| Now |


21 May 2001, 01:00

Comfort woman. A deceptively banal term. I have just finished watching a documentary on the plight of young Korean woman, taken by the Japanese to serve as comfort woman for their soldiers. Comfort women, are, sexual slaves set up in internment like bordellos for the use and abuse of Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. These women were kidnapped, were taken, were used, were force to serve the “needs” of the army. The things that made them human, the heart that made them women, the desire that made them want to live was torn and shredded in a million pieces, as they were beaten, and horror after horror introduced into their daily life. Brutality and rape became daily familiar companions, as they lived in military brothels.

I sat transfixed, by the women’s stories, told in voices and language too familiar to me. My mother is Korean and the language evokes all the memories and feelings of childhood to me. Living in a bilingual household, the second language becomes as familiar to you as english. I lived with the Korean word all my life, so much so, that I can snake and weave between the syllables and recognize the rythmns and cadences of it though I don’t speak a word nor understand an utterance. Since I have become disentangled from my family, I think of it as escaping shackles that for a good part of my life caused me pain, and despair. But though the family is disengaged from me, the family can never be erased. My mind and body retain the imprint of my unspoken family bonds. This is why I couldn’t find it in me to turn the channel. As the voice of my mother, and of each mother before her spoke, twisting the sounds into a familiar but foreign cacophony that drew me in, I read her horrific story of blood and death flashing on the screen in the subtitles. Story after story detailed lifes filled with despair, of unending rape and beatings, of untreated disease, sickness, and pregnancy, of innocence drained like so much blood into a bucket. Anxiety grabbed the pit of my stomach as I saw horror after horror, brutality after brutality, barbaric act after barbaric act. Daughters begging mothers for death, women begging for mercy, pregnant girls being dragged naked to be killed as examples of discipline. Women told of lines of soldiers, hundreds deep to use the brothels. The terrible fates of women treated as subhuman, used and abused, until nothing was left.

As this old woman told her story, her voice was the voice of my mother, and the voice of my grandmother, and the voice of all the mothers than came before, and I found myself claiming her as my own, claiming her people as my people and feeling her suffering as something shared. I wondered how different could this woman really be from my own mother. I wondered what sorts of experiences did my grandmother have. I wondered what sort of attrocities could be existing in the shadows of my own lineage, how many degrees of separation am I really from this history. I found myself crying for her, with all the anger that it seemed she could not muster anymore pooling deep in my own gut. It welled up in me till I could not tell my needs for justice from my wantings of vengence for the wrongs inflicted upon these people – my people – my gender.

Vengence, I have read, is the right and the privilege existing only for the Gods of man. I wondered about revenge. Just as the feeling fills one, it give ones a unique clarity of vision, where goal and purpose manifest, fueled by anger. The desire for revenge/justice was all encompassing for that short time, and sight is crystalized. Revenge is usually the last remaining possession of those have lost everything else. I suspect that is why, when vengence is exacted, one is not filled with peace, but is emptied of everything. Is revenge the result of justice lost? Or is it a the reaction of a wounded soul striking back like a cornered dying animal.

How am I to feel about the wrongs upon these women? Or should I say, how far am I to feel or react to an injustice that goes unpunished? When the silent screams of your rage is bouncing off the walls of your brain, you pound a hand and shake a fist at god. As I become older, and find that justice is not always guaranteed and right is sometimes lost in the right now, I wonder if I can still hang on to the drive that makes me hunger for justice or revenge but yet not be blinded and controlled by it.

The best I can hope for is not to confuse the two.