Women's Bodies and the Fields of War: Japanese Comfort Women and the Legacy of Cassandra
In the ancient world, victorious warriors were expected to plunder the wealth of their conquered enemies. Often times, these riches included the local woman. In Aeschylus's play, "Agamemnon", which opens the trilogy of the Oresteia, the king Agamemnon returns from the Trojan War with Cassandra as his war prize (after she had already been raped by his fellow military commanders). She enters the scene dazed and other worldly--she is a seer, after all, and announces the intentions of the gods through fantastic and cryptic visions that no one understands. One has to wonder if her detachment from the world could better be described as a result of her trauma at the hands of the warriors and their code of plunder.
The case of the Japanese "comfort women" is well known by now. During World War II, the Japanese military kidnapped and forced many women, mostly Koreans, into being sexual slaves for its forces. As some organizations have argued, this practice amounted to egregious violations of human rights, constituting crimes against humanity, and contravening international conventions against the trafficking of women and slaves.
New reports indicate now that American military forces took advantage of Japanese state organized brothels during the occupation of Japan. Japanese women were recruited by local officials to work in make-shift brothels and soldiers were charged about a dollar for each sexual experience. The women in one of the brothels serviced on average between 15 to 60 men each per day.
The brothels were eventually shut down by the American occupation forces, but not because they were immoral or constituted human rights violations. Too many GIs were coming down with sexually transmitted infections and this posed a threat to the health of the troops.
Many international nongovernmental organizations have come forward to press for justice for the Korean sex slaves--one wonders if there will be a movement to ask for reparations for the Japanese women who serviced the American occupiers.
The claim might be made that this was a victimless crime. The women were paid for their sexual services and not forcibly raped by American service personnel. If anyone can be held accountable, it would be the Japanese officials who manipulated women into being prostitutes. This response, however, leaves untouched the issue of the warrior's code of plunder: why is it that women's bodies are still considered objects that can be offered up to placate the anger of the hero, the occupier, the victor? Is there anything today that prevents us from continuing the legacy of Cassandra?
Labels: human rights