Statue Deepens Dispute Over Wartime Sex SlaveryWell, OK, the statue is there to stay. Lest it become a permanent sore in Japan-South Korea relations and a focal point of anti-Korean sentiment in Japan (as it was on Wednesday) the Japanese Embassy should follow some good advice:
The New York Times
The unsmiling teenage girl in traditional Korean dress sits in a chair, her feet bare, her hands on her lap, her eyes fixed on the Japanese Embassy across a narrow street in central Seoul. Within a day, the life-size bronze statue had become the focal point of a simmering diplomatic dispute as President Lee Myung-bak prepared to visit Tokyo this weekend.
The statue, named the Peace Monument, was financed with citizens' donations and installed Wednesday, when five women in their 80s and 90s who were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese military during World War II held their thousandth weekly protest in front of the embassy, joined by their supporters.
For them and many other Koreans, the statue — placed so that Japanese diplomats see it as they leave their embassy — carries a clear message: Japan should acknowledge what it did to as many as 200,000 Asian women, mostly Koreans, who historians say were forced or lured into working as prostitutes at frontline brothels for Japanese soldiers.
The Japanese government's main spokesman, the chief cabinet secretary Osamu Fujimura, called the installation of the statue "extremely regrettable" and said that his government would ask that it be removed. South Korean officials said Japan cited international treaties that required host governments to help protect the dignity of diplomatic missions. On Thursday, South Korea made it clear that it had no intention of forcing the protesters to remove the statue...
"Dont't get mad; get even."If anyone had half a gram of sense in the Japanese Embassy in Seoul or at the Foreign Ministry in Kasumigaseki, there should have been a press release:
- Robert F. Kennedy
"You say potato and I say potahto.
You say tomato and I say tomahto.
Potato. Potahto. Tomato. Tomahto.
Let's call the whole thing off."
- George and Ira Gershwin
In Seoul today, opposite the Japanese Embassy, a peace statue was unveiled, commemorating the positve contributions of the Japanese occupation and annexation of Korea. The statue is of a young Korean woman, sitting in a chair. She is happy because she is attending her first day in class, an opportunity extended to her by the education policies of the Japanese authorities. Especially meaningful is that she can receive an education despite her poverty, symbolized by her bare feet. At the same time, the young woman is sad, as the chair beside her is empty. The empty chair represents the wasted lives of millions of young women held back by the repressive paternalism of Korean society."And let it go at that.
Art is plastic, open to interpretation. What you get out of it depends on what you put into it.
The statue helps out in that it is ambiguous. The expression on the young woman's face is not unsmiling, as The New York Times states with conviction. It is at best blank, with a bias toward cheerful.
Lest anyone think I am being puckish and denigrating the comfort women's rights to an offical apology and compensation, I am not. They have deserved and have been denied the right to hold their heads up high in their communities, able to say, "I was never a prostitute. I was a prisoner of the Japanese Imperial military."
However, when there are situations and provocations too fraught with domestic political baggage to be resolved by diplomats, the only possible solution is an embrace of ambiguity non erit finis*.
Ambiguity and a resignation to the status quo are the salves and supports of East Asian peace. They keep Taiwan free of Beijing's control; keep the Senkakus Japanese territory; and keep the Russians and the Japanese from ever coming together to surround and thus render paranoid China (ambiguity also keeps the Republic of Korea and Japan from becoming close, despite their democratic governments. No thing is ever always a positive).
Making demands that the statue be removed are going to lead nowhere. The government of Japan should just insist, as it does in the Senkakus, the East China Sea and in the Northern Territories that it believes what it does about the situation, no matter what the other side says -- and let those on the other side cut off their own fingers in frustration at the GOJ's intransigence.
And then do its damndest to give the surviving comfort women what they deserve.
* Not the World of Warcraft guild of the same name.
Image Courtesy: Yomiuri Online