Georgia’s Korean associations welcomed Il-chul Kang in Norcross as she began a two-city tour Aug. 1-11 to raise awareness about the plight of Korean women such as herself who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II.
Ms. Kang is 87 years old and one of the 48 remaining women who survived the wartime atrocities inflicted on an estimated 200,000 Korean women who were forced to work as prostitutes in Japan’s wartime military brothels.
Ahn Shin-kwon, the director of the “House of Sharing,” which provides a home in Seoul, South Korea’s capital, for the survivors, and its executive secretary, Jung-sook Kim, are accompanying Ms. Kang on her U.S. tour.
Their visit to Atlanta preceded the 70th anniversary of VJ Day on Aug. 15, widely recognized as the day of Japan’s defeat. The South Korean government is actively challenging the Japanese government to apologize for the atrocities committed by the old Imperial Army.
Although Japan’s prime minister, Tomiichi Murayama, acknowledged Japan’s history of “colonial rule and aggression” and expressed his “heartfelt apology” for “these irrefutable facts of history” in 1995, the Korean government continues to question the sincerity of the current Japanese government’s remorse.
Japanese and Korean diplomats have met in recent months without success to reach an agreement whereby Japan’s government would accept responsibility for the atrocities, provide reparations and extend apologies.
Meanwhile, Japanese and Korean relations have clashed over the ownership of two small rocky islands and nearby reefs roughly midway between the Japanese island of Honshu and the Korean peninsula. The Koreans call them the Dokto islands while the Japanese call them Takeshima.
While the island conflict has played a role in domestic politics explaining the visit by Korea’s former President Myung-bak Lee to the islands to shore up his party base, the increasingly hostile relations have extended to educational policies with the Koreans challenging Japanese high school textbooks that have no mention of the women, known in Japan as “comfort women.”
Relations have remained tense as recently seen by South Korean President Geun-hye Park‘s refusal to hold a summit with Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Instead she met in Seoul with visiting opposition leader Katsuya Okada, who heads the Democratic Party of Japan.
Ms. Kang was born in the southeastern Korean town of Sangu. She was 16 years old when she was abducted by Japanese military police and taken to Manchuria where she was forced to serve in several “comfort stations.”
By the end of the war, she was severely stricken with typhoid fever. On the verge of death, she was destined to be cremated but was rescued by Korean independence fighters. She continued to live in China until her return to South Korea in 2000 where she has been living at the “House of Sharing” with other former victims.
During the Aug. 2 gathering at the Center for the Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta (KAAGA) in Norcross, Ms. Kang recounted her life history.
The Korea Daily reported that she often wept during the recounting and added, “I’m happy to see many Koreans making a good living in Atlanta, and I thank everyone who attended today to hear my story.”
Five Korean organizations subsequently issued a statement urging Mr. Abe, “to use the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II as the opportunity to endorse the statements by his predecessors and honestly admit history of the colonization and invasion, and apologize to the neighboring nations for damages it caused.”
Last year in April, Mr. Abe spoke at a joint session of Congress, but failed to restate the 1993 acknowledgement of Japan’s Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that the Japanese Army had been involved in the forced recruitment of Korean sex slaves.
U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, a Republican from Georgia’s 7th congressional district, was one of 25 signatories to a letter to the Japanese ambassador to the U.S. encouraging Mr. Abe to “lay the foundation for healing and humble reconciliation by addressing the historical issues.”
Ms. Kang and the officials for the “House of Sharing” remained in Atlanta until Aug. 4 and then went on to New York with $3,200 donated by the Korean organizations on behalf of the “House of Sharing.”
The following Korean organizations issued the statement seeking the Japanese government to apologize for its treatment of the Korean women forced to serve as sex slaves:
The Korean American Association of Greater Atlanta, the Federation of Korean Associations of the Southeast U.S., the National Unification Advisory Council-Atlanta Chapter, the Korean Veterans Association of the Southeast U.S., and the National Security Council Association of the Southeast U.S.
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