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Japan Crimes

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IN 1943 when Woo Yun Jae was just 16 years old, she was ripped away from her family and village in Korea by two men she had never met, put on a military truck, brought to a station, placed on a train with blacked-out windows and taken to China. There she was delivered to a Japanese military "comfort" station to which she had been allocated for the sexual pleasure of the soldiers. Shortly after her arrival, a Japanese soldier attempted to sexually assault her and brutally beat her. Woo tried to kill herself. A few days later, more than 20 soldiers raped her repeatedly. This was the beginning of her personal war within the greater war of Japanese aggression, an ordeal that would go on for many months. When in 1944 Japan was defeated in that part of China, the soldiers abandoned the military camp where Woo was being held, and some Korean journalists helped her to get a ticket home.

Because of the physical and psychological trauma of the repeated rapes (up to 30 and 40 a day for some women) and poor conditions (living in three-by-five foot cubicles and receiving monthly chemical injections meant to reduce cases of sexually transmitted diseases among soldiers), only about one-fourth of the estimated 200,000 women brought into this system are thought to have survived the war. While the vast majority of these women (around 85 percent) were Korean, women from other colonized Asian nations and some Dutch women were forced into "imperial service" in the comfort stations.

The cultural and social shame associated with this tragedy meant that many of the surviving women, like Woo, choose not to reveal what had happened to them during these lost months and years, even to their immediate families. Woo married and for more than 50 years never told her husband or her son about her ordeal. Her story and those of over 40 other victims, former soldiers and others were gathered in 1993 by the International Commission of Jurists and are one of the subjects of this collection edited by Ann Llewellyn Barstow.

At the end of the book Barstow poses a question: If at the close of World War II the former comfort women could have told the world about what had happened to themand been heard-would the Serbs have dared to build rape camps in 1993? Barstow's question is ultimately an even broader one: If the comfort women had testified at the original Tokyo war crimes trial (for which, interestingly, evidence about sexual slavery had been gathered and was not used), would fewer rapes and rape camps have been used as weapons of war and genocide in the past half century? And would the lives of these surviving women have been different-less alienated, more full? What indeed is the relationship between storytelling, whether circumscribed by a trial or set down in a book, and the prevention of future atrocities and/or healing from those of the past?

Whatever the answer, the importance of War's Dirty Secret lies in the stories it tells. Alongside gender, ethical and legal analyses, this book gives center stage to testimonies and firsthand accounts of women's experiences of sexual and other violence in war. From Taiwan, Rwanda, Haiti and elsewhere, the stories reverberate not only with loss, but with the energy of women and communities rebuilding after loss.

Yet this is no armchair message about the resilience of the human spirit. If, as contributor Jennifer Butler reminds us, both telling and listening are political acts, then the book's essays call us to critically engage these stories. Through telling and listening we become tethered to one another, and in telling and hearing women's stories in particular we create communities of action and help to break long silences about women's experiences of war.

There are very different forums for this storytelling, with vastly varying legal and moral implications. A book like this is one. Judicial forums are another. Recent developments in the international legal arena-including, since this book's publication, the declaration by the International War Crimes Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) that rape can be prosecuted as a crime against humanity, and Amnesty International's recommendation that violence against women be prosecuted under the United Nations Convention on Torture-are indications that women's stories and analyses are being heard in new ways.

Still, trials, with their narrow focus on the mechanisms of prosecution and prevention, must not serve as the sole forums for women's stories of violence. It is not merely that trials achieve justice at the expense of reconciliation. There are real limitations to the scope of trial-born justice. They may leave the victim(s) retraumatized and their pain unacknowledged.

Other forums for women's stories of violence cannot replace but must run parallel to the legal system. The Global



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