weeks ago, Grade 11 student Falan Bennett had never heard of “comfort
women,” the cruel label Japanese soldiers used for the 200,000 young
Asian girls they turned into sex slaves during World War II.
a gritty history lesson last week at her Brampton high school has
sparked an outrage the 16-year-old will take to Ottawa Wednesday on an
unusual school trip to witness the largest peacetime protest ever held
outside the Japanese embassy; a bid to pressure the Japanese government
to apologize for its crimes against these women.
“They were kidnapped
right off the street and raped up to 30 times a day and in most cases it ruined their lives,” said Falan.
“This has been affecting me all weekend since we learned about it last week in history.”
is one of 130 students from Cardinal Ambrozic Catholic Secondary School
who will join nearly 200 Toronto teachers, school trustees and social
justice advocates — plus 100 more from Ottawa — to present a written
request to the embassy. On the same day, some of the frail, remaining
“comfort women” will make their 1,000th consecutive weekly appearance
since 1992 outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul Korea to demand the
same apology from the Japanese government.
would like to see them get an apology; it would at least comfort their
soul,” said Falan’s classmate Nana Barimayena, 16, a Grade 11 student
who also will go to Ottawa.
The Canadian government urged
Japan in 2007 to
apologize for the practice. Numerous countries have also made the same
request, but to date the Japanese government has not admitted to having
ever set up the grisly “comfort station” shacks for Japanese soldiers to
use near the front lines.
“Each young girl
would be assigned to 30 soldiers and if she refused to do what they
wanted, she could be tortured or put to death,” said rally organizer Dr.
Joseph Wong of Toronto, an expert on what is believed to be the most
sweeping case of institutionalized sexual slavery in history. His
organization ALPHA (Toronto Association for Learning and Preserving the History of World War II in Asia)
seeks to spread awareness of atrocities often overshadowed by the Holocaust in Europe.
ALPHA helped design lesson plans for Ontario students about this horrific practice — something that is
not taught in Japan, Dr. Wong noted. This is unlike Germany, which requires all students to learn about the Holocaust.
District School Board Trustee Gerri Gershon will speak at the Ottawa
rally about the importance for Ontario students to learn about war
victims in Asia, “because our curriculum has centred very much in
“When I was growing up, we knew about
Pearl Harbor and kamikaze pilots and the Bridge on the River Kwai, but
that’s not enough, especially as a significant part of our population
now in the GTA is from Asia,” said Gershon. She said the board recently
agreed to have ALPHA help teachers learn how to teach this difficult,
almost hidden chapter in history.
history teacher Charles Leskun can paint a graphic picture for his
students of the cruelty these women suffered because he has interviewed a
number of them in China and
Korea, where many were kidnapped by the Imperial Japanese Army between
1937 and 1945. Many of his heartbreaking anecdotes are woven into the
lesson plans he helped write for the new Ontario curriculum launched in
2005 about World War II in Asia.
goal is not to condemn Japan as a country or make students of Japanese
heritage feel guilty, Leskun notes, “but to condemn the military for its
use of sexual slavery. It’s not someone’s ethnicity that’s bad — it’s a
formal government policy that used women as sex slaves.”
Are these lessons too gritty for young teenagers?
is gruesome; what happened to those young girls was just sick, and many
died lonely and shunned by their villages,” said Grade 10 student
Simona Addario. “But it’s
totally appropriate for us to learn about this because it did happen.”
Added Falan Bennett: “It makes me want to go out into the world and educate others about rape as a weapon of war.”