Friday, February 27, 2009

Paradise Road

In 1997, Glenn Close starred in a drama, Paradise Road, about a group of women who survived the sinking by the Japanese of the ship taking them out of Singapore, which had been overrun by the Japanese army. They ended up in a Japanese POW camp in Sumatra facing all the horrors and depravations one now knows happened in these camps.

The story is partly true. Many of the women did organize a choir that helped them endure the unendurable. What is unsaid is that others made a choice given to them: if they wanted to eat, to be beaten less, to survive, they would have to "serve" the Japanese soldiers.

Maybe this "choice" is how many Japanese apologists/deniers allow themselves to say that the Comfort Women were not coerced into prostitution. This "choice" is a matter of opinion, however. This sort of choice also fits the traditional legal definition of coercion.

On Java, the POW camps for civilians were full of Dutch women, children, and the elderly. The young women there were not all given a "choice" if they wanted to "serve" Japan. Officers of the Imperial Army would arrive at the camps and ask for all the 17-28 year old girls to be lined up. First there was "Sophie's Choice" where the mothers tried to decide who among their daughters would be able to survive what they knew was ahead. Then the girls presented themselves. The officers walked down the frightened line of virgins and chose who they liked.

One survivor of this selection, is Jan Ruff O'Herne. In the early 1990s, after 50 years of silence she finally told her daughters of how she lost her virginity to a very angry Japanese officer who threatened her with his samurai sword unless she submitted and how she was repeatedly raped in the military brothel. Then she told the world.

This week, Jan who is now an Australian citizen gave another interview to the Australian Broadcasting Corp. She is speaking out again to encourage the Australian Parliament to pass a motion calling upon Japan to unequivocally apologize to the Comfort Women, to offer honest compensation for their trauma, and to reprimand publicly any who denied that the Comfort Women system existed.

Her words are moving and inspiring as she recounts what happened to her and how she has lived with the memories. She is in the process of writing a new memoir and was energized by her testimony to a subcommittee of the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. It was the first time a government acknowledged what had happened to her and the other Comfort Women.

As she said, "the truth is [now] winning."

The true story of "Paradise Road" HERE.

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