Saturday, December 01, 2007

How Empires Deal with History: The Dutch Case

Early last month, the Dutch Lower House passed a unanimous resolution to seek from the Japanese government an official apology to and restitution for the comfort women*. The U.S. Congress had set the bar for both non-binding resolutions and the Japanese non-response thereto, so it was not only imperative but also easy for the Dutch Lower House (and the Canadian legislature for that matter) to pass a motion of little practical consequence.

Now the Dutch women probably have the most clear-cut case against the Japanese government on the comfort women issue (even Yoshiko Sakurai has acknowledged their allegations, if not their demands), so, if you do not think that the Kōno Statement, the subsequent letters from Japanese Prime Ministers, and the “fund” are sufficient**, then you are more than within your rights in airing your views and demanding rectification. But it’s one thing for individuals like you and me to focus on a single issue with total disregard of consistency, and for the government to do so. To quote:

"We should not go into semantics. What is important is that we delivered a message that has been very clearly received in this country and comes straight from the heart."
- from Jakarta, Ben Bot, Foreign Minister, Netherlands, 2005.

Well, that was then. Actually, Ben makes a lot of sense. Remember, it was semantics that got Prime Minister Abe in trouble.

And in case you’re wondering, the Indonesian authorities did not insist.

*You probably missed it, because it seems to have been ignored by the mainstream British and American media.

**Just for the record, I support the Japanese government’s position. More specifically, I believe that it is within the range of justifiable positions, given what I’ve viewed and read that have dealt with this subject as well as other sources that have no direct bearing on the facts but illuminate the issue, and that, on balance, I see no reason to change it. More significant than my personal views, I believe that the resolutions have at best merely served to freeze debate in Japan, and that they have made any change in official policy towards the direction that their proponents desire even less plausible. I’ll elaborate all this in a post of its own if I can create some background while minimizing speculation.


Adler said...


The Dutch and Canadian Parliaments don't have "resolutions," they have "motions". They are suggestions to the Foreign Ministry. The US Congress has resolutions that are suggestions.

The Dutch situation is interesting in many respects. Most interesting, is that the Western women were not killed, which was the usual case. The other interesting situation is that were was an "acknowledgment" of sorts that women were not the only victims. Of the 79 Dutch who were willing accept "medical payments" 75 were women. It is also important here to note, that although the practice of taking pure-blood Dutch was stopped, none of the officers in charge were reprimanded, indeed a number were promoted. What Sakurai says about this is a simple lie.

The critical issue, as Mr Honda showed to the US Congress with H Res 121, was that there never was a cabinet decision on an apology for the CW. The Kono Statement was just a danwa, an informal statement and not a formal, legal, solid policy.

To push this a little into the realm of the esoteric linguists, they will also tell you that danwa is only an informal, personal statement. However, that is not really necessary if you know, as you do, how the Japanese legislative process works.

Mr Honda changed the terms of the discussion over the CW issue. He definitively proved that none of the so-called apologies given the CW were formal governmental statements. He opened up the eyes of all the governments and victims around the world to what they felt in their hearts that all the past apologies were simply for show. Thus, it is not surprising that there are now conflicting then and now statements.

One of the agenda items of the Abe Administration was to clear up any vagueness about the apologies and the Kono Statement. Abe simply wanted to do away with all of them, with a Cabinet Decision. Mr. Honda stopped that.

It was only a matter of time before some historians and political scientists connected the dots on the CW apologies. As a fine student of Japanese politics, I am sure I am not telling you anything new, however. Very sorry for going on so. Maybe some of your readers will find it interesting.

Jun Okumura said...


Unlike you, I have not made this a personal cause, where I have all the references lined up. However, over the years, I have seen and read enough material concerning such matters as violence, war, WW II, the Japanese military, first-person accounts other than the testimony of the surviving comfort women, and have come to believe that the two competing narratives (I know that you don’t like that word, but it’s a very convenient term) that drive the debate from the two extremes are false (the denialists) and exaggerated (the absolutists). Now I believe that the form and substance of the Kōno Statement and the subsequent Prime Minister letters were intended as a compromise that would help bring a measure of finality to the issue. A Cabinet decision would be perfectly fine with me, but I, like most other Japanese - other than those at the two extremes - who have any interest in this issue, would demand a careful examination of the facts in case the our government revisits the issue in different form. My point is that the experience of the resolutions (or whatever they were) only make prospects of such an occasion - much less what you consider reconciliation - even more remote than before. On the other hand, if your objective had been to give the long-suffering women a measure of satisfaction on a matter for which closure already seemed unlikely, then you have achieved your objective. That is reminiscent of the Japanese government’s policies toward North Korea over the abductees, where resolution does not appear to be a realistic objective absent regime change.

It is no secret that Mr. Abe would like to do away with the Kōno Statement; it is also clear that Prime Minister Abe’s tentative attempts to parse the Statement turned out to be a political disaster and were quickly abandoned. I do not see a Prime Minister Asō (or a Prime Minister Shōichi Nakagawa for that matter) touching that third rail either.

As for your claim that the comfort women were “usually” killed, I hadn’t heard that before. If I’m not an exception there, you’ll have to point to some primary sources if you want people who visit this blog to consider it.

Finally, on a point of fact, I thank you for pointing out that the articles refer to motions, not resolutions. However, it appears that all of us, including the Dutch and Canadian media, leave something to be desired in accuracy and fact-checking where parliamentary rules are concerned. According to this source, a resolution is one of the possible results of a motion, whereas a motion is a procedure. The articles give no indication as to what the consequences of the Dutch and Canadian parliaments were, resolutions or conclusions of lesser import.