Wednesday, April 25, 2007

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?



At 8:51 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Is there anything today that prevents us from continuing the legacy of Cassandra?"

The short answer is no, not practically speaking. There are of course various laws in place all around the world regarding this issue, some of which even prohibit and/or condemn this behavior. However, feminist thought suggests that as long as a core assumption of patriarchy exists - that women are less than fully human, i.e. objects - then the idea of 'woman-as-spoils' will not be beyond the pale where it belongs. Instead, the legacy of Cassandra will indeed live on.

- Dennis

At 12:19 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Weapons. Now we, the women, can arm ourselves against such violence. War is a male hormonal act anyway. Irrational. Rape is a continuation of hormonal violence. The appropriate and only response is violence or...perhaps.....a good neuter job.

At 12:49 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Along the same vein, here are my thoughts on the cause of school shootings.

In school, packs form and young people vie to be leaders of the pack or associated with leaders. In schools, athletics reign supreme and those who participate in the most public athletic conflicts are perceived as leaders of the pack.

Those who don't fit into this coveted niche become targets of bullying. I see bullying as pack behavior, picking at or mobbing the weak. In an athletics worshipping environment, all sorts of people might be considered weak if they were not athletic and did not fit in.

In high school, and even college, hormones are flunctuating and raging. A young male, bullied to the limit, hormones raging, picks up a gun and shoots fellow students. He is saying "my balls are bigger than yours". Anybody can shoot a gun, not just a star athlete. Today's weapons are equalizers.

(However, guns used in hunting animals do not discriminate weak from strong, eliminating natural selection as a species strengthening tool, when humans hunt)

If society weighted other school subjects and activities equally or of more value (as seen in later productivity or wage earnings) than athletics, school shootings would eventually cease.

I didn't explain it well, I know. Perhaps you get the drift.

At 11:00 AM , Blogger Candace said...

Interesting connection between greek mythology and the present!

More interesting to me is that intense need for sex - is it an innate need or do we just think we need to have it? If soldiers didn't think they needed to have sex right then and there, the Japanese brothels would have been useless.

Many soldiers return home from war and abuse their partners sexually or have a different approach to finding pleasure. This is another interesting concept to me. One of my friends had this experience recently and it really threw her for a loop. It was as if her partner was acting out his experiences in war in his relations with her.

I am still thinking a lot about this particular issue - it's been bothering me.

Any ideas?

At 1:20 PM , Blogger Joseph Orosco said...

Candace: I'm not sure what to say about the drive--innate or constructed. I think there is a biological drive but that what we desire is probably heavily informed by our cultural influences.

What I think is interesting is how the U.S. military condones the use of sexualized imagery (by looking the other way on the possession of pornography by field troops). I think what might be going on there is the harnessing of that biological drive for a socially constructed purpose (organized warfare).

The problem then is that once such a strong connection is made between sexualized imagery and violence (and fear) then it can be acted out in other times. Just a thought...


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