FROM WHERE I STAND: Notes from the desk of peace activist Polly Mann (b. Nov. 19, 1919)

Forgotten victims of war
Recently I read a newspaper article about the so-called “comfort women” of World War II and it reminded me of my visit with several of these women years ago. Marianne Hamilton and I were in the Philippines protesting something or the other that Bill Clinton had done. While there we met with a group of women who, during World War II, were forced into being sexual partners for the Japanese troops invading their islands. Most of the women were Japanese but some had also come from the Philippines. It has now been revealed that American troops were given this same “opportunity” for sexual favors. Brothels were set up by police officials and Tokyo businessmen. This was all documented and is part of the history of the Japanese Recreation and Amusement Association. In the first brothel, “Babe Garden,” 38 women participated, but due to high demand that number increased to 100. By 1945 at the end of the war, 350,000 American troops were occupying Japan and great numbers of them participated in this service. Each woman saw from 15 to 60 men per day. The charge for a short session was 15 yen, approximately one dollar. Eventually, there were many complaints about the practice from military officers, especially chaplains, and finally the U.S. Congress acted to stop it.

At the time of our visit there were not many of the women alive—seven or eight. The “comfort women” had been given a house (rather like a sorority house) where we met. The stories of their lives were, of course, tragic. When, after the war, they returned to their homes a number were not welcome there because of the “shame” they had endured. After an hour or so we had coffee and cookies and then left amid embraces and a few tears.

The Japanese government has never issued an apology for the injustice done the women. And while I never thought about it until writing this article, neither has the American government. I guess one would call the women casualties of World War II.

Global friendships lead to peace
It was the first and only time I have had caviar: a long long time ago when I was in Moscow with my husband who was attending a joint meeting of American and Russian judges The occasion was a cocktail party hosted by the Russian judges. It was held in the first-class hotel where we were staying. I have nothing but fond memories of being there—escalators were the longest and steepest I have ever seen. One judge and his wife went sightseeing and didn’t return until long after midnight and reported that they felt safer than they had in New York City. Sales people and cab drivers were very interested in our being there and all our casual contacts were exceedingly friendly.

I wonder if anything similar is happening today. If not, why not? And why should there not be many such events? Of course, the political climate is different. But it could happen. There could be meetings of physicians, teachers, lawyers, labor representatives, members of congress, chefs, etc. There could be conferences with speakers from many countries. Peace doesn’t just occur out of the blue. The developing relationship between North and South Korea shows that it can happen.

Military debates immigration camps
I suspect that most of us get mail we didn’t ask for nor especially wanted. It happened to me a few days ago when I received a newsletter from the national organization “Courage to Resist, Supporting the people who refuse to fight.” Its front page article was “U.S. military ordered to host massive immigration camps.” It intrigued me because such camps had been used during World War II to house Japanese-American citizens. And for what reason? For being Japanese. Such camps were located in Arkansas where I was living. Evidently the government can incarcerate at will. Today, however, there is growing controversy about the issue. It seems the military is prohibited from policing, as stated in the Constitution, yet military personnel are being drafted into doing just that. The question then is, who will “blow the whistle”? The military has begun working with the Department of Human Security to construct these camps. Since the news broke, there has been heated debate within the military about the situation. The government appears to be postponing the opening of these camps, which will be administered by the government. Stay tuned!

Comments are closed.