California Congressman, Mr.Mike Honda poses with the book, ‘Touch-me-not’, the journey of a comfort woman, at Capitol Hill.
Nearly 200 scholars have signed a statement urging Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to renew apologies for the country’s imperialist past and offer to compensate former “comfort women,” victims of its wartime brothel system.
The move comes as the nationalist Abe prepares a statement he is expected to deliver in August to mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. It is being closely watched for any sign of backsliding on previous Japanese apologies.
The scholars included experts on Japanese and Korean history. The statement, released Monday, implores Abe to repeat his predecessors’ explicit apologies for Japanese violence.
The statement, which was also signed by dozens of journalists, lawyers and rights activists, says Abe’s announcement “must reaffirm that invasion and colonial control caused harm and pain to neighbor countries . . . and it must express renewed sentiments of regret and apology.”
It says Japan must face up officially to its responsibility for the sexual enslavement of thousands of females, an issue at the heart of the bitter enmity between Japan and South Korea, from where most of the women came.
“We emphasize (the need for a) resolution of the comfort women issue at this time, as the relationship between Japan and South Korea has been strained,” said one of the organizers, Haruki Wada, a historian and professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo. “We hope Prime Minister Abe will reflect our voices in his statement.”
Sitting prime ministers offered explicit apologies for Japan’s colonial rule and aggression on the 50th and 60th anniversaries of the war’s end, but Abe has hinted he is unlikely to repeat that — saying instead he wants to issue a “forward-looking” statement.
That sentiment has caused disquiet among Japanese liberals and anger in Beijing and Seoul, which insist Tokyo has not made amends for the war.
Japan offered an apology to the former comfort women in 1993 — the words of which remain government policy — but campaigners accuse Abe of playing down any official role in the comfort women system by the country or its military.
“A renewed effort is called for from the government of Japan” in taking steps “toward the 50 or so surviving victims,” the scholars’ statement says.
A similar statement signed by several hundred academics was publicized last month. Weeks later, 16 Japanese academic societies — including the Historical Science Society of Japan — issued a statement echoing the same sentiments.
Mainstream historians say tens of thousands of girls and women, mostly from the Korean Peninsula but also from other parts of Asia, were systematically raped by Japan’s Imperial forces in military brothels.
apanese conservatives, however, dispute the historians’ numbers and claim no official documents prove government involvement in the system. They also claim the females were common prostitutes engaged in a commercial exchange.
They have argued that memories of the survivors cannot be trusted and are highly politicized in an issue that serves as one of the main geopolitical fault lines running through East Asia.
Abe has said he stands by previous pronouncements but questions the need for Japan to repeatedly apologize for events more than seven decades ago.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 5 (Yonhap) — Japan’s attempt to dispute the long-established historical fact about the country’s sexual enslavement of Asian women during World War II raises “serious concerns” about academic freedom in the country, an American scholar said Thursday.
Alexis Dudden, a professor at the University of Connecticut, also said in an email interview with Yonhap News Agency that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is attempting to “openly supplant long proven histories with preferred national memories.”
Dudden led a group of American history scholars to issue a joint statement expressing strong protest against Japan’s pressuring of U.S. publisher McGraw-Hill to alter the description of the sexual slavery issue in one of its textbooks.
It is highly unusual for U.S. history scholars to collectively issue a statement on a specific historical issue. Nineteen scholars belonging to the American Historical Association co-signed the joint statement titled, “Standing with Historians of Japan.”
“The statement matters now because the history involved — the so-called ‘comfort women’ — has long been accepted as fact not only in Japan but also around the world. Targeting this particular history now for political reasons … raises serious concerns about the state of academic freedom in Japan today,” the professor said.
“As for Prime Minister Abe, it is important … to understand that memory and history are different things. In this instance we have a politician who would openly supplant long proven histories with preferred national memories,” she said.
The statement is “an act of professional solidarity with historians in Japan and elsewhere — South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia — who research and write about these issues, Dudden said.
“Our aim is to show respect and solidarity for the efforts of historians everywhere who have long worked on the so-called comfort women issue and have published their work according to professional standards of evidence and multiple cross-referencing. This is how we produce the work we do, and why we hold to it as accurate and proven,” she said.
In the joint statement, the scholars expressed “dismay” at Japan’s pressuring of the textbook publisher, accusing the Abe administration of “vocally questioning the established history of the comfort women and seeking to eliminate references to them in school textbooks” as part of its effort to promote patriotic education.
They also stressed that “no government should have the right to censor history.”
“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,” the statement said.
Dudden stressed that “academic freedom is at stake” when certain political views summon history.
“This is how memory takes over what it calls history by picking and choosing from the past at will instead of learning from it,” she said.
“Our small group agrees that it is the responsibility of historians who are able to practice in societies as open as the United States to recognize moments when colleagues elsewhere are themselves targeted and have their work targeted,” she added.
Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mainly from Korea, which was a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II. But Japan has long attempted to whitewash the atrocity.
The sexual slavery issue has been the biggest thorn in frayed relations between Japan and South Korea, with Seoul demanding Japan take steps to address the grievances of elderly Korean victims of the atrocity and Japan refusing to do so.
SEOUL, South Korea — The political and historical war of words between Japan and South Korea has found another battleground: the United States.
One of the first volleys in the battle for America’s sympathies was played out in a park in New Jersey in 2010, where Korean-Americans in Palisades Park won the right to install a plaque memorializing “comfort women,” many of them Korean, who were forced to work in Japanese military brothels during World War II. Since then, more Korean communities — sometimes backed by activists and even diplomats from South Korea — have begun their own campaigns either to acknowledge the suffering of the comfort women or, more recently, to win recognition for the country’s arguments that a nearby sea should not automatically be named after Japan, its onetime colonial ruler.
Legislators in Virginia passed a bill this month requiring books mentioning the Sea of Japan to also use its Korean name, the East Sea. New York is considering a similar measure. The ambassadors of South Korea and Japan visited the governor of Virginia in January to press their countries’ cases. Japan also hired four lobbyists to argue that the name change was unnecessary.
As the issues mount, the United States, which has labored to remain an impartial friend to both nations, has found itself in the middle of a fight between its two main Asian allies at a time when it wants their cooperation to face a resurgent China and a nuclear-armed North Korea.
“There is not one tenured professor on the East Coast who has not been contacted” by one or both of the countries, said Jonathan Berkshire Miller, chairman of the Japan-Korea Working Group at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Pacific Forum in Honolulu.
The Obama administration seemed to succeed in getting the two estranged allies to at least temper their bickering last week, arranging the first meeting between the Japanese leader, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and President Park Geun-hye of South Korea on the sidelines of an upcoming nuclear summit in the Netherlands.
But the slight thaw comes after months of some of the most bitter divisions between the two countries in years, brought on in part by Japan’s election of a prime minister South Korea considers to be a dangerous revisionist of his country’s wartime history and the election in South Korea of a president whom the Japanese see as stubbornly demanding endless apologies.
The conflict is rooted in grievances going back to Japan’s brutal colonization of the Korean Peninsula from 1910 to 1945, and its attempts to extinguish the Korean culture. Experts say this internationalization of what had been bilateral disputes reflects the shifting balance of power in a region where a wealthier South Korea is challenging Japan’s century-long dominance. At the same time, Japan is showing more willingness to push back under the leadership of Mr. Abe, who has argued in the past that Japan’s wartime history has been depicted too negatively.
“There’s propaganda to depict Japan in a way that’s far from the truth,” Mr. Abe told Parliament last month. “There is a danger that such propaganda will have a huge influence on our children’s generation. I want to think of a strong public relations counterstrategy going forward.”
The Koreans have gained the upper hand, experts say, partly by casting issues like the women forced into sexual servitude more broadly, as violations of universal standards of human rights. Koreans are planning a permanent exhibit on the comfort women that likens Japanese wartime actions to Nazi atrocities, at a Holocaust resource center at the Queensborough Community College in New York City.
South Korea recently sent its gender equality minister to Columbia University with an animated movie about Japanese war atrocities that shows a “comfort woman” in traditional Korean garb raped by Japanese soldiers.
Japan, meanwhile, has sent veteran America handlers to universities and research groups to warn that South Korea was out to settle old scores, and might be tilting dangerously toward China.
While Japan officially apologized in 1993, and set up a fund with private donations to compensate some of the 80,000 to 200,000 women believed to have been forced to work in wartime brothels, South Korean activists want a more repentant attitude. Tensions increased sharply last month when Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, responding to growing calls by nationalist lawmakers to scrap the apology, said the Abe government would review the testimony of women used in compiling it. Mr. Abe later said he would uphold the apology.
Experts say that each side has the same goal: cajoling Washington into pressuring the other to make concessions.
“The U.S. is the main battlefield in Japan’s global public relations warfare against South Korea and China,” said Hiroshi Nakanishi, a professor of international politics at Kyoto University. “They are trying to reduce Japan’s global influence, and the perception is that they are winning.”
Experts said they expected the campaigning to only intensify ahead of President Obama’s visit to Asia next month, which the Americans hope will help mend fences.
Instead, the visit itself has become a new cause of one-upmanship between the nations: when a draft itinerary showed Mr. Obama spending two nights in Tokyo with no stopover in Seoul, Korean officials said they successfully demanded that the time in Japan be reduced and a visit be added to Seoul to meet with President Park.
“We warned them that China is being very friendly toward Park Geun-hye,” said Han Suk-hee, an associate professor of international studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, who was part of a three-day mission to Washington last month to explain the grievances against Japan. “Korea believes we have the moral justification to ask the U.S. to change Japan’s stance.”
The campaigning in the United States had begun heating up last summer, when Korean-American groups persuaded the city of Glendale, Calif., near Los Angeles, to build a bronze statue of a “comfort woman” similar to a statue activists erected on a sidewalk outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. Alarmed, Japanese right-wing politicians visited to press for removal of the statue, which the city has refused to do.
Activists in South Korea fought back by supporting Korean-American groups with historical literature and other evidence, including a visit by an 87-year-old comfort woman to the city for the statue’s unveiling. Japanese and Korean officials said the campaigns were independent and were not financed by their governments.
Still, South Korea’s Parliament voted this year to provide about $100,000 to help comfort women activists pay for travel, printing photographs and booklets and other activities abroad.
South Korean officials have also increasingly taken a public role in supporting the “comfort women’s” cause. That included the visit this month to New York by the gender equality minister, Cho Yoon-sun, who said she had also traveled to Europe to raise awareness of her nation’s position.
“The comfort women issue is still not as widely known to the ordinary public in the world as the German Holocaust,” Ms. Cho said. “We have to continue our efforts to make this known, and persuade Japanese political leaders to change their unforgivable attitude.”
U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday signed into law a spending bill which includes a highly symbolic provision on Japan’s wartime sexual enslavement of Korean and other Asian women.
The signing of the bill came a day after Congress passed it in order to keep government spending going for the fiscal year 2014.
The legislation includes language calling for Secretary of State John Kerry to encourage the Japanese government to address the issue of the “comfort women.”
They refer to as many as 200,000 women, mainly from Korea and China, who were forced into sexual servitude for Japanese soldiers during World War II.
The nonbinding document notes a 2007 resolution, adopted by the U.S. House, demanding Japan offer a formal apology.
It “urges the secretary of state to encourage the government of Japan to address the issues raised in the resolution.”
The inclusion of the comfort women issue in U.S. legislation is unprecedented.
Meanwhile, Obama took a short walk across the street from the White House to participate in the signing ceremony held at the New Executive Office Building.
“Now, this is not usually where I do bill signings,” he told his aides and federal budget officials during the signing ceremony. “We wanted to make sure that we did this bill signing here because it represents the extraordinary work of so many of you.”
He added, “We would not be here, we would not be able to sign this legislation if it hadn’t been for your work. This is my way of saying thank you.” (Yonhap News)