American Historical Association: Standing with Historians of Japan

As historians, we express our dismay at recent attempts by the Japanese government to suppress statements in history textbooks both in Japan and elsewhere about the euphemistically named “comfort women” who suffered under a brutal system of sexual exploitation in the service of the Japanese imperial army during World War II.
Historians continue to debate whether the numbers of women exploited were in the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands and what precise role the military played in their procurement. Yet the careful research of historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki in Japanese government archives and the testimonials of survivors throughout Asia have rendered beyond dispute the essential features of a system that amounted to state-sponsored sexual slavery. Many of the women were conscripted against their will and taken to stations at the front where they had no freedom of movement. Survivors have described being raped by officers and beaten for attempting to escape.
As part of its effort to promote patriotic education, the present administration of Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is vocally questioning the established history of the comfort women and seeking to eliminate references to them in school textbooks. Some conservative Japanese politicians have deployed legalistic arguments in order to deny state responsibility, while others have slandered the survivors. Right-wing extremists threaten and intimidate journalists and scholars involved in documenting the system and the stories of its victims.
We recognize that the Japanese government is not alone in seeking to narrate history in its own interest. In the United States, state and local boards of education have sought to rewrite school textbooks to obscure accounts of African American slavery or to eliminate “unpatriotic” references to the Vietnam War, for example. In 2014, Russia passed a law criminalizing dissemination of what the government deems false information about Soviet activities during World War II. This year, on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, a Turkish citizen can be sent to jail for asserting that the government bears responsibility. The Japanese government, however, is now directly targeting the work of historians both at home and abroad.
On November 7, 2014, Japan’s Foreign Ministry instructed its New York Consulate General to ask McGraw-Hill publishers to correct the depiction of the comfort women in its world history textbook Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, coauthored by historians Herbert Ziegler and Jerry Bentley.
On January 15, 2015, the Wall Street Journal reported a meeting that took place last December between Japanese diplomats and McGraw-Hill representatives. The publisher refused the Japanese government’s request for erasure of two paragraphs, stating that scholars had established the historical facts about the comfort women.
On January 29, 2015, the New York Times further reported that Prime Minister Abe directly targeted the textbook during a parliamentary session, stating that he “was shocked” to learn that his government had “failed to correct the things [it] should have.”
We support the publisher and agree with author Herbert Ziegler that no government should have the right to censor history. We stand with the many historians in Japan and elsewhere who have worked to bring to light the facts about this and other atrocities of World War II.
We practice and produce history to learn from the past. We therefore oppose the efforts of states or special interests to pressure publishers or historians to alter the results of their research for political purposes.

Jeremy Adelman
Princeton University

W. Jelani Cobb
University of Connecticut

Alexis Dudden
University of Connecticut

Sabine Frühstück
University of California, Santa Barbara

Sheldon Garon
Princeton University

Carol Gluck
Columbia University

Andrew Gordon
Harvard University

Mark Healey
University of Connecticut

Miriam Kingsberg
University of Colorado

Nikolay Koposov
Georgia Institute of Technology

Peter Kuznick
American University

Patrick Manning
University of Pittsburgh

Devin Pendas
Boston College

Mark Selden
Cornell University

Franziska Seraphim
Boston College

Stefan Tanaka
University of California, San Diego

Julia Adeney Thomas
Notre Dame University

Jeffrey Wasserstrom
University of California, Irvine

Theodore Jun Yoo
University of Hawaii

Herbert Ziegler
University of Hawaii


U.S. Publisher Rebuffs Japan on ‘Comfort Women’ Revision ‘Scholars Aligned Behind Historical Fact’ of Forced Prostitution, McGraw-Hill Education Says


A major U.S. publishing company rejected a request by the Japanese government to change passages in a history textbook about women who were forced to serve in Japanese military brothels during World War II.

New York-based McGraw-Hill Education said in a statement Thursday that representatives of the Japanese government had asked the company to revise text on “comfort women” in a book titled “Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past.”

“Scholars are aligned behind the historical fact of ‘comfort women,’ and we unequivocally stand behind the writing, research and presentation of our authors,” it said.

Japan’s foreign ministry acknowledged it had contacted McGraw-Hill in mid-December through its consulate in the U.S. to ask for the changes to the textbook. It said in a statement that the text included “grave errors and descriptions that conflict with our nation’s stance,” but didn’t cite the errors.

The request was the latest effort by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his conservative government to revive patriotism at home and burnish Japan’s image overseas by toning down negative depictions of its wartime activities. It also comes as Japan and South Korea explore ways to mend ties strained by disputes over wartime history and maritime territory ahead of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II this year.

Japan added ¥50 billion ($427 million) to its budget this year to promote global understanding of the country, including its positions on wartime history and territorial disputes. Of the total, ¥4.3 billion is for communicating its message, including strengthening its ability to analyze and respond to global opinion. An additional ¥7.7 billion will go toward nurturing Japan-friendly academics by supporting Japan studies programs at universities and think tanks.

The total allocation to public relations and cultural exchanges under the foreign ministry more than tripled from the previous year, while its overall budget grew by 2.9%.

The textbook, written by historians Jerry Bentley and Herbert Ziegler, contain two paragraphs on comfort women, who were coerced into servitude in Japanese military brothels in the 1930s and 1940s. Many of them were Korean.

“The Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted, and dragooned as many as 200,000 women aged 14 to 20 to serve in military brothels, called ‘comfort houses,’” it says.

The book also says the Japanese military “massacred large numbers of comfort women to cover up the operation.”

Prof. Ziegler, an associate professor at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said in an email that he wrote the section on comfort women.

“And, yes, the publisher and I have been contacted separately by representatives of the Japanese government, essentially requesting some sort of revision of the offending narrative. Neither the publisher nor I entertain any such notion,” he said.

Since Mr. Abe returned to power in December 2012, the government has pressed forward with an overhaul of the nation’s education system meant to instill national pride among Japanese children. It has also revised teaching manuals for middle schools and high schools to emphasize Japan’s territorial claims. It is rare for Japan to request a revision to a foreign textbook.

Such moves have been met with strong criticism from South Korea and China, which view Mr. Abe’s agenda with skepticism and still harbor deep resentment over Japan’s military past.

Seoul has sought a new formal apology from Japan, as well as state-funded compensation for comfort women. Japan has maintained that the issue of compensation was settled in a 1965 bilateral agreement. It says it intends to stick to past apologies and statements made by former leaders, notably the 1993 Kono statement that acknowledged for the first time that the military was involved in establishing brothels across Asia, including through the “coaxing” and “coercion” of young women.

—Yuka Hayashi  contributed to Wall Street Journal

Japanese historians contest textbook’s description of ‘comfort women

Washington Post

TOKYO — A group of Japanese historians and academics is urging McGraw-Hill, the American publisher, to “correct” a college textbook that they say contains “many erroneous expressions” about sex slaves used by Japanese soldiers during World War II.

Saying that the women were simply prostitutes, the group is taking up an official Japanese effort to win support for its perspective on the euphemistically known “comfort women,” a particularly sensitive part of its wartime legacy.

“There are women in Amsterdam who sit in windows displaying their services and in Japan we have Soapland, which is part of the sex trade,” said Ikuhiko Hata, a Harvard- and Columbia-educated emeritus professor at Nippon University, likening the comfort women to those working in the red light districts in the Dutch and Japanese capitals.

Prostitutes have existed at every time in human history, so I do not believe that comfort women are a special category,” Hata told foreign journalists in Tokyo on Tuesday.

The issue of the comfort women is at the core of the political friction between Japan and the victims of its wartime actions in Korea and China. Seoul and Beijing contend that Japan is trying to whitewash its history of coercing as many as 200,000 women and girls — from occupied countries such as Korea, China, the Philippines and other Southeast Asian nations — to work as sex slaves, while Tokyo says that it has dealt with the issue already.

Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is weighing how to address the issue in several high-profile speeches marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the war this year. Some conservatives are pushing Abe to overturn a two-decade-old apology for Japan’s wartime “aggression” toward its neighbors.

As soon as Wednesday, 19 Japanese university professors will send a letter to McGraw-Hill taking issue with eight phrases in the two paragraphs about the “comfort women” in “Traditions and Encounters,” a 900-page history textbook used in U.S. colleges.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry has already attempted to persuade both McGraw-Hill and Herbert Ziegler, the University of Hawaii professor who wrote the paragraphs, to change the wording, and was rebuffed by both. Ziegler last month told The Washington Post that he viewed the request as “an infringement of my freedom of speech and my academic freedom.”

Twenty American professors published a letter in this month’s edition of the American Historical Association’s journal to express their “dismay at recent attempts by the Japanese government to suppress statements in history textbooks both in Japan and elsewhere.”

Now Japanese professors, led by Hata, are taking action, writing to McGraw-Hill to contest the textbook’s statement that as many as 200,000 women were forcibly recruited to be comfort women for Japan’s imperial army. Hata says the real number is about 20,000.

They also take issue with the claim that the women were “a gift from the emperor.” “This is too impolite expression for a school textbook, which defames the national head,” the Japanese letter says.

The Japanese historians also criticize the estimate that the women serviced 20 to 30 soldiers a day. If that were true, Hata said, “the soldiers would have had no time to fight the war; they would have been too busy going to the brothel all the time.”

“I have never seen so many mistakes in such a textbook,” he said at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan, a heavily annotated copy of the book on the table in front of him.

“Historians, including myself, have decided to lodge a complaint and point out to McGraw-Hill the errors that they have made in their textbook, asking them to correct their errors,” he said, noting that he always thanks readers who write to him to correct errors in his books. “I’m full of great hopes that McGraw-Hill will be grateful to us, too.”

In a statement quoted by the Wall Street Journal in January, after the Foreign Ministry’s request to change the textbook, McGraw-Hill said: “Scholars are aligned behind the historical fact of ‘comfort women,’ and we unequivocally stand behind the writing, research and presentation of our authors.”

Japan’s Foreign Ministry has been promoting Hata to international media organizations, including to The Post, as an expert on the comfort women issue.

But the government has not been involved in the academics’ initiative, said Takako Ito, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman. “In any case, the government of Japan respects and values the freedom of thought and freedom of expression in the United States and elsewhere to the fullest,” she said.

By Anna Fifield, who is The Post’s bureau chief in Tokyo, focusing on Japan and the Koreas. She previously reported for the Financial Times from Washington DC, Seoul, Sydney, London and from across the Middle East.

Kenzaburo Oe urges Abe to reflect on Japan’s past


Japanese Nobel Prize-winning novelist says Japanese Prime Minister didn’t live through World War II and doesn’t understand Japan’s crimes
“Shinzo Abe is refusing to acknowledge Japan’s terrible past. Japan needs the imagination to forge a new reality through profound reflection on the war.”
Novelist Kenzaburo Oe delivered a scathing critique of the refusal of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and other Japanese political leaders to acknowledge the country’s past actions. The remarks came while the 81-year-old author was attending the Yonsei-Kim Dae-jung World Future Forum, an event staged by Yonsei University and the Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library and Museum at the university‘s Baekyang Concert Hall on Mar. 13 to mark the 130th anniversary of the school’s foundation.
“They say imagination alone is not enough to solve the social problems of today, but I believe imagination is something powerfully connected to reality,” Oe said as part of a keynote speech titled “The Future of Human Sensibility.”
The novelist, who was awarded a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1994, was in South Korea at the invitation of Kim Dae-jung Peace Center chairperson and former First Lady Kim Hee-ho.
“As part of the postwar generation, I developed all the sensibilities in my work while imagining a new society after the war in my teens and twenties,” Oe recalled.
“It seems like that’s the period that Abe most hates to remember and feels most ashamed of,” he continued, directing a message of blunt criticism toward the current administration. “He didn’t experience the Second World War, and I don‘t know he can even imagine just how terrible the crimes Japan committed back then were.”
“Abe wants to forge a new era by rejecting all the efforts Japanese society made to achieve something democratic and humane in the ten years after the war,” Oe said of the administration.
“The bigger problem is that over half of the Japanese public is sending votes of support to the administration,” he added, sounding a note of concern about the strong approval Abe enjoys at home.
“The crimes Japan committed against Asia, and the people of the Korean Peninsula and Korea in particular, were truly atrocious, and I don’t feel that Japan has apologized enough for them,” Oe said.
Oe, who published his first book in 1958, is one of the leading writers and pacifists of Japan’s postwar era. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 1994 for works such as “The Silent Cry”, he has been a consistent voice against the Abe administration’s militarization and nuclear power in the wake of the 2011 East Japan earthquake and tsunami.
Oe, who has been in poor health recently, said, “In Korean years, I’m 81, so I’m already over eighty.”
“Our future now hinges on forging a new sensibility in individuals. I will spend the last of my days pleading and thinking on those lines,” he continued.
“If we can combine feeling and sensitivity as people of the future generation who are capable of making a contribution to the world, I believe we will gain bearings toward a clearer form of wisdom.”

Merkel urges Tokyo to confront Japan’s WWII sex slavery crimes

The German chancellor has called on Tokyo authorities to resolve the issue of “comfort women” in World War II. On the last day of her official visit, Merkel also met with female representatives from the private sector.

While meeting the head of the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan, Katsuya Okada, Merkel said Tuesday that Tokyo should “go ahead with reconciliation” with its neighboring countries over the issue of the so-called “comfort women,” who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese forces.
“Japan and South Korea share values,” Merkel told Okada, according to Jiji Press. “It’s better to resolve the … issue properly.”

Forced to work in brothels
Although official records are scarce, mainstream historians believe that up to 200,000 women were forced to work in military brothels for Japanese soldiers during World Word II. Most of the women are said to be from South Korea, but also from China, Indonesia, the Philippines and Taiwan.
Most historians agree that these women were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese army or its wartime government. On the other hand, some conservatives claim that the women were common prostitutes who willingly engaged in sex work.
Japanese wartime atrocities continue to burden the relationship with the countries’ neighbors to this day.
Japan and Germany ‘different’
On Monday, Merkel told a news conference that settling wartime history is “a prerequisite for reconciliation,” referring to Germany’s facing of its own past.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, however, insisted that it is “inappropriate to simply compare” Japan with Germany over their post-war settlement.
“The background – what happened to Japan and Germany during the war and what countries their neighbors are – is different,” Kishida told reporters.

Merkel is scheduled to leave Tokyo on Tuesday afternoon.

By Deutsche Welle