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Although Japan and South Korea reached a final settlement several years ago involving payments to Korean women who were forced to sexually service Japanese troops in the 1930s and ’40s, the issue won’t go away, and not just because the new South Korean president is questioning the settlement, which was concluded by his predecessor. Japan wants everyone to forget about those women, who are all nearing the end of their lives, and when the government cries foul because some Korea-related organization continues to draw attention to them and what they suffered, it’s because it thinks the other side is reneging on the deal. We’ve all agreed to drop the subject, Japan says. Can’t we get on with other things?

In doing so Japan implies a refusal to acknowledge the ineluctable relationship between war and sexual violence. The “comfort women” will always be part of the history of World War II no matter how desperately the government tries to erase them from people’s memories or deny that it was what it was. This inalienable truth was reinforced this summer when two separate media outlets covered the same story about sexual violence that took place in a community of Japanese migrants in Manchuria right after Japan’s 1945 surrender.

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