My Thoughts on Comfort Women Issues, May 2019
I have read the article called, “The Anatomy of Neo-Nationalist Misogyny” by Nina Trige Andersen. https://www.moderntimes.review/the-anatomy-of-neo-nationalist-misogyny/?fbclid=IwAR0MhohkqJ6KO6MQ8knSRkRm6TiXvu1dctyltEe-rkZRxhloPzPFHcYhGnA
This article is based on her reactions to watching the documentary titled, “Shusenjo” by Miki Dezaki. (I should first note to clarify that I have not fully watched the film. For me, the moment Hata refused to appear on the film, it lost its worth. And that is why I'm writing this post to mainly refute what the article claims of my view.)
I’m not sure what Andersen meant by “The documentary maps the landscape of denialists, including interviews with Hisae Kennedy, a «defector» from the neo-nationalist movement, who explains how she came to realize that the revisionism she was involved in was unethical…” Anderson calls me a “defector” from my past associations with people who do not feel the Japanese military committed war crimes by protecting comfort stations and who do feel the Japanese government did apologize many times for being part of the terrible suffering endured by the comfort women.
First of all, what does Anderson mean by “denialists”? When someone calls someone, for example, a “holocaust denialist,” it usually means that person is denying the existence of the holocaust. Likewise, when someone is accused of being a “Nanking denialist,” that person denys the occurrence of the “Nanking massacre.” In fact, she writes: “Though most of those who were put to work as comfort women for the Japanese soldiers have obviously passed away, some are still alive, and so is their demand for recognition and compensation. Japan refused for many years to even speak of the issue and denied that any such thing as a comfort women system had ever been put in place.” But in actuality none of those “nationalists” deny the existence or occurrence of the “comfort women.” Of course, there are different categories of denials, for example, the denial of Japan’s legal and/or moral responsibilities, or the denial of the existence of evidence, so rounding them all up as “denialists” is rather an irresponsible labeling. As far as denying the evidence of the Japanese military’s kidnapping of Korean comfort women, even the New York Times’ Martin Fakler writes, “There is little evidence that the Japanese military abducted or was directly involved in entrapping women in Korea, which had been a Japanese colony for decades when the war began…” (https://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/03/world/asia/japanese-right-attacks-newspaper-on-the-left-emboldening-war-revisionists.html) Now, is he one of those “denialists?”
If she means by “denialists” the people who deny the Japanese government’s further responsibility on past issues, that would include several South Korean Presidents who assured others that “past issues have been solved between Japan and South Korea.”
Second of all, I’m not sure how I explained during the interview why I stopped being involved with political activities such that she came to write “how she came to realize that the revisionism she was involved in was unethical.” The reason for my “defection” was that I came to think Japan and South Korea must prioritize their national security concerns over historical disputes. This realization is a result of listening to a Polish professor, Dr. Andrzej Kozlowski, whose writing was quoted by professor George Akita in Hawaii.
It is not because I came to think the “revisionism” itself “was unethical.”
There are, however, behaviors and rhetoric among some extreme nationalists that I find extremely unethical. Those things include hateful discrimination against Koreans and/or Chinese people, willfully lying about facts in order to make political points, and making fun of or mocking the women. On the other hand, I do not consider revising the conventional understanding of past events as unethical. Everybody, conservatives or liberals, has the right to learn, relearn and change his or her opinions as he or she learns. In any field of academia, where challenges are constant, not revising one’s opinion when credible, countering information (evidence) emerges is dishonest. Of course, if one falls for obvious fraudulent “revising,” that is problematic. The underlying factors in such cases are one’s intelligence and/or motives.
Andersen also wrote: “The revisionists are, according to Shusenjo: The Main Battleground of the Comfort Women Issue, connected through nationalist and fascist circles and associations in Japan and the US, whose main concern is to reinstall Japan as a military empire in the East. They are driven by their belief that the Japanese belong to a superior race. The ideology of the comfort women denialists is, as Hisae Kennedy says, both racist and sexist.“ I do not believe the ideology of the revisionists is racist and sexist. However, some revisionists do say extreme or even fanatical things, and, needless to say, anyone claiming the “Japanese belong to a superior race” should be called racist and probably idiots as well. For sure, there are people whose insensitive rhetoric sounds sexist. There may be overlapping populations among those racists, sexists and nationalists. However, it is simply wrong to assume this issue is based on the racism and sexism among Japanese. In fact, most Japanese who are now labeled as “nationalists” started speaking up as a reaction to the constant and repeated demands of apology after apology. It is clear to anyone who lived, observed or objectively studied the rise of nationalism in Japan that its rise was reactionary.
More importantly, one should realize the root of nationalism in Japan. Most grassroot Japanese nationalists are exhausted, tired and sick of apologizing. They are humiliated, rather than arrogant. Liberal activists on Korea’s side dismiss Japan’s repeated apologies as insufficient. However, that’s not how Japanese think. One of the secrets of Tony Marano’s YouTube popularity (besides the fact that he is actually a good hearted, charming man) is, I believe, his “I love Japan” series works as an antidepressant or an energy pill to the nationalists’ exhausted souls. In fact, the anti-Korea nationalists do not suggest “let’s annex them again,” but they do often suggest “let’s break off relations with South Korea.” Even from that ridiculous claim, we can hear their weary “leave us alone” cries. This is not a cry of superiority but rather desperation. Wittingly or unwittingly, rounding up those “denialists (whatever Anderson really means by the label) as “racists” and/or “sexists” is nothing more than a form of ad hominin. Instead of dismissing Japan’s repeated apologies as “not enough,” and alleging racism and sexism as the root cause of Japanese nationalism, it would be wise for liberal activists to face the truth: the Japanese are sick and tired of apologizing.
This is not to deny there are racists and sexists among the nationalists. There are terrible people on both sides, as there are good people on both sides. Racism and sexism must be condemned, especially if we wish our case to be taken seriously. Still, it should be noted that extreme hatred and the sense of one’s superiority exist among Korean nationalists as well. If willing, anyone can easily find “Kill All Japs” types of Korean groups in social media. Dismissing the Korean side of extremism is a hypocrisy in which no objectivity but only one’s narcissistic sense of moral superiority can be found.
Talking about the Nanking Massacre for a moment, it is a fact that I used to think no type of massacre took place in Nanking. I used to be a Nanking “denialist.” Although I still do not believe the systematic massacre of three hundred thousand civilians took place, I now believe around twenty to forty thousand Chinese prisoners of war were unlawfully killed. In terms of the “Nanking Massacre,” my former views are considered “denialism,” since credible historians such as Dr. Ikuhiko Hata, Dr. David Kennedy, and Dr. David Askew agree that some level of massacre did take place.
However, I have not changed nor revised my overall understanding of the comfort women issues. Below is what I posted to one of my Facebook friends on my Facebook account in March, 2017:
You are a genuinely kind and principled American conservative who likes Japan. But you are understandably puzzled by some of the claims that were made by Japanese extremists on the right. This is a good lesson for all Japanese who wish to defend "the honor" of Japan. Their crazy propaganda is summarized as, "the Japanese can do no wrong," and will just help the opposing propaganda, which is summarized as, "If it's Japan, it must be bad," sound more truthful.
The Japanese need to know that every one of their attempts to deny Japan's aggressive war against China, its role in the “Nanking Massacre,” its sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, and its mistreatment of POWs is seen as either a whitewash of historical truths or hollow justification of Japan's deeds. In my opinion, reasonable evidence exists that Japan in some manner violated international standards of behavior in those areas.
However, as far as the comfort women issue is concerned, there is no objective evidence of Japanese war crimes, except for a few cases where Japanese soldiers kidnapped some Dutch women and forced them to serve in a newly set-up comfort station. When this incident was found out, the Japanese military officials immediately closed the brothel and punished the soldiers who were involved in kidnapping those women. Also, there is no hard evidence of comfort women being abused. On the contrary, an Australian POW recorded his encounter with many Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and Chinese comfort women and concluded that those women certainly would have been in a worse situation if they had been brought to private brothels, instead of the military-operated comfort stations.
When I talk about a lack of objective evidence, let me give you an example of what I personally encountered. A former Japanese military medic who served in China has been used as a witness of Japanese atrocity against comfort women. I read about him on BBC news, where he claimed that the Japanese terribly abused comfort women. However, I had a chance to interview him personally, and he said that he had treated women carefully for medical problems and had given them STD tests. And he told me he had never seen any violence nor war crimes against those women. When I asked him where he had heard about mistreatment of comfort women, he said he had read about those stories in books.
I do not disagree with the comfort women's memories of sufferings. It must have been horrible. I am not surprised that they describe their experiences as "rapes." My sympathy for each one of them is genuine. However, in order to find the responsible party, we have to depend on objective historical research.
During the war, and even before the war, prostitution was legal in Japan, the Korean peninsula, and most of Asia. It was common practice for poor peasants to sell their daughters to brothels, shops, or wealthier families to be used as servants. Poor peasants also sent their sons to shops or wealthier families, too. Technically, I should not use the term "sell," because it implies that the buyers own them forever. Those daughters and sons were free to leave once they had earned enough money to pay back the debts of their parents.
If you have watched Stephen Spielberg's "Memoir of a Geisha," the situations of the comfort women were not much different from the main character in the film. Many comfort women were "sold" to the "comfort stations," while the film's heroine, Chiyo, was "sold" to be a geisha.
Along with those comfort women who were "sold" by their parents, there were also women who were tricked or deceived into thinking that they were going to work at cafes or factories. The deceivers should be condemned, but who were they? They were civilian brokers or middlemen, as the article written by Peipei Qiu admits. There is no evidence that the Japanese military was involved in the deceitful recruitment. There were also other comfort women who "volunteered," meaning they were not sold nor deceived but were willing to work at the comfort stations for pay (they were all paid, by the individual soldiers). Compared to private brothels, military operated comfort stations were much better operated for the protection of the women. Therefore, it is not surprising that there were volunteer women who decided to work at the comfort stations, although, if you were to ask whether or not those "voluntary workers" desired to work as comfort women, I assume their answers would be "no," since I have never heard a small girl ever say she would like to be a sex worker when she grows up.
So, who then is responsible for the terrible "rapes" which repeatedly happened to those women?
If the Japanese military was not responsible for recruiting those women, what do you think the soldiers should have done to those women at the comfort stations? Rescue them? They didn't. In fact, they slept with those women. For some soldiers, it was their first experience, and for some soldiers, it was their very last experience. While the "horror" side of the narratives have been emphasized, it is also a fact that there were natural, emotional bonds developed between the soldiers and those women. There were cases of marriage after the war, and there used to be "reunions" of former soldiers and former comfort women after the war. This is not to take away from the terrible sufferings the comfort women endured and for which the Japanese government apologized multiple times.
I do not want to discuss Peipei Qiu's accusations of alleged murders of women, since there was no evidence to back up her claims.
During and after the war, the comfort woman system was not seen as a violation of women's rights by the U.S. and its allies. In fact, U.S. Report No.49 "Japanese Prisoners of War Interrogation of Prostitution" says, "they were nothing more than highly paid prostitutes." If the U.S. had seen or found evidence of mass killings of the women, it would certainly have publicized it and brought it up during the Tokyo trials. It is almost impossible to imagine any reason to hide this kind of information.
The fact is the comfort system was considered to be a way to stop rapes of local women by soldiers, and it is a fact that troops such as the Russians, which didn't have a similar system, raped a great number of local women wherever they invaded. The U.S. troops had a similar brothel system in Hawaii, called "Honolulu Harlots." Those women were brought from San Francisco, and the conditions of the prostitutes in Honolulu were, in comparison, even slightly worse than those of the Korean comfort women. This was not made known to the general public, whose Christian values consider prostitution immoral, because of the fear that this would dishonor the dignity of the military.
In a perfect world, soldiers would not rape women nor have sex with local prostitutes. But unfortunately we are not living in a perfect world, and the only choices were to either rape local women or use unsupervised brothels or military operated brothels. Similar systems to Japan's comfort women system were used during the Korean war and the Vietnam war. As you are probably aware, former Korean comfort women are now suing the Korean government for their psychological damage caused by being coerced to serve the U.S. military.
The comfort women issue emerged in the late 1980s due to two factors: the Korean military dictatorship ended, and a novel "My War Crimes," was published. It was written by a former Japanese soldier, Seiji Yoshida. Even though this book has no historical evidence to back up its claims, the crimes of kidnapping Korean women from house to house were treated by the readers as something that had actually happened. A notable historian, Ikuhiko Hata, whom I have met multiple times, visited the area where the author “confessed” his "crimes" had taken place and found no locals remembered such things ever happening. Also, Yoshida himself has publicly admitted he fabricated the kidnappings.
Still, I do agree that Japan has a moral responsibility. As politics change over time, it is common for a government to bear moral responsibility for past deeds which were seen legal and acceptable at the time of the event, such as slavery or unfair treatment of people based on gender, race, religion or ethnicity. However, one additional note is that when Japan and South Korea were negotiating the conditions of the normalization treaty in 1965 the Japanese government offered to compensate individual victims. But the Korean government refused, demanding that the entire money be paid to the government. The individual comfort women received nothing because those women were not considered by the Korean government to be uncompensated victims. Japan’s condition for the agreement was that there should never again be any legal claims. All of this is documented and can be easily checked.
I was glad that in 2015 the Japanese government took a step to again make an agreement with the Korean government, which was opposed in both countries. South Korea's anti-Japan nationalism has its roots in their efforts to counter North Korea. It has been the case that South Korea has a tiger by the tail, of which they can't let go. But it also seems that Japan also has a tiger by the tail which they can't let go of either. http://nationalinterest.org/blog/why-south-korea-so-obsessed-japan-13065
My emphasis could be seen to favor the side of Japan, but the fundamental reason I am writing this to you is to shed light on the side which Peipei Qiu did not cover. However, I genuinely want the wounds of those women to be healed, and often I find myself in their grief. Still, when evaluating the historical facts and the present diplomacy, I have to separate my emotions from what I want those women to have in their lives, and focus on what Korea and Japan should do. I believe I would do so even if I were one of them.
What I wrote here echoes many of the Japanese nationalists' talking points. In fact, the nationalists say many things that are true. It is just that they refuse to consider anything that does not fit their narrative. They always discredit the assertions of others by saying, "That's what leftists and liberals say." In this respect, they completely mirror the leftists and liberals.
To learn about this matter, there is only one complete, respectable source in English, and that is Sarah Soh's book. Nothing else even comes close. In Japanese, there is Ikuhiko Hata's book. (Hata published in English his research on Comfort Women issues in 2018.) Without reading either of these, one becomes vulnerable to propaganda and rumors.
This is a very complicated matter which both sides refuse to settle, and they both bring up new propaganda or ridiculous claims again and again. Determining what really happened should be in the hands of real historians who specialize in military history in Asia.
As this long post shows, this issue has become a complicated and an emotional matter which I have come to conclude both sides need to leave to the discussions of historians. Politically, both the Japanese and South Korean governments reached an agreement in 2015, and I believe any move to breach the agreement should be considered irresponsible and a political manipulation. Both Japan and South Korea, indeed, face far more serious national security issues, such as North Korea’s nuclear development and China’s military expansionism.
I have repeatedly criticized the persecution of Korean scholars who supported some of the Japanese arguments, which are, in fact, exactly the same as mine. For example, according to BBC, Park Yu-Ha, a professor at Sejoing University and the author of the 2013 book, The Comfort Women of the Empire, was fined $8,900 due to her work on comfort women issues, where she has suggested that not all comfort women were coerced and that some developed emotional connections with Japanese soldiers.
She was found “guilty of defamation for questioning accepted views on so-called comfort women.” In fact, a left-wing feminist American scholar Sarah C. Soh, wrote in her book “The Comfort Women” that she could not possibly have written her book in Korea, because of the possible persecution she knew she would face. It is not only some scholars who faced social and legal persecutions; some comfort women themselves faced persecution for not adhering to the “accepted views.” Yes, even former comfort women who do not align with the demands of Korean hardliners face criticisms too. According to The Diplomat, “A majority of living survivors (34 of 46) accepted the 2015 Japanese compensation, but the media only publicized the rejectionist minority (12). Moreover, the 61 women who accepted Japanese compensation two decades ago (the 1994 Asian Women’s Fund) were vilified as traitors and denied South Korean government subsidies.” https://thediplomat.com/2018/01/confronting-koreas-censored-discourse-on-comfort-women/ It also quotes Park Yu-Ha’s report (the Korean professor), “The late [survivor] Bae Chun-Hee said she had not been taken by force, and that she wanted to forgive Japan but could not say so.”
We have to question the legitimacy of Korea’s solidarity on this issue, since there is a social and legal pressure or even persecution against anyone who voices opinions similar to what Japanese nationalists claim. The loudest voices we hear from Korea may be manufactured anti-Japan propaganda which indeed exploits the comfort women. Anyone who supports human rights and free speech should speak against the persecution of the above-mentioned Korean scholars and those surviving women who accepted Japan’s apology. However, my impression of this documentary is that it fails to acknowledge how Korea persecutes the contrary views and the possibilities that the loudest voices from Korea are not necessarily truthful.
The film’s director, Dezaki, well knows my views on this matter. He knows my criticisms of Korea’s side. Of course, he, as the director of the film, had the right to choose the questions he wanted to ask me. However, it felt to me, even during the interview, that he put most of the emphasis on my criticisms against the extremists on Japan’s side. Probably that is what he wished to hear from me. I appreciate Dezaki’s giving me a chance to criticize the extreme and hateful rhetoric from some of the extreme Japanese fanatics. However, as I wrote earlier, there are extremists and haters on both sides. There are voices on both sides that need to be condemned.
We all have a tendency to become morally outraged by the other side while turning a blind eye to our own side. When it comes to the consequences of our selective outrage, it is probably wise to listen to what the former U.S. president, George W. Bush warned: “Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples - while judging ourselves by our best intentions. And this has strained our bonds of understanding and common purpose.”
Japan has often been criticized for not apologizing. The Korean side says the apology was not sincere enough and the women do not feel apologized to. However, as an American journalist Ben Shapiro famously said, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” Facts are there whether you like them or not. Factually, Japan has apologized several times, and there have been times when Korea said the apology was accepted and both countries should move on. Today’s disputes might be a result of some of our “feelings not caring about facts.”
I heard Dezaki tried to include information and opinions from both sides in the film. However, I do not think he is completely able to evaluate the importance of each opinion and each piece of information. Also, I heard that by always giving Korean arguments after Japanese ones, he gives the impression that the latter refute the former.
Not all opinions are equally important. Opinions of military historians, who understand the conditions and the attitudes of the times when these events took place, should be given more weight than those of people who only express their own emotions or try to score political and ideological points.
In my opinion, the latter are either politics or propaganda.