Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The battle of Seodaemun

It would seem others would like to challenge Ji Man-won for topping the "most worthy of criticism" list, at least if this article is any indication:
Since 2003, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan has been hoping to build [a] museum [for the comfort women in Independence Park in Seodaemun District, northern Seoul], which is to be called the War and Women’s Rights Museum. The aim is to raise awareness about sexual slavery during the colonial period. Last month, the Seoul city government gave the green light to the project.

Earlier this month, former independence fighters and their descendants held a press conference to harshly denounce plans to erect [the] museum for the comfort women [...] The press conference was organized by the Korea Liberation Association.

“The proposed museum denigrates the independence movement and the men who gave their lives as patriotic martyrs for the liberation of Korea,” said Kim Yeong-il, the association’s president, at the Nov. 3 press conference. “The museum will surely create a false image about our history by highlighting our suffering rather than our many military achievements,” Kim added.
We wouldn't want those instances of assassination and terrorism to be forgotten, would we? Yes, I know, there were larger scale battles that took place during the days of the Righteous Armies and later in Manchuria, and many people did stand up to Japan in other ways, some large, some small, leading to their imprisonment or death, but this narrative of independence movement resistance often papers over how ineffectual much of the violent resistance was, and overshadows, or erases completely, the role of the U.S. in the liberation of Korea. Happily, the Seodaemun Prison Museum actually includes this photo, which I remember being the only such photo - or reference - there:

The Japanese surrender on the USS Missouri, Sept. 2, 1945

I documented my second visit to the Seodaemun Prison Museum last month, as I wanted to record one aspect of it in particular...

Please allow me to quote the Korea Liberation Association once again:
“The museum will surely create a false image about our history by highlighting our suffering rather than our many military achievements,” Kim added.
Is it just me, or does the museum "highlight suffering" already? I honestly couldn't believe it the first time I went, terming the re-enactments "Disneyland on crack." Or perhaps it could be called "method for inducing hatred for Japan in the young # 3852." The guide map describes one of the highlights of the exhibition: "Torture Room (experiencing nail picking and tortures with boxes and electricity)." At any rate, the article points out that some of the independence fighters' descendants view the prison as being separate from the park near the Independence Arch (where the fighters' memorial tablets are housed), but I think that the prison is generally the big attraction, and is what the park is known for (besides the Independence Arch). The article continues:
Needless to say, surviving comfort women are furious with the freedom fighters. “Who are they?” Gil Won-ok, 81, shot back when asked what she thought about the conflict during an interview with the JoongAng Daily at this week’s rally. “Aren’t they freedom fighters who fought for the weak?” Gil asked indignantly. “I like the site [Independence Park]. The park also has Seodaemun Prison where the Japanese tortured Koreans. So it’s appropriate to have a museum about us [there],” the 81-year-old argued. On the day the Korea Liberation Association held its press conference, the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan also held a press conference denouncing the association’s opposition against the museum planned for Independence Park. [...]Acknowledging such outcries and not wanting to aggravate the already heated debate, the Korea Liberation Association has adopted a more softer stance. An official at the association emphasized in an interview with this newspaper that it is not against the museum, but it is concerned about the location. He said that the association’s stance has changed slightly: It will not seek to block the construction of the museum, as previously declared. Instead, the group will work together to devise an alternative plan.
How thoughtful of them.
“I think it’s great that they will build such a museum, but I think it should be built in a different place as it doesn’t fall in line with the characteristics of Independence Park,” echoed Ryu Geun-chang, the president of the Yu Gwan-sun Memorial Committee.
Yes, we wouldn't want to treat Yu Gwan-sun irreverently, now would we?
Above is a poster on the wall of the Yu Gwan-sun Underground Cell building [Which may have disappeared after renovations in 2012]. It reminded me of this equally irreverent use of Yu to sell chicken:

Yes, she's protecting those rocks. "Eat Ddorae-orae Chicken and [win] a free trip to Dokdo!"

I couldn't help but remember the cartoon treatment that another young woman who was forced into the role of a patriotic sacrifice after her death.
Okay, I'd say the candle girl looks more like Mi-seon (on the left). Some might argue that the candle girl was supposed to represent the middle school kids taking part in the mad cow protests, but it would be hard not to equate the candle girl with the girls whose deaths led to the first politicized 'candlelight vigils' in Korea back in late 2002. This person obviously thought the same (as he painted a candle girl mural at the site of the 2002 accident). I couldn't help think that it was interesting that such women have been turned into cartoon caricatures, especially since I can't think of any men being treated that way. Perhaps it would be considered too insulting, much as the degrading treatment of men in this video in 2002 could never be portrayed as happening to Korean men. I then remembered a post Oranckay wrote in 2004 looking at a feminist critique in the magazine Ilda of the government censorship of Kim Sun-il's beheading in Iraq and the use of the images of dead women for propaganda purposes:
Quickly, it notes the contradictions. Yun Geum I (female) is pictured dead, naked with her legs spread, an umbrella in her anus and a beer bottle in her vagina. Sim Mi Seon and Sin Hyo Sun (female) are pictured dead, their bodies partially crushed and shredded on a country road. Kim Seon Il (male) gets his head cut off on video and society is suddenly concerned about "respecting the dead" by not circulating the video. [...] [T]he Ilda piece examines the contradiction based on sexual politics, suggesting among many other things that the effect of the picture of Yun has "similarities with the rape motif in pornography."
It's interesting that "rape motif in pornography" is brought up, especially when you consider that someone actually thought it would be a good idea to do a 'comfort women' themed erotic photo spread back in 2004, just a few months before Kim Sun-il's murder. Also, one has to wonder why the women in the torture exhibits at Seodaemun Prison need to be as exposed as they are:

Needless to say, there's a lot more going on in this argument between the families of independence fighters and former 'comfort women' - a euphemism for forced military prostitution - than meets the eye. And all of this helps point to one of the reasons Korea rates so poorly on this list.

* [From the beginning of the post] Actually, as it says above, this brouhaha started on November 3, so Ji Man-won still tops last week's "most worthy of criticism" list. This week's top contender would appear to be the judge behind this incomprehensible decision. [Link inaccessible - see here.]

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