Mr. Abe's statement was the clearest so far that the government was preparing to reject a 1993 government statement that acknowledged the military’s role in setting up brothels and forcing, either directly or indirectly, women into sexual slavery. That declaration also offered an apology to the women, euphemistically called "comfort women."
"There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support it," Mr. Abe told reporters. "So, in respect to this declaration, you have to keep in mind that things have changed greatly."
(Norimitsu Ohnishi; Mar. 2, New York Times)
Mr. Ohnishi is up to his usual self, hitting Japanese nationalists where it hurts. Of course, if he had waited a day or two to write his article, he may have been less certain that "the government was preparing to reject [the] 1993 government statement".
Yesterday (Mar. 1), Mr. Abe did repeat his view that "the fact is, there was no evidence to support ‘coercion' as it had been originally defined", but he also stated that "it must be taken into consideration that the definition of 'coercion' was changed (to a broader one since that time the [Kohno Statement] was issued)." That looks an awful lot like Mr. Abe's way of reconciling his right-wing (and I use the term "right-wing" sparingly, including for Mr. Abe) views on this point and his need as a prime minister to avoid taking Japan back into international pariah status over it (stylistically reminiscent of his "don't ask, don't tell" Yasukuni policy). Seen in that light, Mr. Ohnishi seems to have misinterpreted Mr. Abe's Feb. 27 claim that "in respect to this declaration, you have to keep in mind that things have changed greatly" in a way that sexed up the story. (I'm giving Mr. Onishi a pass on that, though, since he has been, generally speaking, a conscientious chronicler of Japanese ills and misdeeds.)
In any case, Yasuhisa Shiozaki, the embattled Chief Cabinet Secretary, has continued to deny that the Japanese government will seek to revisit the Kohno Statement, and it would be a huge embarrassment to the Abe administration if he has to eat his words. Moreover, on March 1, the Committee to Consider Japan's Future and History Education (chair: Mr. Nariaki Nakayama), a group of LDP Diet members dissatisfied with the Kohno Statement and other elements of our modern historical narrative, convened to adopt recommendations for revising the Kohno Statement, but that session ended without reaching any conclusions due to serious disagreements among its members.
This, I think, gives a more accurate picture of where the Abe administration, indeed, the revisionists are, than Mr. Ohnishi's narrative.
Having said that, though, what is this twaddle about "no evidence"? Since when has oral testimony ceased to be evidence? Even our Constitution places only this one restriction: (Article 38 paragraph 3) No person shall be convicted or punished in cases where the only proof against him is his own confession. In fact, as you can see, "shoko" in "the original" is unofficially "translated" as "proof". I think Mr. Ohnishi's preference, "evidence", is more accurate, but let us give Mr. Abe the benefit of the doubt and assume he merely meant that the case for military and other official involvement in the coercion had not been proven.
True, human memory is frail and fraught with faults; one need not accuse the women who have come forward of prevarication to challenge their versions of the truth. But when a good number of women from different nations come forward to relate their ordeals, then at least some of the burden of proof would seem to shift to the shoulders of the deniers.
As for me, I have no way of knowing enough to pass judgment on the veracity of the testimonies of the women who have come forward. But one recounting of an incident, given by a woman who did not become a "comfort woman", willing or unwilling, sticks in my mind. It is an interview, in a BBC program, of an elderly, apparently well-to-do Indian woman, a teenager at the time of the Japanese occupation of Singapore. She tells the story of a Japanese military officer coming to her house one day. He returns again, this time to convince her to serve him in his quarters. She refuses. The officer slaps her, but she is otherwise unharmed. He leaves, and that is the end of that story. This story rings particularly true because of its simplicity and, more importantly, its lack of lasting trauma and suffering that causes us, knowingly or not, to so often edit our memories. And it leaves me to wonder, how many other women were approached and treated in a similar manner, or worse?
Then, one remembers the wanton lack of regard for the lives and well-being of our soldiers and civilians, as well as the brutality that the military chose to inflict on them, as they saw the occasion to warrant and particularly as our military fortunes deteriorated. And how can anyone deny that "the other" must have fared worse, perhaps much more so, at its hands than our own people?
Who knows, perhaps the Committee has enough evidence of its own to leave reasonable doubt at to the veracity of the testimonies of the women who have come forward. That, perhaps, would acquit the Japanese military in a criminal court of law. Others have discovered, however, that the rules of evidence are more relaxed in other courts. And it is in the court of public opinion, the easiest one of all and the only one that counts in this instant, that the Committee will miserably fail. Mr. Ohnishi's claims to the contrary, Mr. Abe, for all his lack of knowledge of rules of evidence, seems to have always been aware of this and acted accordingly. Let us hope he continues to do so.
(Sidebar 1) Field commanders, officers, common soldiers, made it up as they went along, as the situation, in their minds, warranted. There was no systemic effort sustained over time to perpetrate atrocities. (Unless you judge involvement in prostitution itself an act whose perpetrators are beyond redemption. But these were different times, and the world was at war.) This is where the Japanese experience separates, like so many other acts of moral desolation, from the Holocaust. Needless to say, to the victims, this distinction matters not one whit.
(sidebar 2) I hope Congressman Honda ceases and desists with his ideas of a resolution, though. If passed, I predict that the shoe will be on the other foot in the Japanese body politic. There will be a strong desire to revisit many other scenes in our wartime history where we will be able to heap anger and scorn on the acts of the Allied Forces (the Soviets not excepted), including and beyond the familiar litanies over the two atomic bombs and the indiscriminate bombing of civilians with weapons, among other things, that drew the wrath of the international community during the Vietnam War. We may also want to reopen debate on history that, in the community of nations, properly belongs to others.