The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

U.S. Military’s “Comfort Women” in South Korea

May 15, 2023

The U.S. has long pointed to the systematic sexual abuse of Korean “comfort women” by Japanese occupation forces in order to portray itself as “the good guy” in World War II. But recent court cases have revealed the extent to which U.S. forces did the same thing in South Korea, not just during the Korean War, but into the 1990s.

Last September, 100 women won a landmark case against the South Korean government, which the court found guilty of “justifying and encouraging” prostitution in camp towns set up near U.S. military bases. The South Korean court also found the government guilty of a “systematic and violent” policy of detaining the tens of thousands of women who worked in these camps and forcing them to get rough and dangerous treatments for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Despite the court ruling in their favor, the survivors were only awarded between $2,270 and $5,300.

Some say they plan to take their case to a U.S. court. After all, the U.S. military was at least as complicit as the South Korean government. U.S. officers gave monthly classes instructing the women to avoid getting STDs, issued numbers and ID tags, kept photo files, and helped in the process of detaining them and shooting them full of penicillin if they were suspected of being sick. Survivors recounted stories of women dying of untreated penicillin shock.

Many of these women were forced into sexual slavery. Some reported being kidnapped as teenagers and sold to pimps. Others reported suffering severe beatings and worse at the hands of U.S. soldiers, with no recourse. They reported being drugged by pimps, who took the money they earned. And the U.S. military and its South Korean “ally” either knew all about this brutality or consciously chose not to know. As one survivor said, "we were just like comfort women for the Japanese military. They had to take Japanese soldiers, and we, American G.I.s."

The U.S. is building up for war once again. Even for those not directly threatened with death, this means the further degradation of human life and human relations for soldiers and civilians, men and women, alike.