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What determines the relative success of different war compensation policies? Comparing three unresolved compensation issues between Japan and South Korea

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 October 2022

Jun Young Lee
Research Faculty of Media and Communication, Hokkaido University, Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan
Yeon Joo Kim
People Power Party, Seoul, South Korea
Ji Young Kim*
Department of Japan Studies, College of Languages and Cultures, Hanyang University, Ansan, Gyeonggi-do, South Korea
*Corresponding author. E-mail:


This article examines three Japan–South Korea postwar compensation cases: the comfort women issue, the Sakhalin Island forced labor issue, and Korean atomic bomb survivor issue. These compensation movements produced vastly different results, even though the basic policy directions for compensation provision in all three cases were similar. Japan's approach toward the comfort women problem has been a complete failure, while its treatment of the Sakhalin forced labor issue and the atomic bomb issues has been more successful. This article's explanation of the different outcomes focuses on the character and geographical base of the civic groups leading these compensation movements. In South Korea, women's rights activists spearheaded the comfort women compensation movement and related victim-relief activities. The Korean non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that assisted the comfort women treated this problem not only as a women's rights issue, but also as a nationalist issue. In contrast, the Red Cross, a politically neutral international organization, promoted the Sakhalin forced labor and atomic bomb issues. In short, the different receptions accorded to those championing the comfort women issue and those promoting the Sakhalin forced labor and atomic bomb issues depended on the principal agent of each compensation process. This article aims to provide some implications for successfully implementing postwar compensation policies. It suggests that, if successful postwar compensation policy depends on successful perpetrator–victim reconciliation, establishing solidarity between perpetrator and victim countries’ civic groups is important. This can only be facilitated through the depoliticized and transparent operation of leading NGOs both inside and outside the redressal-seeking nation.

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press

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