Saturday, September 01, 2012

The Kono Statement: Where Are We Going with This?

The 1993 Kono Statement states that “of those comfort women who were transferred to the war areas, excluding those from Japan, those from the Korean Peninsula accounted for a large part…and their recruitment, transfer, control, etc., were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion, etc. Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day”, and the “Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women” and that it would “continue to pay full attention to this matter, including private researched [sic] related thereto.” The statement does not say did the “coaxing, transfer, control, etc.”, much less specify what the “involvement of the military authorities” was. If we take the 2007 claim in the official government answer(1) to a question from a Diet member that “there was nothing written in the documents that the government had discovered up to the announcement of the results of the investigation on the same day [as the Kono Statement] to directly indicate that the military, police, and similar government forces had forcibly taken the women away” at face value, then it is possible that the involvement of the Japanese authorities with regard to the Korean women were closer to their treatment of the Japanese women—indeed those of any civilians—who were taken to the frontlines with the soldiers to satisfy their sexual needs than the women who were seized by the Japanese soldiers, sometimes with the complicity of senior officers.(2) Nevertheless, the Statement generated an image of Japanese soldiers going into the Korean countryside and ripping young girls out of the arms of their parents and shipping them to the frontlines, an image that appears to have taken hold in the imagination of the Western world. The cognitive dissonance was significant from the very beginning—that is why the statement had to be issued as a half-assed chief cabinet secretary—and has grown over time, and the gap between reality and the expectations on both sides of the issue. The 2011 South Korean Supreme Court decision demanding that the government do more to seek redress for the survivors may have forced President Lee’s hand and the approach of the end of his term may have emboldened him to be less mindful of the consequences on the Japanese side, igniting the latest and possibly fateful exchange, but the revisionist clock had been ticking for some time. SO where are the mainstream dailies are lining up, as expressed through their editorials?(3)

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.

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.
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:
“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.

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