Don't rub salt into comfort women's pain

The cheer as I read Tuesday's report ("Landmark deal on 'comfort women' ") was dampened by the remarks of an unidentified former Japanese diplomat in a related report on the same day ("Statue may test resolve to end 'comfort women' issue").

The remarks, on the bronze statue of a barefoot teenage girl in front of Japan's embassy in Seoul which has become a symbol of comfort women, were echoed by many Japanese officials.

Seeing the statue as "an affront to its national dignity that should not be permitted by Seoul", and remarking that "it is not something that friendly nations normally do" is a rather harsh stance to take.

The practice of wartime sex slavery resulted in lifetimes of excruciating pain for these women. These atrocities by Japanese soldiers were exacted on victims who were considered lesser humans.

This can perhaps explain why Japanese evasiveness in restoring the dignity of these women is viewed suspiciously by Koreans.

The ultimate insult to these comfort women is that the debasement they suffered was all "justified" by the Japanese Imperial Army in the name of "comfort".

The ultimate salt poured onto this unhealed wound is to degrade its expression of pain as an expression of ungraciousness. One also cannot wave away the responsibility of reparation with the accusation of ungraciousness.

Surely one cannot expect diplomats to sweep these issues under the carpet as they discuss the way forward, or trivialise these issues as inconveniences to friendly ties.

While we can debate unceasingly on what is adequate recompense for the weight of these women's pain, I hope they may find comfort and hope in knowing that there are those who choose humanity above nation and those who choose to remember them and not forget.

Steve Chiu Shih Tung

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2016, with the headline 'Don't rub salt into comfort women's pain'. Print Edition | Subscribe