Saturday, August 09, 2014

The Comfort Women Issue after the Asahi Report

There are matters left untouched, and what I have written below does not have the look of a finished product even as a self-indulgent blogger. But I have other matters to tend to, so I shall let it stand for now, perhaps to come back to it if I have something appropriate for a more formal outlet.

The Kono Statement regarding the comfort women was issued to smooth the way to the 1993 Japan-South Korea summit. Since then, the Korean government, citizens, media and expats and their descendants—I will refer to them collectively as Koreans except where it is necessary to be more specific—have assumed ownership of the issue and have demanded restitution and further apologies from the Japanese government and to secure international recognition of their unique suffering, each to varying degrees of success.

The Korean claim in its purest form is that 200,000 or more young Korean women were taken forcibly and detained to provide sexual services against their will for Japanese soldiers. Japanese revisionism at its most extreme holds that the women were highly paid professionals who performed sexual services of their own free will. The Asahi report falls somewhere in between, a more detailed variation of my conjecture some years ago, which I posted on this blog: a Japanese military and government that procured women from Japan, Korea and Taiwan through middlemen to provide sexual services to its soldiers and officers and engaged in the maintenance of the establishments where the females were sequestered or housed1. As the military pressed forward and secured women locally, the report says that it became more strident and violent for this undertaking, including rape.

The number 200,000 is connected in the Asahi report to a claim that the Korean comfort women were recruited as the Women’s Volunteer Corps. But the Women’s Volunteer Corps of Korea turned out to be the same as their Japanese namesakes, school girls who had been mobilized to work in Japanese factories2. The assertion that the women were taken forcibly stems from the testimony of a Japanese man who claimed to have been involved in the seizure on the Island of Jeju. His testimony, however, was totally discredited by facts that contradicted it and by his inability/unwillingness to produce any evidence to support it. These matters had become widely known by the late 1990s, but Asahi had remained silent until it conclusively rejected them in its report.

Where does this leave the Kono Statement? I continue to believe that it is within the range of acceptable renditions of what occurred or is likely to have occurred. It is certainly appropriate for some of the things that the Japanese military did in China and Southeast Asia. And if what we see and hear even today of the sexual trade held true then as well, then many of the Japanese, Korean and Taiwanese women, the younger ones in particular, and some of their families, should not have been aware of what was befalling them until it was too late; some of them would have surely have left their stations had the military and/or the police not been there to maintain order2.

How then, does the rejection of the Women’s Volunteer Corps-as-comfort women and forcible taking of the women from the Island of Jeju change the circumstances? Well, they were both held up as key elements of the Japanese government’s involvement in the recruitment. Take them out, and much of the power of the narrative disappears. Moreover, advocates of the comfort women assert numbers, the bigger the better, with conviction, while detractors prefer smaller numbers, if any, and emphasize uncertainty. Take the Women’s Volunteer Corps off the table, and the largest estimate disappears.

By remaining silent, Asahi allowed the related assertions to maintain a degree of legitimacy that Koreans could use to give the undeniable story of victimhood a power and Korean uniqueness that it otherwise would not have lacked. For Korea as a nation never fought imperial Japan; it never had the chance. It was seized, then subsumed, with minimal resistance. Then WW II came and went, with only tangential consequences until the release at its conclusion, again at the hands of others. The comfort women, embellished by a misunderstanding and a falsehood, became an indispensable symbol for Korea’s alignment with the victims and eventual victors in Japan’s war of aggression in Asia and the Pacific.

Now that the Korean narrative has lost much if not most of its uniqueness, where does the world go from here? In an ideal world, Koreans would adapt to the new narrative, align with the Japanese, most of their elderly and recent forebears, who felt victimized by the misadventures of the Japanese government and military, while the kind of Japanese who experience schadenfreude at the lawsuits recent brought against the South Korean government by “comfort women” for the US troops stationed there wake up to the fact that this was almost surely another case where the South Koreans had learned well from the example of their erstwhile colonial masters in the archipelago to the east and likewise accede to the new narrative when they have exhausted themselves from flogging the Asahi for its belated admission3. But I am probably grown too old and too cynical to expect that to come to pass or to advocate in the hopes that they will listen.

1. My assertion of “not quite separate, not quite equal” for military service and forced labor held true for the comfort women as well, since only the Japanese women had a minimum age limit of 21.

2. Bruce Cumings’s Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History (2005) had a photo of two or three girls in school uniforms surrounding a middle-aged man in a chair, all looking solemn, even dignified. With no provenance, Cumings states that the girls were comfort women. The photo had no provenance, but an armband indicated that the man was an executive at Nakajima Aircraft, the producer of the Zero Fighter among other things. My deceased mother went to a school not that far away, in Gifu and inevitably wound up as a member of the Women’s Volunteer Corps. It is now too late to ask if their paths might have crossed.

3. Yes, it would be nice if the Asahi accounted for what had transpired during its silence. It would be nice if Asahi set out its position as an editorial. (The other major dailies have spoken on it, from predictably Sankei, Yomiuri and Mainichi perspectives.) But self-reflection is not one of the Japanese media’s strong points, Asahi or otherwise. Let it suffice that Asahi has decided to clear the air on the facts at all.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the Asahi admission of deception is only part of the story. The silence explained by the omission in the retraction of a key piece of evidence pointing to intentional conflict of interest at best, criminal conspiracy at worst: Uemura Takashi the lead writer for a majority of the stories mother in law was the President of the War Victims group that stood to benefit from the pending lawsuits that his articles fed false legitimacy to. Like most criminal cases, follow the money.

As far as the position regarding the Kono Statement post admission of the fraud of the foundation story and the revealed collusion with the South Korean government "I continue to believe that it is within the range of acceptable renditions of what occurred or is likely to have occurred." This is quite frightening as it assumes despite the evidence to the contrary that the parties are automatically guilty. Perhaps the universal human right of innocent until proven guilty in a court of law holds no grounds anymore in Japan and South Korea (well South Korea sadly is sliding into the fascist fold rather quickly so by the time I finish this missive it may already be goose stepping its way to a new memorial and disregarding due process).

The evidence that keeps getting presented as supporting the false narrative of force continually upon examination proves the opposite. The Dutch Comfort Women Survey 1996, the OWI PoW Report No 49, Gordon Thomas Diary as filed in the Australian War Memorial Archives, and more third party accounts all show that the modern revisionist story of "forced sex slave" did not exist.

Finally, there is the disgusting mixing of true victims of sexual violence (illegal confinement, kidnapping, and rape) with these manufactured victims of the Comfort Women. In the Phillipines and for a small minority of Dutch women under the Japanese Naval LT. who was hung for his crimes, we know they were victims…but NOT Comfort Women. Similar to rape victims worldwide in every war, they deserve the support and sympathy, instead the Comfort Women Lobby sickeningly tries to associate them with the high paid prostitutes that were documented contract workers in a grotesque attempt at associating real with fake victims. That needs to stop.

And hopefully soon, with more revelations on the way from the US, the side show the Comfort Women lobby and their fascist supporters have been promoting will soon fade away much like Asahis credibility.

Jun Okumura said...

I believe that this comment goes too far in the other direction. I try to keep in mind that most of the people who disagree with me are not as sinister and devious as I think they are and that some of the people who agree with me are not as righteous and upright as I think I am. (Okay, I do not think that I am very righteous or upright, but you see my point.) After all, I started out as a supporter of the Kono Statement (and in a limited sense, I still am.)

I only hope that everyone who is interested in this issue and can read Japanese will go to the Asahi website. If it’s behind the paywall by the time that you read this, I have copied the entire set of articles.

Hitokiri Dom said...

Throwing the word fascist for Comfort Women supporters is despicable since the women were victims of Fascist Imperial Japan. Your comments seem to be an emotional reaction. How are Comfort Women supporters fascists? Do they support the militarization of society, the promotion of a cult of national history, and/or aggressive military expansion? It seems you threw the word around without properly understanding. Also we must define "force" or "coercion". If you mean Imperial Army soldiers lining up and kidnapping women, this may not have been the case. But coercion is more than that and can include trickery, deception and threats.