This BBC website article headlined New Proof of Japan Sex Slaves has prompted me to resurrect some ideas that has been sitting on my hard disk for some time..
Woe betide the (usually) man who dares to argue with Yoshiko Sakurai; for Ms. Sakurai has an unparalleled command of the facts, which she can coolly roll out one after another at a moment's notice. Couple this to her deep convictions, steely resolve and calm eloquence, and you have one of the most formidable debating machines, as well as investigative journalists, in Japan. However, even the great Ms. Sakurai can have her problems when it comes to connecting the dots. That is, in weaving a truth, out of the facts.
Early this year, as the comfort women issue flared up again over Congressman Honda's crusade, Soichiro Tawara's Sunday Project took it up, and the testimony of three women, one South Korean, one Taiwanese, and one Dutch (but none from mainland China) became the focus of the debate. When the Dutch case came up and it was pointed out that some Japanese figures were tried and convicted after the War for forcing Dutch women in Indonesia to have sex with Japanese soldiers, Ms. Sakurai retorted that this proved, to the contrary, that the Japanese government was not involved. To back this claim, she told us that the facilities existed only for a short time (I think she mentioned the number of months) and that the authorities back home ordered it dismantled when they got wind of it.
Now it is probably safe to assume that the Japanese authorities did not punish the military personnel who had been responsible in setting it up. After all, given her encyclopedic knowledge, Ms. Sakurai would surely have mentioned it if they had. And it is also safe to assume that Japanese military personnel were the authorities. Indeed, what government is not responsible for its actions, merely because the deed had not been sanctioned at its highest levels? More seriously, is she willing to accept the moral, as well as legal, authority of the war tribunal that convicted the Japanese military personnel in question?
I've wondered since then if Ms. Sakurai might have been pleading a more modest defense, namely that there was no overriding decision to coerce women into sexual slavery, and that therefore Tokyo and the Class-A War Criminals should not have been called to task. Indeed, from what little I know of the War, it seems that the ways the Japanese military treated everyone from its own soldiers to enemy soldiers, from its own civilians to the locals and Western internees, varied widely with time and locale. There was no overarching Japanese decision or concerted, sustained effort to render harm (other than the fact of war, and the decision to invade that led to them, of course) that triggered the atrocities that are now part of our global collective consciousness. But that would betray notions of the nobility of the Japanese military. I don't think Ms. Sakurai wants to countenance that possibility.
As for the current Japanese government, the latest BBC article does seem to elide over the much of what Shinzo Abe has said since then. To put it another way, by paraphrasing Ben Bot's words, Mr. Abe has surely expressed his "profound regret for all that suffering" and certainly must think that we were "on the wrong side of history". So perhaps he should be forgiven if he feels that "[w]e should not go into semantics".
For Mr. Abe must remember how his attempts to parse the word "coerce" was used to move the case to the forefront.