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Pathetic Compensation

Posted December. 25, 2009 13:34,   


The Mitsubishi plant in Nagoya, Japan, built fighter jets in the final years of World War II. In 1944, Japan forced little Korean girls to work at the plant. As Imperial Japan suffered from a labor shortage toward the end of the war, it went as far as to mobilize little girls. Yang Geum-deok, who was in the sixth grade at the time, went to the plant to work after her teacher told her that she could continue to study and make money. Despite more than a year of hard labor, however, she could neither go anywhere near a school nor receive a salary. The company kept telling her that her pay went into a pension fund.

She and other girls, who are now senior citizens, hid throughout their lives their history of working at the plant because they did not want to be mistaken as sex slaves for the Japanese military. With help from Korean and Japanese civic groups, they sued the Japanese government and Mitsubishi in 1999. Their suit failed, however, as Japan`s Supreme Court rejected it on the grounds that compensation for victims of forced labor was settled under the 1965 agreement that normalized ties between Korea and Japan.

The victims pinned their last hope on Japan`s Social Insurance Agency when they asked for payment of their pensions to which they contributed while working for Mitsubishi. The agency dragged its feet for 10 years, saying it took time to find the documents. The prospects of compensation brightened for the victims in September, when the agency found documents proving their pension contributions.

The agency, however, paid each of the seven victims recently was 99 yen, or just more than one U.S. dollar. One of the victims held a news conference in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul Thursday, saying Tokyo told her it would pay the money when she returned to her country but never did over the last 64 years. She said she is furious that she was paid just about one dollar for her hard labor.

Such loose perception of history by the Japanese government frustrate victims beyond rage. Money cannot soothe their pain. Just a little bit of apology from the Japanese government would not have brought about such an outrageous conclusion. A Japan that turns a blind eye to victims` sentiment will never make progress in rectifying its past history.

Chief Editorial Writer Hong Chang-sik (chansik@donga.com)