chapter  8
“Comfort women” and Japan’s national responsibility: a case study in reconciling feminism and nationalism
Pages 20

Korea, as a major culprit in this stalemate. This is not surprising given the wealth of feminist literature on detrimental effects of nationalisms on women. In this chapter, I will offer a different diagnosis of, as well as prognosis for, this unfortunate situation by examining the role of nationalism in the comfort women debate. I will argue that nationalism can be conceptualized to be supportive of the interests and well-being of former comfort women and that this conception of nationalism ought to be incorporated into the solution of this impasse. In constructing this argument, I will focus on the case of Korean former

comfort women for two reasons. First, the overwhelming majority of comfort women were Koreans, as Korea was Japan’s largest and the most strategically important colony since Japan’s forced take-over in 1905. It is estimated that between 80,000 and 200,000 Korean women were coercively drafted to serve as comfort women between the late 1930s and 1945 (Yang 1998, n.1).4 Second, and more importantly, the debate concerning Korean former comfort women dramatically illustrates the intersection of nationalism and feminism, as the feminist advocacy group that represents the voices of Korean former comfort women – the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (the Korean Council – KC hereafter) – is also nationalist. Not surprisingly, the position of the KC has been criticized by various

feminist groups, both domestic and international, for its unapologetically nationalist stance. Paradoxically, the Japanese government, which is notorious for its own brand of nationalism, also criticizes the KC’s nationalism by partially appropriating feminist complaints against the KC, as it launched the AWF. I recognize that the KC has at times adopted essentialist nationalist rhetoric, which led to legitimate concerns by feminists. In this chapter, however, I will provide a philosophically justifiable reconstruction of the KC’s nationalist position by explicating the concept of national responsibility, which is prominently featured in the KC’s position. Premised on this reconstruction, I will conclude that the KC’s position that the current Japanese government has national responsibility to fully acknowledge the harm that its predecessor, the Japanese Empire, has inflicted on former comfort women is plausible. It will then be considered whether Japan’s AWF counts toward fulfilling Japan’s national responsibility. In the last section, feminist concerns about the KC’s nationalist position will be addressed.