Japanese historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki touched off a firestorm of controversy when he went public with information pertaining to involvement on the part of the Japanese government with a network of brothels in the 30s and 40s of the last century. Allegations were made against Japan accusing the country of abducting thousands upon thousands of women and forced them into service as sex slaves only to massacre many of them following a fifteen-year period of war in Asia. The main target of these atrocities was said to be Korean women.
The government of Japan made a series of public apologies that did nothing to lessen the anger that came from anti-establishment members of the press in the country. Eventually, the United Nations entered into the fray and released the results of their own investigation on the incident in 1996 which it called the Coomaraswamy report.
In South Korea, the expression of anti-Japanese sentiments is often a central part of being a statesman. The issue of what became known as South Korean comfort women at first glance would seemingly amount to a political slam dunk for politicians in the country. But this was not the case for a couple of reasons.
The first is that a key component to the comfort women stories turned out to be an untruth. Aside from isolated war crimes, for which perpertrators were later tried and punished whenever discovered, there were no systematic abductions of Korean women for the purpose of sex slavery. It was also determined that comfort women were of various ethnicities and not all were Korean.
In fact, much of what is considered to be true regarding the issue was part of a fictional written account by author Yoshida Seiji in 1982. Many familiar with the Coomaraswamy Report was no more than a rehashing of Yoshida's fictional account.
The second reason that attempts to use the issue for political purposes have proved fruitless is that the deeper one examines the issue of Korean comfort women the worse it causes other countries to look, including South Korea.
The combination of prostitution and war is one that has been present since seemingly the beginning of time. Magnus Hirschfeld performed a compelling investigation on the link between war and sex. Hirschfeld found that during the Great War brothels set up by enemy governments saw major traffic.
World War II was a different story with soldiers often being positioned in isolated garrisons surrounded by locals that were hostile to their presence. America, which possessed the largest military-run system of brothels across the globe experienced the good fortune of being able to place these comfort stations safely in Hotel Street in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Japanese commanders disallowed their soldiers the option to interact with local prostitutes as a safety precaution.
World War II saw many women raped by soldiers from multiple countries. the worst offender by many accounts was the Soviet Union whose troops were said to take part in a rampage of rape as the war began to wind down. A number of Japanese women committed suicide as a result of the savagery committed by Soviet soldiers.
It has also been noted that American soldiers raped French women by the thousands after fighting for liberty in Normandy.
Another harsh truth surrounding the comfort women testimonies is that South Korea itself has a history of committing atrocious war crimes. South Korean soldiers raped countless Vietnamese women and butchered them afterwards. There is also a South Korean record of cruelty to POWs of allied forces as well as children born illegitimately to South Koreans soldiers during the second World War.
Simply stated, no country can emerge unscathed by calling out another for war time abuses of women.