US Sexual Enslavement of Korean Women and its Double Injury
South Korea's Economic Growth and the Legacy of US Exploitation
(An interview with Korean scholar, activist, and organizer KJ Noh.)
CW: sexual enslavement and assault
All Koreans are aware of the Japanese sexual enslavement of Korean women, but most Korean Americans, and Americans in general, are completely unaware of the US government's sexual enslavement of Korean women. But this is an issue that we need to be aware of to orient ourselves honestly to the US, and hopefully has us searching for other truths that have been misrepresented or buried.
Due to the recent landmark judgment for 100 formerly enslaved south Korean women, which found south Korea and the US guilty of sexual enslavement, there has been some minor coverage from US outlets for these crimes, despite this being an open secret that other international outlets have covered for decades. The lawsuit itself was filed in 2014. However, it is unlikely that the US will acknowledge its wrongdoing, as it has a history of not owning up to its crimes, including the war crimes it was found guilty of by south Korea's Truth and Reconciliation Commission. To the US, it's war crimes unless the US and its allies do it.
The US still teaches that the war crimes it was found guilty of were instead committed by north Korea. Likewise, for its own sexual colonialism and human rights crimes against Korean women, the US only blames Japan.
While there is growing interest in Korean stories and content in Hollywood, I doubt we will see any shows or movies about US sexual enslavement of Koreans.
The US classified sexually enslaved Korean women as class 5 military supplies and shipped them around in trucks, referring to them as "machines with c*nts." For an extended period, one in five young Korean women, including minors, were enslaved by south Korea and the US, and more women died servicing these soldiers than soldiers on the frontline. These women were not only kidnapped and gang-r*ped, but they were also tortured, beaten, and imprisoned. The US military even brought Jim Crow segregation to these comfort women camp towns in Korea, placing white men at the top of the patriarchy.
Much of Korean beauty standards are not homegrown but rather the result of the US military wanting to "deorientalize" Korean women. The birth of the double eyelid surgery is a direct result of this. It might be disheartening for some Koreans to learn that much of what is taken as "Korean" isn't Korean. For instance, the dominant religion for Koreans and the Korean diaspora is an evangelical form of Christianity brought over by US occupiers. Colonialism has always relied on religion to obtain allegiance and obedience.
Moreover, the US paid south Korea for sexual enslavement, which for a time was the largest contributor to south Korea's GDP. But, unsurprisingly, this fact is never mentioned as a major factor in south Korea's economic growth, which was built upon the bodies of Korean women. Instead, the US paints white people, often white men, as the saviors of Korea. This double injury erases the horrors the US committed against Korea and Korean women while presenting Americans as saviors. Imagine thanking your abuser. Imagine that pain and trauma and terror. There are no words.
US sexual imperialism does not end in Korea and continues wherever the US goes. Have you ever heard a US Korean War veteran (or US soldier stationed in Korea) say offensive and derogatory things about Korean women? Their views are shaped by US sexual imperialism. They expect Koreans to keep replicating their previous experiences while thanking them for it.
Another major part of the Korean economy was the adoption-industrial complex which was a different form of Korean human trafficking that was still closely tied to the sexual enslavement of Korean women. The US stole Korean women's bodies and Korean children as spoils of war.
For many reasons, the US and its quisling south Korean government buried these crimes against humanity. For Koreans, it would mean that they are allying with, thanking, patriotic about, and essentially sleeping with the enemy. For the US, it is more damning evidence that it is a fascist oppressor, which it is, but it also undermines its geopolitical relationships and its ability to continue exploiting colonized bodies, lands, and people.
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