, were also forced to become comfort women.
However, I have an issue with accounts such as these. In most literature, non-Japanese women are enslaved by the Japanese imperial forces, and this is all. It is read as fact. And I do not dispute those facts.
In the movement, the Japanese are targeted as a group, a people. This has tendencies to leave out the thousands of Japanese women, mostly from the poor areas, who were also enslaved in the system and were shipped to China, Korea, and other locations, to serve the Japanese imperial soldiers. Often, these women do not speak out in the current Comfort Woman issue. When they have, there has been a violent silencing of them, by the other women in this movement because of their being “Japanese.”
What complicates matters is the internalized nationalism of some of the comfort women from Japan, who may defend ‘Japan’ as nation, as victim of the Atomic Bomb, for example, in speaking with Comfort Women from other nations who may virulently express a disdain for the Japan of old, and transfer it to the present.
In this moment, the diversity among the different configurations of oppression as ‘comfort women’ may be lost. This is why complexity and knowledge of history and the particular effects of nation, identity and other factors, are so important in redress issues and healing. One cannot consider or blanket identities with a broad stroke in addressing social justice. When we say ‘comfort women,’ there must be a desire to address complex issues. And often, the addressing of issues can also be complex and not satisfy everyone. This is the problem in today’s politics of rights, freedoms and nation-states. This is also where we must become more creative, stronger.
So I ask that we pay attention to how we often, and quite easily assume, that nations create the oppressions. We must target elite systems, elite forms of power. Then we can see how many soldiers within the imperial army also protested against these systems as well, and they were silenced. Yet they are hated just the same as those who dominated the others in order to make the sexual enslavement system function for its purposes.
One of my mother’s sisters was taken from Japan and served the army. My mother’s older brother was a high officer of the Imperial forces who served in Burma. Many silent traumas and memory, burned into bodies, through war and what it requires, through national consolidation and nation-making in the international arena.
The United States, as the main designer and administrator of the Allied Occupation of Japan, formally banned the prostitution houses in Japan that served the Allied soldiers of the U.S., Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This was after major protest and struggle from within the U.S. administration, from the U.S. mainland, and from the Japanese people. However, the houses were made into something else, so that they may continue. It was common knowledge that “soldiers so far away from home, need their relief.”
In U.S. conquest, like all other powerful nations that exist today, there were always the sexual enslavement and control of women. The system entitled it, makes use of it. It is not “natural.” Indigenous women of all lands everywhere, were often the victims of any of the first Nation-as-Identity wars and “unification processes” that are a part of nation-building. I am not excusing it, I am attacking it. Sexual enslavement is structured and maintained, performed. It is a violence on those that connect to biology and cultures.
The biggest issue here, is socio-economic class and caste position, in relation to ethnicity and culture, within nations. Any nation. Japanese women, and women of the Japanese-occupied lands during the Second World War, were mostly young women from impoverished areas and families. Often, they were impoverished because they were minorities already. Class, gender, nation and ethnicity are all involved in the structure of nations and who must “sacrifice” for progress and nation. Often these things are made invisible by the dominant so citizens do not even know until much later, if at all.
But in U.S. textbooks and mainstream literature, it is made to seem like a purely national (and therefore ethnic) Japanese decision. This was not the case. But can one say it is “Japanese” or “American?” Demonization is convenient.
I am speaking about action and how we must disturb un-thought and unreflected points of view that prevent justice from happening, re-creating the problematics of dominant language and imagination.
The Japanese women who served the army are silenced by others. They silence themselves now. My aunt, who served the Japanese imperial forces, never got the chance. She killed herself because the general Japanese society could not stand her and she became impoverished.
So what of Justice?
And we if look at the demonizing of a nation, we begin to be blind to accountability ourselves, often. In Korea and in Vietnam, the United States also had institutionalized the use of women’s bodies, setting up certain areas to “bring in” women to fulfill the needs of the soldiers. In many cases, girls and women were raped by Americans. Prostitution houses, whether official or not, went hand-in-hand with war and occupation. It is one thing for a woman who had volunteered to give her self as a sexual object to a dominant military structure, or for a women to be forced and threatened to do this, and then feel a hatred for the people of a certain nation, whether they were soldiers or not. Pain goes deep. Trauma lingers with its rage and sadness. Also, in Asia, it comes with social ostracization long after the war itself.
But for others who are thinking of social justice and social change, we must look at the big picture of the entitlement to violence, created by nation-building. We must also understand that nation-building itself, was not a benign affair. The entire world map today, was created through centuries of devastation, charred bodies, raped and tortured people, displacement from homes and lands, and the breaking of lives and dreams. Assimilation is done through a normalization of the results of this, and the promise of future wars in a long story of defense and security and insecurity, fear and loathing. The structure is built on it.
Nobody would argue that the world system is male-dominated, male-oriented. But then this isn’t true completely. Its dominated by elite men, with links to military resources, economic resources, and social engineering techniques that ripple out to the masses. The Japanese population in Japan did not know anything about comfort women in other nations. But they knew of their own women who were taken. The American population did not know what was happening in Korea and Vietnam except for what the media and/or textbooks, or people they knew would tell.
Racism would work to demonize one group. But the same things happen over and over. Why? Its’ not because it is natural to rape, torture, and desire conquest. What is going on? These questions should give us hope. Structures are made. They can be unmade.
So what is Justice?
Can we care in ways that do not keep in tact, the boundaries of prejudice and the will of nation-states and their national identities, to trump histories and cultures that are not national, that are of life and body and legacy, not nations?