By Bruce Fan
Staff Writer

Recently, South Korea and Japan have managed to resolve the decades-long issue of “comfort women.” To elaborate, “comfort women” refers to the sexual slavery that the Japanese military imposed upon the women of foreign countries like Korea, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, and more during WWII to help “revitalize” Japanese soldiers. This issue is controversial because Japan and South Korea and other victimized countries disagree over the history and various narratives associated with the term. For instance, South Korean activists claim there to be up to 200,000 Korean victims who endured as “comfort women” or sexual slaves for Japanese soldiers during WWII, while Japan and some scholars have at times claimed there to be only up to 20,000 victims. It should be stated that this agreement resolving this controversial topic is highly important between the two nations, often being a point of conflict as the two allies have criticized each other in various parts of international society. Specifically, South Korea criticizes Japan for its lack of a direct apology and reconciliation to former “comfort women”, while Japan maintains that it has done enough to compensate and apologize to such victims. Indeed, there is controversy even with the accord; some South Korean activists and former “women” are protesting it, calling it unfair and humiliating.

First to discuss the terms of agreement between the two nations, Japan will supply 1 billion Yen (or 8.3 million dollars) to support surviving comfort women and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will apologize for the women’s treatment while South Korea will consider this issue resolved. By apologizing, Prime Minister Abe is going further than any previous Japanese government; his apology was “expressed both in a statement by his foreign minister and in a telephone call with South Korean President Park Geun-hye.” In exchange for these terms, South Korea says that it will consider the issue “irreversibly resolved,” meaning that the two governments will refrain from criticizing and blaming each other in international society. Once again the significance of this deal is highlighted by Shinzo Abe’s statement that he is glad that “we did our duty for the current generation by reaching this final and irreversible resolution before the end of the 70th year since the war.

This deal, however, does not come without criticism. Specifically an advocacy group, The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery, and other protesters are calling the deal a “diplomatic humiliation”. First off, the two former comfort women who represent the group argue that they and other fellow survivors were not even consulted by the South Korean government before it accepted the deal on their behalf. Specifically, “the group said Seoul ‘gave a bushel and only got a peck [of returns in the agreement];”’ they are most likely referring to how South Korea has allowed Japan to avoid the full brunt of responsibility for creating “comfort women” in this treaty. In regards to Japan’s terms in the accord, the former “comfort women” are enraged at a multitude of terms that all revolve around the fact that the Japanese government still hasn’t directly acknowledged that the Japanese government itself was the one that actively initiated the systematic sexual slavery, as its claim of just being simply involved.

To begin, the Japanese government has still refused to directly compensate victims in this treaty as the 1 billion Yen is being directed toward a fund as a humanitarian gesture toward the victims not as a direct apology. ( Japan has attempted creating funds for sex slaves prior, “but many surviving sex slaves refused money unless it came directly from the Japanese government…[as a result] the fund was disbanded in 2007.” ( As so put by CNN, this lack of direct compensation by Japan has prompted “activists and former comfort women to say Japanese leaders were avoiding officially acknowledging what happened.” (

Next, the advocacy group and its two former comfort women Lee Ok-sun and Kang Il-chul take issue with apology made by the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe. Specifically, the two former comfort women and eight other fellow survivors, call the apology too indirect and demand a face-to-face apology. Specifically what these women and other activists want is for Japan to give “a sincere apology like the one that Willy Brandt [Germany’s ex-Chancellor] gave at the Holocaust memorial,” the women state that they want to be healed like the Holocaust survivors said they were after Willy Brandt’s formal apology. With this in mind, such an event is unlikely to happen. This lack of a direct apology by Japan’s Prime Minister is interpreted once again as Japan’s avoidance of history; this avoidance leads many to think that Japan is simply waiting for former “comfort women” to die alongside their narratives as only 46 survivors remain of the 238 women in South Korea who came forward in the early 1990s. All in all, such revisions in the accord is important as it clarifies the history and narratives of comfort women who were exploited not by sex traffickers or some various third party but by the Japanese government itself and puts the full blame on the Japanese government.

To add further controversy, there is the issue of the statue symbolizing comfort women placed in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Japan insists that part of the conditions of the accord was that the South Korean government remove this statue placed in front of its embassy in Seoul. However, South Korean protesters have “objected to Seoul’s promise that it would consider removing the statue in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul that commemorates the women’s suffering.”  For some context, the statue was placed in 2011 and is simply that of a barefoot teenage girl meant to symbolize the tales of “comfort women” under the Japanese imperial army. To Japan, this statue’s removal is important as they believe it to be a symbol of South Korea’s unwillingness to settle the issue; thus it believes that South Korea removing the statue will demonstrate South Korea finally resolving the issue. In brief, this statue is another term of the agreement between South Korea and Japan that is arousing protests by South Korean activists.

To recap, the agreement between Japan and South Korea on the historic “comfort women” issue has been met with controversy. This controversy can be shown by the complaints lodged by Lee Ok-Sun and Kang Il-chul against the terms. As stated earlier, these two former “comfort women” and South Korean activists still interpret the treaty as signifying Japan’s continued dodging of its historical role through Shinzo Abe’s avoidance of a direct apology to the women himself and Japan’s creation of a humanitarian fund for the survivors instead of a real admission of legal responsibility. With this being said however, there are other former “comfort women” who are accepting of deal, specifically telling Korean media that “they would accept the compromise.” As this controversy continues, the significance of the treaty cannot be left unnoticed. Historical differences have often translated to strains in the relations between Japan and South Korea. In one instance, such “strains between Japan and South Korea have prevented them from signing an agreement to share sensitive military information.” By resolving this issue at least between the two governments, this accord will allow two of America’s most important allies in East Asia to cooperate and work better together to better stabilize the regional balance of power in East Asia amidst a developing China. Thus such an accord is important not only in regards to the two nations themselves but also for determining the balance of power in East Asia and across the globe.


  1. CNN: (
  2. Reuters: (
  3. Wall Street Journal: (
  4. The Guardian: (

Image by Joonyoung Kim


Poster for Internet Addicts Anonymous

By Alexandra Reich
Staff Writer

A supernormal stimulus is a stimulus that elicits an unusually heightened response from an animal. Supernormal stimuli can be easily observed in nature. Nikolas Tinbergen first discovered the existence of supernormal stimuli over the course of several experiments. He found that herring gulls, when presented with an artificially large egg intentionally sized larger than what a herring gull could possibly produce, would take care of the fake egg instead of their own. When presented with two eggs in nature, herring gulls are likely motivated to take care of the larger one in order to hatch a larger chick, which would have a better chance of survival. The gulls have not been conditioned to conceive an upper limit of preferred egg size because eggs that are too large for the gulls to take care of are never produced in nature. They are unable to conceptualize the potential disadvantage in taking care of an egg that is artificially large. Tinbergen found trends of supernormal stimuli in other animals as well, occurring in certain kinds of fish and butterflies. Humans, like animals, can be enraptured by disadvantageous supernormal stimuli.

In industrialized nations, one human equivalent of supernormal stimuli corresponds to technological advances, which are relatively recent considering the timeline of evolution. Television, social media sites, and the wide availability of new information on the Internet have the tendency to draw in users for hours every day. According to one study, American adults, on average, spend over five hours total on digital media per day.

Movies and television shows hook the brain through the human capacity for emotion. Essentially, movies and television shows are abstract or lifelike pixilated images moving across a screen, yet people are so allured by the artificial characters’ personalities and struggles that they can react to the show with real emotions. A term coined by Jeffery Zachs, the “Mirror Rule,” explains the human tendency to imitate the facial expression, and to some extent, the emotion, of the human it is interacting with. Zachs argues that this rule can be applied to the characters in movies to invoke emotional responses from audience members. This concept may be applicable to human evolutionary behavior. As television was introduced relatively recently compared to how long humans have existed, human brains have evolved to be wired for face-to-face social interaction. Television shows or movies simulating human interaction that is either more interesting or more desirable than what people normally encounter could serve as a supernormal stimulus, enticing the human brain and drawing that individual away from their less interesting non-televised life.

In moderation, the consumption of imagined situations or artificial worlds is not necessarily negative. However, prolonged exposure to the supernatural stimuli of virtual Internet worlds can result in addiction. Not only is Internet addiction a legitimate condition, it is estimated to affect six percent of the population worldwide. Similar to the herring gull that cannot resist the allure of the artificially large egg, Internet addiction is an “impulse control problem” in which the affected individual prefers the ease of interacting via the internet over face-to-face societal interaction.

Online video games are a major source of Internet addiction. Theoretically, it makes sense that a video game, particularly a violent one, could act as a super stimulus. Players have the heightened experience of dominance by ‘killing’ artificial enemies without actually risking their own lives, social standing, or a potential prison sentence in the process. The only factor at risk is the virtual progress of their electronic avatar. In addition to the dominance factor, Chatfield argues in his TED talk that successful games stimulate dopamine receptors in the brain as a result of the human evolution to appreciate rewards for effort and problem-solving tasks.

Some countries have taken action against Internet addiction. To look at an extreme example, in South Korea there is a functioning summer camp intended to alleviate children’s dependence on the Internet. Jump Up Internet Rescue School is a tuition-free program that offers participants directed physical exercise as well as other offline hobbies in order to show children that they can have fun outside the confines of the online world. Interventions such as these have the potential to work well because they will reduce the sometimes drastic gap between real life stimuli and internet stimuli by having children participate in a variety of activities. Internet addiction has also been treated in the U.S. with similar mechanisms.

Internet addiction is the result of the human brain’s lack of evolutionary adaption to the supernormal stimuli presented by technology. Just as animals are unable to resist these enhanced stimuli, humans follow suit, employing technology to the point of physical health depravity and social isolation. While advancements in technology have proven beneficial to society in a variety of fields, it does present its limitations.

Image by Michael Mandiberg


By Kristopher Klein
Staff Writer

In Northeast Asia, disagreements about ancient history reflect modern politics. Historical events can often be the basis of political claims, as well as the standard these claims are held to when assessing viability in the future. The existence of a people or culture throughout history, or the ability to maintain sovereignty throughout time is often the justification of political actions today.

Referencing history can be a powerful way to make a political point or frame a political disagreement. Mao Zedong once claimed, “If the lips are gone, the teeth will be cold.” Mao used what ancient Chinese diplomats wrote about the struggles between rival Chinese states, to describe China’s relationship with Korea.

Mao, wary of NATO influence from South Korea and Japan, wanted a fellow Communist state on China’s border. Mao wanted North Korean lips to guard Chinese teeth. Western powers saw Korea as a battlefield in the ideological struggle between a capitalist, liberal society and Leninist regimes. China’s Communist Party was therefore in need of a buffer between itself and NATO.

Decades later, China is the North Korean regime’s only major ally. China supplies North Korea with 60 percent of its total trade and has repeatedly thwarted attempts to punish North Korea. However, China’s support for North Korea looks increasingly like a marriage of convenience. With careful examination we see that these two geo-political allies could soon be headed for a rude divorce.

Today, the North Korean regime survives in part due to its powerful propaganda machine, which seeks to legitimize the rule of the Kim family. North Korean media outlets routinely identify the North with the ancient Goguryeo kingdom, portraying South Korea as the heir of the southern Silla kingdom.

The Goguryeo kingdom was a powerful and self-sufficient state that at times fought sustained wars against successive Chinese dynasties, including multiple defeats of Sui and Tang forces, as well as against Korean rival states like Silla. At other times it was merely a tributary state to the Chinese and Mongol empires.

The Goguryeo kingdom had multiple capitals over its long history, including sites in present day Ji’an, China. At these sites, archaeologists discovered not only one of Goguyeo’s several past capitals, but also the burial tombs of Goguryeo noblemen and a monarch.

Enter contemporary historiography.

In 2004, the Chinese government filed the site as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In its filings, China asserted that the Goguryeo capital and associated tombs are an integral part of Chinese history. The Chinese government has also spent millions of dollars in preserving and preparing the sites as tourist destinations.

In 2013, Chinese historians began conducting “closed research” at the sites, located in China’s northeast Jilin province, as part of what China calls the Northeast Project (东北工程).Both North and South Korea have decried what they see as an attempt to undermine Korea’s cultural distinctiveness from China.

South Korean newspaper Hankyoreh published an article claiming “the Northeast Project is part of an ongoing effort by the Chinese government to incorporate all of the history that unfolded inside the borders of present-day China into Chinese history. By isolating Goguryeo from the history of the Korean peninsula and declaring that it is part of Chinese history, China has triggered a fierce historical debate with South Korea.”

If China is actually up to what Hankyoreh believes, then Chinese claims could pose a threat to Korean sovereignty. If China sees Goguryeo as part of Chinese history, then it is by extension also creating a historical claim to Goguryeo territory that lies in modern day North Korea. Professor Song Ki Ho of Seoul National University took this one step further by alleging “China isn’t making the claims just for historical reasons, but for political reasons to claim dominion over North Korea in case of a changing political situation in the region.”

The potential for political change in the region has come about recently as the relationship between China and North Korea has seen a sudden rise in tension and increased military activity along the Sino-North Korean border. In August, Chosun Ilbo reported that a North Korean military unit, created in 2010 to respond to movements of Chinese military assets, had been moved to the border “and turned into an attack force.” Reports of increased Chinese and North Korean military activity along their common border continue to fuel theories of a divide between North Korean and Chinese officials and a deteriorating relationship between the Northeast Asian neighbors.

While Chinese motives behind the Northeast Project remain unclear, rising tensions between both Koreas and Beijing set a scene sensitive to attempts to portray history in a nationalistic context. Should China continue to advance its version of Goguryeo’s history through continued focus on the Northeast Project, North and South Korea may, for the first time since the Korean War, find themselves united in opposition to the Chinese government.

Image by Mathieu Thouvenin