August 14th: Will Dutch Comfort Women Be Forgotten?


August is a busy month for the Indo-Dutch community, because of the official ending of WWII in Asia and the many commemorations this triggers. There’s now another day to put on your calendar and that is August 14th, which is International Comfort Women Memorial Day.

The Indo Project fully endorses the San Francisco Comfort Women Justice Coalition (CWJC), which is a community of Korean, Chinese, Filipino, and Japanese people who haven’t only fought for recognition, apology and reparations for the comfort women issue but they have also received the green light from San Francisco City Council to build a comfort women memorial, which will be the first one in a major Western city.

On behalf of The Indo Project, I went to the Rally for Truth and Justice by CWJC, which was held in front of the Japanese Consulate in downtown San Francisco today. This was the write-up and announcement for the rally, which I shared on FB and elsewhere:

“The ‘comfort women’ struggle for truth and justice is an international movement of education and redress mobilization:
–to preserve the history of over 200,000 women and girls from 11 countries who suffered under the Imperial Japanese military system of sex slavery and trafficking during WWII and
–to secure government accountability and redress for these brutal human rights violations.

Despite the passage of over 80 years, this unresolved WWII justice issue continues as an ongoing struggle against historical denialism and government impunity in the present context of increasing danger of war and growing militarization and violence against women in the Asia Pacific region.” UNQUOTE

I had hoped to see some Indo and Dutch faces in the crowd but I was the only Caucasian and when I helped holding up one of the placards, the Asian press pointed their cameras in my direction because what was this tall blond woman doing among the protestors? That mystery was solved when one of the organizers mentioned Great Britain and the Dutch East Indies and I was whisked in front of the mic to make a statement on behalf of The Indo Project.

This came out of left field, so I had to improvise and decided to talk about the personal experience of the 14-yeard-old and 15-year-old girls who were recruited by the Japanese Imperial Army to be gang raped and satisfy the libido of the soldiers on a regular basis.

When they were lucky enough to survive and get married after the war and have kids, their secret lasted for decades because how could they ever talk about the insanity of gang rape to their husbands and children? Their shame and self-imposed silence made this the perfect crime for the Japanese, many of who(m) still deny that this crime against humanity ever happened.

That said, as the CWJC pointed out, this is not an action against the Japanese but against the war crimes of the Japanese Imperial Army, for which the Japanese government should apologize. And let’s not forget that Japanese women were forced to “service” the troops as well.

The apology and recognition is long over due but very much necessary for the sake of women’s and international human rights, going forward. In every new war and conflict, women are often forced to have sex against their will by the oppressor (ISIS being the most recent example). So for Japan to come out against sexual slavery and come clean would send a strong signal and would be the beginning of final healing for the grandmothers and comfort women who are still alive. Importantly, the CWJC did report there was a solidarity rally in Tokyo yesterday, so hopefully more and more Japanese people become aware of what’s been omitted in the history books they used in school.

Speaking of history books…

As I was walking away from the rally, I was approached by a journalist from the Korean Times. I had to explain to him that yes, there were countless of Dutch comfort women, too, many of whom were interviewed right after the war. Of all the nations whose young girls were raped by the Japanese Imperial Army, the Netherlands may well have the largest burden of proof of the comfort women issue, sitting in Dutch archives. The journalist indicated that he had no idea that there were Dutch comfort women, too.

This made me sad.

But maybe we have to blame ourselves. While the CWJC has a large Japanese, Chinese and Korean following, our Indo-Dutch peeps didn’t even bother to come out to this important rally, cluttering the sidewalks in front of the Japanese Consulate and beating drums so loud that the Japanese Consul General couldn’t have missed it.

Maybe the comfort women issue is as much a dead issue to the Indo Dutch community as it is to the Japanese community.

But we were not the perpetrators.

In fact, it could have happened to your grandma or your great aunt. We need to carry on the flame, and for every former sex slave who dies, the flame needs to burn a little more… and brighter still with every denial that is hurled at us.

Right now, the flame seems to be going out and pretty soon everyone in Asia won’t know anything about the fate of Dutch comfort women.

That’s what you get for not speaking out, not showing up and not doing your share. Once again, the Japanese will have succeeded. The perfect crime.

For TIP followers: We created The Indo Project to do some of the heavy lifting for you, but we could do so much more if you all engaged with us a little harder. Social media is easy, and saying laat maar is even easier. Donating, giving hours of your free time and showing up is a lot harder. As one of my favorite Irishmen, Edmund Burke, once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

I was there today, but walked away with a heavy heart. I will be there again, next year, maybe not so much for The Indo Project as for the Dutch comfort women whose trauma lasted a lifetime and whose suffering should not have been in vain but an important history lesson to prevent the rape of our daughters and granddaughters in future wars and conflicts.

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