Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Facing History

I woke-up around 11 A.M. this morning and hurried over to Gwanghwamun for the weekly Wednesday demonstrations in solidarity with the surviving comfort women, the women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. Because I had class at Sogang from 9 A.M.-1 P.M. last summer, I only had the chance to go a couple times, but I'm hoping to go every week while I'm here.

They've been having these protests every Wednesday since January 8, 1992. That's right--for the past 15 years. You'd think the Japanese government would be embarassed by now that they have seven or eight of these hal uh nis(grandmothers) and a hundred or so of their supporters coming out every week simply asking for an official apology for what happened to them. You'd think that it wouldn't have come to the point where the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution yesterday calling on the Japanese government to accept responsibility for its coercion of women into sexual slavery. You'd think that they'd just apologize--not take out a Washington Post advertisement claiming that, actually, the women had worked as licensed prostitutes(I was at work in D.C. reading the Post the day that advertisement was published and was just livid for the rest of day). But, no, the Japanese government has some weird historical memory issues going on(not that most governments don't).

From an academic standpoint, all of this is very interesting to me, this issue of historical/cultural/societal memory of atrocity. Especially the case of World War II. Why is it that Germany throws Holocaust deniers in jail for five years while the Japanese prime minister makes regular visits a war shrine that honors, among others, World War II war criminals. As a student, activist, and human being concerned with dealing with these histories of trauma, I have a lot more questions:

How do we go about changing long-ingrained collective memory?
How do we identify, study, and gauge collective memory?
Where do we look for evidence of collective memory?
How do we trace collective memory formation?
And, above all, how can we explain these variations in the collective memory of World War II atrocities?

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