Last week I wrote my column in the Guam Daily Post about the comfort women issue in South Korea and how the governments of Japan and South Korea are working towards a process of restitution over the use of South Korean women as sex slaves during World War II. The issue of the comfort women extends far beyond just South Korea, and is something that affected cultures across Asia and the Pacific. I have been talking more intensely about the comfort women issue over the past year as i nobia-hu Dr. Isa Kelley Bowman has been conducting research into it. It has been difficult for her, as the issue is one shrouded in so many different forms of silence. The lack of writing around the issue in Guam is often thought to be simply a matter of stigma and social shame, with women and their families seeking to keep the issue quiet and not be reminded of what happened. But it is far more complicated than that, and it can be frustrating, how people will accept one level of silence as being the truth, without thinking about the multiple forms of silencing that are also taking place.
Why for example has the comfort women issue not been used for political or diplomatic reasons in Guam as it has been used by others? When discussions of compensation have been broached, why has comfort women never be formally acknowledge as one of the atrocities committed during the occupation? How have Chamorro scholars, especially those with feminist inclinations or commitments contributed to the silence around the issue, in the name of societal appropriateness but possibly nonetheless contributing to certain patriarchal frameworks for understanding Guam history and violence? How has the conflation of various forms of sexual violence during the war led to the particularity of comfort women eclipsed or obscured and led to a commonsensical understanding of sexual violence as being pervasive and savage, but nonetheless unorganized and random, instead of part of systems that are so common in militarized spaces or societies? How has the various levels of silence around comfort women reinforced the Americanized narrativization of the Chamorro war story and help to keep them from seeking solidarity with other groups who were victims of Japanese or American imperialism during the war? And finally, one aspect which Isa has taken up quite nicely is the way in which certain people are trying to write against the silence and pierce it, give some voice to those women, to that experience, to that injustice, even if the women themselves may have wanted nothing more than to have their experiences forgotten.