It comes as no surprise that the conservative Sankei’s effort is entitled “The Comfort Women Issue: Scrap the False Kono Statement; Make Efforts to Correct the Misunderstanding by the International Society” (2012.08.31)(4) A To Occupying the center-right, Yomiuri formally joined the ranks of the revisionists with the equally decisive if less inflammatory Kono's ‘comfort women’ statement must be reviewed (2012.08.29). Next on the political spectrum, Mainichi has yet to opine; it would not be surprising if the moderately center-left daily decides to sit this one out altogether. But it is the efforts of Asahi, which represents the post-WW II progressive tradition these days, that really caught my attention.
The title itself is a little odd: “Japan should look at big picture on ‘comfort women’ issue”.(5) So what does Asahi mean by the branches, and the trunk? The Asahi editorial states:
“Based on various documents and testimonies, the government admitted in the Kono statement that the Japanese military was broadly involved in the establishment of comfort stations and management of comfort women. The statement offered an apology and reflection of the Japanese government.Apparently, by trunk, Asahi means the broad involvement of the Japanese military in the establishment of comfort stations and management of the comfort women and the deprivation of the physical and mental freedom and violation of the honor and dignity of the Korean women are the trunk, and by branch, “coercion” (more accurate translation: forcible taking). Note that Asahi does not directly refute Matsubara’s claims around forcible taking but instead invokes the establishment of comfort stations and management of the comfort women as the offending acts of the Japanese military. As an understanding of the facts, Asahi makes no effort to defend the allegation to which Matsubara (and Shinzo Abe and Yomiuri and sankei) are tossing against the Kono Statement. Think about it: Asahi has all but conceded that the lot of the Korean women was not that different from that of the almost as the multitudes of the almost as dirt-poor Japanese women who were in the same situation as they were. This does not mean that the Korean women—and Japanese women as well?—should be denied Japanese apologies and compensation, but it certainly would put the issue in a drastically light. If so, why does Asahi reject a review of the Kono Statement? The answer lies in this opinion piece by American General Bureau Chief at the Asahi. The bureau chief states:
It is an irrefutable fact that many women were deprived of their physical and mental freedom and had their honor and dignity violated.
Matsubara and others cited the absence of documents pointing to coercion in their calls for the re-examination of the Kono statement. We believe their argument is tantamount to failing to see the trunk for the branches.
“As long as there is a confrontation between a state, which assumes war responsibility, and individuals, it is a matter of course that international public opinion will side with those who appear to be in the weaker position, regardless of what legal arguments or interpretations of historical facts are presented. If Japan claims to be a human rights leader in Asia, it should reconsider its stance on this issue. For the sake of the country's dignity, Japan should look again at its war responsibility.”What he’s saying in effect is that the Japanese government cannot win the public relations fight, so it shouldn’t even think about it. But that’s a far cry from where the Asahi was when the whole issue reared its head, two decades ago. The difference on the facts between the Asahi and Sankei is now only tactical. With the South Korea authorities, the South Korean public, the Korea specialists unwilling to engage in the reexamination of the assertions, expect the matter to reverberate within the Japanese echo chamber of public discourse until review of the Kono Statement from the pipe dream of nationalist politicians to a full-fledged subject of national debate.
(1) Note that the official written answer must be adopted by a cabinet decision, which by custom must be unanimous. The Kono Statement is a statement by the chief cabinet secretary, which does not require any formal procedures. Nonetheless, this device has been used to formalize some of the most momentous policy decisions.”
(2) It is tempting to speculate on the reason why the Chinese, Dutch, Indonesian, Philippine, and Malay rage over wartime rape is so muted compared to the enduring South Korean fury. A charitable and undeniably compelling, if only partial, explanation is that the “comfort women” are yet another symbol of the historical humiliation. I’ll leave it that for now.
(3) As I like to remind people from time to time, editorials may be the least read part of a Japanese daily. However, the absolute lack of distance between the editorial writers and reporters at large means that the editorials reflect and influence the overall outlook of that daily. Their effect on other opinion makers and amplifiers also cannot be overlooked.
(4) It may surprise you, though, to know that the Fuji-Sankei media group provides by far the largest proportion of South Korean programming on its land-based broadcasting network compared to other media groups.
(5) A more literal translation would be: The Kon Statement: Let’s Look at the Trunk; Not the Branches.