SEOUL, Feb. 27 (UPI) -- The Japanese military executed and attempted to burn the bodies of Korean "comfort women" forced to serve in wartime brothels at a key base in Songshan, China, in 1944, a South Korean scholar who discovered documentary evidence of the atrocities said Tuesday.
Kang Sung-hyun, a professor at Sungkonghoe University who has carried out extensive research into comfort women at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., aired the short, graphic video of a smoke-filled mass grave, where a Chinese Nationalist soldier stoops to inspect the stripped corpses of the women.
The discovery of the footage dispels any notion the women were treated benignly. Survivors of sexual slavery have said they were beaten and raped on a daily basis.
In the event of defeat, Japanese troops were likely taking action against the women who could testify to being subjected to cruelty and abuse.
The issue of recognizing the atrocities as egregious human rights violations by present-day governments has not been so smooth, however.
The comfort women issue has typically been characterized as a problem driving a wedge between South Korea and Japan.
But for Kang and other researchers who seek the truth on the matter, such evaluations of the ongoing controversy over wartime sex slaves are rich in irony.
The South Korean academic told UPI on Tuesday the U.S. government has been the key driver behind the dispute, although the United States, across multiple administrations, has appeared to be uninvolved.
"The United States has played a significant role" in the issue of comfort women, by deliberately withholding documented evidence so the "truth would not be revealed," Kang said.
"For the United States, past [historical] issues, such as the issue of comfort women, is something that is pertinent to its alliances" with Korea and Japan, he added.
The United States probably does not want the comfort women issue to weaken the trilateral alliance, Kang said, because the world's largest economy retains an interest in maintaining a footprint in Asia and to buffer against a rising China.
But the policy has backfired in some ways, according to Kang, referring to an agreement, signed in December 2015, between former South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The agreement included a 1 billion yen, or about $8 million to $9 million contribution, to a fund for the aging victims, but South Korean President Moon Jae-in has asked for the agreement to be canceled because it was created without consent from the surviving victims.
Kang said although the deal primarily involved Japan and South Korea, "in the background" was pressure from the Obama administration to get the agreement signed in order to strengthen cooperation among the countries.
The U.S. policy of spurning the issue has affected Kang's research, and the historian has had trouble gaining access to material he has requested from U.S. archives.
Hisatomo Kobayashi, a Japanese researcher who has been collecting material independently on comfort women, spoke at the same conference as Kang at Seoul city hall Tuesday.
Kobayashi said Abe is a historical revisionist who seeks to change how the Japanese are educated about the country's wartime past.
"The Nazis believed if you tell a lie 100 times, it becomes the truth," Kobayashi said. "I wonder whether Abe is doing the same."
The Japanese government has said the recruitment of comfort women shows no evidence of forced or involuntary sexual slavery, according to Kobayashi, a possible reference to recruitment drives where the women, many of them Korean, were deceived with promises of factory jobs.
Proper compensation from government to victims that is made with the victims' consent needs to be made, Kobayashi said.