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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Jan. 16)

All News 06:54 January 16, 2017

Unforgotten war

One of the last 40 surviving ex-comfort women, sex slaves who were forced to serve Japanese imperial soldiers, had her 100th birthday at a seniors' home in the southern port city of Tongyeong, Saturday.

Kim Bok-duk was so frail that she was moved around on a stretcher, except when she went on stage. She gave a barely audible thanks to well-wishers. She cried when watching a video about how she and others suffered. She was 18 when she was taken by the Japanese army and forced to work in military brothels in China, Taiwan and other areas. When she returned, she felt ashamed and couldn't live a normal life, just like tens of thousands of others.

Kim's life and those of her friends are represented by statues of a little girl set in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul and its consulate in Busan.

It is these lives that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claims his country has bought for 10 billion won, is cleared of any more responsibility for and "irrevocably" gets exempted from apologies. Abe recently ordered the Japanese ambassador home in protest of the erection of the Busan statue and demanded it be dismantled.

Tokyo cited the Dec. 28, 2015, Korea-Japan agreement in which, in return for the monetary compensation, Korea relinquishes the pursuit of bringing legal accountability to Japan.

Kim, the centenarian comfort woman, didn't sign on and is devoting her last days to undoing the government-to-government agreement that was made without the consent of the victims. If the government's hands are tied, it is the responsibility of the rest of the nation to take up Kim's cause, pressuring Japan to own up to its misdeeds and reminding the world of Japan's wartime atrocities.

Her cause is not just about getting justice for the comfort women but to affirm basic universal human rights so that there won't be other victims like her. Letting Japan get away with it will set a wrong precedent and encourage other countries to follow.

Then, the true reconciliation of the two neighbors can't come until the settlement of the comfort women issue and other historical injustices done by Japan through its repentance for them and implementation of other follow-up steps.

Japan under Abe is resorting to the cunning tactic of stalling, believing that the memory of its acts of barbarism will go away when Kim and the other remaining ex-comfort women pass away. Standing guard against it is our job and protecting the statues as an unforgettable reminder is one way.

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