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Women and War

A Reflection by Kim Sung Ran,
SCM Korea

Human being’s history is filled with war. We could say that the human history is the history of war. In any war, women and children have always inevitably become the most serious victims. As we remember the cruel massacres and wars in the 20th century, stories of what happened to women during war: torture, prison camps, the Holocaust, rape as an ethnic cleansing and sexual slavery, it is again sad to know that the new millennium of the 21st century began with terror and war behind promises of peace and reconciliation for the atrocities happened in the last century. I can still clearly remember a Korean Comfort Woman, Jung Hack Soon’s testimony.

Next day, a soldier came and took us one by one. I was taken to an officer’s room. Standing next to his bed, he tried to embrace me. When I resisted, he slapped me on my cheeks. I rubbed my palms in pleading, asking him to show mercy. He said I should do what he ordered me to do, and when I said I couldn’t do it even if I was killed, he tore my skirt. I was wearing a black skirt and a white blouse, and my hair was braided. My underwear showed, but I kneeled and said I couldn’t do it. He pulled me up by my braid, and cut open my underwear with his sword. I fainted. A soldier came and took me back. I followed him crying, wrapping myself with my skirt and holding my underwear. I couldn’t walk well because it hurt so much. The woman who had been there before us said, “See? We can’t get out of here alive.”

One day when I couldn’t work because my uterus was swollen and bleeding, an officer came to me and ordered me to suck his penis. I said, “I can eat your shit, I can’t do this.” He shouted, “I’ll kill this bitch” and beat me and threw me around. I fainted, and when I woke up, I was told I was unconscious for three days. Some officers bound me and did whatever pleased them saying I was defiant. I grind my teeth with indignation as they satisfied their physical desire by all means. I was beaten many times for my resistance. If I fainted, the owner doused cold water on me. Then, he confined me in a room and didn’t give me food.

The Japanese soldiers marched into the yard bringing many Chinese women bound with a rope. They disrobed the women, tied them to the board and gang-raped them in front of us. Many soldiers waited in line for their turn. They tortured the women after raping them. They enjoyed watching women suffer from the torture, throwing powdered red pepper into the lower part of women, slashing women indiscriminately with a knife. Some even doused oil on women and lit a match. Under their unimaginable torture, the women died, one after another. After witnessing such a horrible scene, we were too terrorised to disobey him. We just got through each day.

The violence against women is the most powerful weapon for men in the war. Why and how did this occur, especially in a war? What propelled soldiers to rape their friends, neighbors, and co-workers? The violence against women in the war is part of a destructive force against women, which included genocide and ethnic cleansing. This “war on women” has important implications for all humanity. Women have never been regarded as the equals of men in the patriarchal society. They are perceived as “lower” than men, and are expected to act meek and obedient in their homes and workplaces. This subtle and ingrained disrespect of women paved the way for the mass rapes that occurred in wars. Women were easy targets for male soldiers because they were perceived as defenseless. This male dominance is also evident in the way that violence was used to instill such fear in women. They did it to humiliate women and showed women their power. Sexual violence thus becomes the weapon. The violence against women as a powerful weapon during wars proves the war itself, whatever the reasons and purposes are, is the production of male-centered patriarchal culture. As the Comfort Woman’s testimony tells us, the women who were raped during a war will never forget the atrocities committed against them. There will always be intense psychological fear of men, depression, and an inherent distrust of others; these are common experiences of rape survivors. Not too far away, according to some information and news, most Afghanistan refugees are women and children. They are now dying of famine and illness.

However women are not powerless as they try to overcome their powerlessness. They try to make peace within themselves out of their own experiences. As in the cases of many Comfort Women, they begin to reflect and articulate what they had gone through and seek a redress for themselves.

Recently, I met a woman who was leaving for Iraq as a human shield. She told me that as a feminist, she could not stay at home watching women and children are dying in Iraq. She felt her body is aching and this aching and torn body is the body of Christ on the cross. Now as people’s endless greed kills and tears the body of life, how can we heal ourselves in this history of war?