After its liberation from Japanese rule in August 1945,the Korean Peninsula was divided into two: Soviet troops occupied the northern half and the US military the southern half. The ongoing US military presence in South Korea led to the formation and maintenance of “Camp towns” (kijich’on, in Korean) around the military bases, a development that has had a striking social impact on Korean communities. Kijich’on (literally, base or camp [kiji] village [ch’on]) refers to the civilian world of commercial establishments and residential buildings that have sprung up around the US military bases and cater to the needs of the American GI’s. It is “ a place where Koreans and Americans- mostly male military personnel- meet in an economic and emotional marriage of convenience”. As of the end of 1996, 37,000 American troops supported the economies of ninety-six kijich’on. The estimated number of kijich’on prostitutes over the first four decades of the American presence ranges between 250,000 and 300,000.
The kijich'on sex trade consolidated and expanded during the second phase, which began with the Korean War. In her testimony, Pak Sun-i who had laboured at three different comfort startions in Japan 1944 to the end of the war, recalled:
"At twenty-seven years of age, I was having a hard time making ends meet in Tongduch'on (the largest kijich'on just outside Seoul). I ended up cohabiting with a staff sergeant of the USArmy for about two years... One of my friends from the days at a comfort station in Japan also worked as yang-gonju, but she passed away."
An American veteran who served in Korea in the 1950s after the end of the Korean War recounted that on Friday nights half-ton trucks would bring into the base a few hundred women to stay the night or the weekend with the soldiers. In 1958, five years after the armistice, the majority of about 300,000 prostitutes in Korea reportedly served American soldiers. Some of them, like their earlier Japanese counterparts(RAA), married and emigrated to the United States as wives of servicemen.
The fact that the Korean military also availed themselves of the "special comfort unit" during the Korean War has received little public attention even after the Korean women's movement in support of the "comfort women" began in the 1990s. Only piecemeal anecdotal materials on it had come to light from memoirs written by retired generals and generals and the testimony of soldiers who fought in the war.
Characterizing the Korean military comfort system as an "unfortunate offspring" of the Japanese colonial legacy, Kim Kwi-ok called for victimized women, civic organizations, and scholars to come together and confront the unresolved issues of this historical injustice. The media reports of Kim's work, however, have generated little response. There has been no public outcry regarding the Korean military's use of "comfort women" during the Korean War or its violation of women's human rights. Korean silence over these issues is reminiscent of earlier societal indifference toward survivors of imperial Japan's comfort system, It mirrors the reticence of many Japanese to come to terms with the history of their country's wartime comfort system. As in the case of Japan, many in Korea, including retired military leaders, apparently regard the women's sexual labour simply as the performance of gendered customary sex labour in order to meet the needs of fighting men. It is noteworthy that military authorities have acknowledged that the system of special comfort units contradicts the national policy of banning licensed prostitution. Nonetheless, they have insisted that the special units were created to fulfill an important strategic end.
However, when it comes to the issue of Japan's wartime "comfort women" system, which has been redefined by the international community as a prominent case of violence against women in armed conflict, no social critic or public intellectual in Korea would dare to take the customary masculinist position that such a system benefits the economy or promotes national security. This is because the comfort women issue has been redefiend as military sexual slavery and a war crime by the international community owing largely to women's collaborative movement for redress in Japan and Korea.
Still, little critical public discourse has occurred on the legacies of that historical institution or the social structural dimension of Korea'S comfort women tragedy. Few are willing to consider the unsavoury fact that, accustomed to indigenous public institutions that have granted customary sex rights to men, and licensed by the colonial government, many Koreans did not hesitate to collaborate in recruiting and runing comfort stations by trafficking in girls and young women. Rather than deal with the messy and unpleasant complications of the historical record, Korean public discourse has simplistically elevated the survivors to heroic symbols of national suffering under Japanese colonialism and its imperialist war of aggression.
By contrast, Japan, which is unavoidably seen as the perpetrator nation, has been in turmoil over contested representations of the comfort women phenomenon and its responsibility in the matter. Meanwhile, the international - as well as domestic - trade in public sex prospers in capitalist economies of Japan and Korea despite endless incidents of criminal abuse of women so employed by both foreigners and compatriots. The social historical legacies of masculinist sexual culture and political economic realities in the two countries continue to help construct women'S sexual labour as stigmatized yet customary care labour for masculine "need".