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Friday, June 14, 2024

A reminder of the atrocities of war

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The removal of a statue commemorating Filipina “comfort women” from Roxas Boulevard is a disservice not only to the women being remembered but also to the generations who have no awareness about the occurrences of World War II.

“Comfort women” is a euphemism for the women subjected to rape and sexual slavery in brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II in the countries occupied by Japan.

According to Manila city administrator Ericson Alcovendaz, the statue was removed to make way for a flood control program.

President Rodrigo Duterte supported the removal, saying the statue is an “insult” to Japan. “The Japanese has (sic) paid dearly for that. Iyung reparation started many years ago. Huwag na lang natin insultuhin… It is not the policy of government to antagonize other nations.”

He also said that remembering the comfort women’s hardships would only cause constant pain. “Masakit kasi na ulit-ulitin and you start to imagine how they were treated badly.”

But this is exactly the reason we need that statue, because those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it, as Santayana said. We need to remember the comfort women and imagine the horrors they were subjected to, because it should not happen again.

And it is not an insult if it is the truth. That women were raped and kept in brothels during the war is a fact. The statue does not symbolize an insult, but honors those who suffered and condemns the atrocities of war.

That rape is a war crime was expressed during the 1946 International Military Tribunal for the Far East. Also known as the Tokyo Trial and the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, it charged 28 high-ranking military and political leaders of Japan for “Class A” crimes related to starting and waging aggressive war and for conventional war crimes.

 Some 5,700 lower-ranking personnel were charged in separate trials in various countries including the Philippines. The charges covered a wide range of crimes including rape, sexual slavery, prisoner abuse, and torture.

Perceptions of rape in war changed in the 20th century. It is no longer seen as something inevitable when men are deprived of female companionship for prolonged periods. Rape is now recognized as a weapon.

An article on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights website quotes Major-General Patrick Cammaert, former commander of UN peacekeeping forces in the Eastern Congo, as saying that rape is used as a weapon because it destroys communities totally. “You destroy communities. You punish the men, and you punish the women, doing it in front of the men.” This, exactly, is often encountered in narratives of World War II experiences in the Philippines.

Rape is also now seen from the side of women: “Rape is always torture,” says Special Rapporteur Manfred Nowak. It is also accepted that rape causes lasting psychological harm on its victims. Croatian author Slavenka Drakulic, who has written about war crimes in the Balkans, calls it “a kind of slow murder.”

The brutality of rape at any time and in any place and its horrific consequences cannot be overemphasized. Its use as a tactic in conflict is particularly heinous and must be called out as a form of inhumane and savage treatment.

For the comfort women of that War, now in their senior years, to have survived their appalling ordeals is a testament to their strength and bravery. They deserve the honor of awareness and remembrance.

Just as importantly, the atrocities of war must be remembered so that they will not happen again. Some older Japanese who recall the War recognize this.

In a 2015 NBC News article, Japan’s Crown Prince Naruhito was quoted as saying, in reference to Japan’s World War II war crimes, that it was “important to look back on the past humbly and correctly” and that there is a need to “correctly pass down tragic experiences and the history behind Japan to the generations who have no direct knowledge about the war, at the time memories of the war are about to fade.”

Duterte said that the statue should be placed on private property where its presence cannot be perceived as an insult to Japan. Where is the statue now? We call on courageous private property owners and developers to give this statue a home, and in doing so show honor to the comfort women and respect for historical truth.  

Dr. Ortuoste is a writer and communication consultant. FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

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