Category Archives: History

Was the average age of “comfort women” around 25? No, at least not according to the purported source of the claim

Japanese “Comfort women” deniers often cite “Comfort Women of the Empire,” a book written by Yuha Park of Sejong University, South Korea, to claim that the average age of “comfort women” was “around 25,” and therefore memorials that depict teenage victims (such as the one in Glendale, California) are misleading. Definitive data is unavailable, but Park’s claim is not supported by the evidentiary source material that she invokes.

“Comfort Women of the Empire” was published in Korea in 2013 and then in Japan in 2014. Since the publication of the original version in Korea, Park has been the target of civil and criminal cases in court for allegedly libelous statements toward survivors of the Japanese military “comfort women” system, which forced her to redact portions of the book in Korea. The controversy over the state intervention on an academic publication is ongoing, distinct from the controversy over the content of the publication itself.

The English version of “Comfort Women of the Empire” is reportedly in the works. There are third party “summaries” of the book available for download at various (right-wing Japanese) websites, but the author has specifically stated that many of them distort her work.

On pages 64-65 of the Japanese edition of “Comfort Women of the Empire,” Park cites a 1944 U.S. military prisoner of war interrogation report (which is itself often misused by the right-wing camp) as an evidence that the typical age of “comfort women” was “around 25,” challenging the historical consensus that a large number of “comfort women” were minors at the time of their recruitment.

This is an important point for those who are concerned about the potential violation of international law by the Imperial Japan because the 1921 International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children required signatories including Japan to prohibit the transportation of women and children under age 21 across national borders for the purpose of prostitution, even with their consent.

Park’s estimate of “around 25” is supposedly calculated by averaging the ages of 20 Korean “comfort women” listed in the 1944 report, but the actual average turns out to be 23.15, not “around 25.” The median and mode of the 20 women, which is more illustrative of the cohort than a simple average, are both 21. (See below for the appendix of the 1944 report that lists 20 women interviewed.)

POW Report #49

Further, because the women were recruited and forced to become “comfort women” two years before they were interviewed by the U.S. military according to the report, the real median age at which they were recruited is 19. In fact, 12 out of the 20 women listed were under 21 at the time of recruitment.

What about other women? Again, comprehensive data is non-existent, but historian Puja Kim of Tokyo University of Foreign Studies examined six volumes of Korean “comfort women” survivor testimonies published between 1993 and 2004 by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan. Of the 78 women who shared their stories, 73 were underage at the time of recruitment; mode and median are both 16. (“Chosenjin ‘Ianfu’ wa naze shoujo ga ookatta noka?”, in Heiwa no shoujo zou wa naze suwari tsuzukeru noka, 2016.)

While these numbers cannot be generalized to all “comfort women” or perhaps even to all Korean “comfort women,” they do suggest that it was not uncommon for Korean “comfort women” to be trafficked while they were underage, in clear violation of the international law at the time.

What is “comfort women” denialism? Holocaust denial and “comfort women” denial

When confronted, “comfort women” deniers like Tony Marano often attempt to deflect the label “denier” by arguing that they do not “deny the existence of comfort women.”

But like “Holocaust denial,” the phrase “comfort women denial” refers not just to the complete denial of the existence of “comfort women” altogether, but also to the denial of important aspects of the historical events that are established as facts. A casual look at the claims made by known Holocaust deniers reveal eerie similarities between Holocaust denial and “comfort women” denial (and this comparison between denialisms stands even if, as some contend, two atrocities themselves should not be compared to each other).

Mark Weber, the long-time director of the Holocaust denial organization Institute for Historical Review has said in a 1992 interview:

If by “holocaust” you mean the political persecution of Jews, some scattered killings, if yo mean a cruel thing that happened, no one denies that. But if one says that the “holocaust” means the systematic extermination of six to eight million Jews in concentration camps, that’s what we think there’s no evidence for.”

The IHR also posted on its website the following until at least 2009:

The Institute does not “deny the Holocaust.” Every responsible scholar of twentieth century history acknowledges the great catastrophe that befell European Jewry during World War II. All the same, the IHR has published detailed books and numerous probing essays that call into question aspects of the orthodox Holocaust extermination story, and highlight specific Holocaust exaggerations and falsehoods. IHR publications have devoted considerable attention to this issue because it plays an enormously significant role in the cultural and political life of America and much of the world. As a number of Jewish scholars have acknowledged, the “Holocaust” campaign is a major weapon in the Jewish-Zionist arsenal. It is used to justify otherwise unjustifiable Israeli policies, and to extort enormous sums of money, especially from European countries and companies.

Another denier, Christian pastor Herman Otten wrote in an IHR publication:

There is no dispute over the fact that large numbers of Jews were deported to concentration camps and ghettos, or that many Jews died or were killed during World War II. Revisionist scholars have presented evidence, which “exterminationists” have not been able to refute, showing that there was no German program to exterminate Europe’s Jews, and that the estimate of six million Jewish wartime dead is an irresponsible exaggeration.

“Comfort women” deniers frequently make similar arguments denying important aspects of the historical consensus.

The author does not deny the occurrence of isolated cases such as the Semarang Incident in the Dutch East Indies in which Ms. Jan Ruff O’Herne was involved. It was an apparent “war crime” in Indonesia committed by military personnel. […] However, this was an isolated case and should not be used to characterize or to generalize the state-managed Comfort Women System.
Hiromichi Moteki, Society for the Dissemination of Historical Fact (Source)

It is more than funny how some strident activists in the US are depicting me as “Comfort girls denier”. That’s hilarious. Nobody in Japan denies them OMG! (((o(*゚▽゚*)o))) Neither do I.
Yujiro Taniyama, film producer of Scottsboro Girls (Source)

These guys on the photo are saying “there was no “military” comfort women forced by Japanese army but not denying the existence of the comfort women.
Shunichi Fujiki, Texas Daddy Japan Secretariat (using pseudonym, Source)

I am labeled “comfort women denier,” but it should be “comfort women = sex slaves” denier to be accurate. Language must be used precisely. False premises lead to confused arguments.
Kiyoshi Hosoya, Japan Family Values Society (translated from Japanese, Source)

Similarities between Holocaust denial and “comfort women” denial do not end here. For example, they both often promote conspiracy theories that those who are preserving historical memory are operating under nefarious geopolitical or financial motives:

As a number of Jewish scholars have acknowledged, the “Holocaust” campaign is a major weapon in the Jewish-Zionist arsenal. It is used to justify otherwise unjustifiable Israeli policies, and to extort enormous sums of money, especially from European countries and companies.
– Institute for Historical Review (Source)

It’s important to note that the countries that are making a big fuss over this are China and South Korea […] This is not about human rights or sex-slavery. This is about politics, money, and racism towards Japanese. In other words, this issue is a geopolitical tool that China uses to attack Japan.
Michael Yon, “journalist” (Source)

The Comfort Women Mafia has been successful in placing plaques and a statue memorializing their version of the Comfort Women story in communities all across the United States. Why? […] Very simple: The Comfort Women Mafia’s one area of motivation is to bash Japan. Their goal is to tarnish the image of Japan among the populace in the USA.
Tony Marano, video blogger (Source)

There are many other similarities, but that is not really the point here. The point we are trying to make is that “comfort women” deniers are those who deny important aspects of established historical facts about the Japanese military “comfort women” system, just like Holocaust deniers are those who deny important aspects of established historical facts about the Holocaust, whether or not they concede that the Holocaust may have taen place in some form.

Timeline of “Comfort Women” denialism during the First and Second Abe administrations (with a focus on U.S.-related incidents)

Part 1: 2006-2007 (The first Abe administration)

2006-09-26 Shinzo Abe becomes the 90th Prime Minister of Japan
2007-01-16 U.S. declassifies documents and releases expert essays on upcoming IWG report
2007-01-31 H.Res.121 introduced with six co-sponsors, led by Rep. Mike Honda
2007-03-01 PM Abe denies forced recruitment of CW by Japanese military
2007-03-02 Deputy Sec. of State Negroponte criticizes Abe’s statement
2007-03-05 PM Abe once again denies Japanese military responsibility
2007-03-09 Opponents of H.Res.121 change their position, number of co-sponsors grows
2007-03-16 Abe administration formally state that no evidence exists that points to forced recruitment of CW by Japanese military
2007-03-24 Washington Post criticizes Abe in editorial
2007-03-25 Abe’s Deputy Cabinet Minister states on radio that CW were sold by their parents, and that Japanese military was not involved
2007-03-26 Deputy Spokesman for Department of State urges Japan to continue to address CW issue
2007-04 IWG report finalized and made available to public
2007-04-03 U.S. Congressional Research Service releases the report “Japanese Military’s ‘Comfort Women’ System” by Larry Niksch
2007-04-03 PM Abe calls Pres. Bush to ask for “understanding”
2007-04-17 PM Abe justifies his statements in interviews with Newsweek and Wall Street Journal, promise to uphold Kono Statement
2007-04-20 Former Minister of Education and Science Nariaki Nakayama criticizes H.Res.121, arguing that prostitution was legal and profitable at the time
2007-04-27 PM Abe visits Pres. Bush, issues a vague apology for CW
2007-05-17 Tokyo Governor Shintaro Ishihara denies Japanese military’s involvement in the recruitment of CW
2007-05-25 MP Jin Matsubara denies the CW issue
2007-06-14 Dozens of conservative politicians and prominent opinion leaders in Japan place a full-page ad (“The Facts”) on Washington Post
2007-06 Many members of U.S. House of Representatives join as co-sponsors of H.Res.121 including House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chair Rep. Tom Lantos
2007-07-30 U.S. House of Representatives passes H.Res.121
2007-09-12 PM Abe abruptly resigns
2007-11-08 Dutch parliament passes resolution urging Japan to confront CW denialism and make further efforts to address the issue
2007-11-28 Canada’s House of Commons passes resolution urging Japan to confront CW denialism and make further efforts to address the issue
2007-12-13 European Parliament passes resolution urging Japan to confront CW denialism and make further efforts to address the issue

Part 2: 2012-Ongoing (The second Abe administration)

2011-12 Yumiko Yamamoto of Zaitokukai forms CW denialist group Nadeshiko Action
2012-05 Japanese diplomats offer cherry blossom trees in return for removing Palisades Park, New Jersey CW memorial; the city rejects
2012-05-24 Nikon Corp. cancels photo exhibits about CW under right-wing pressure
2012-12-26 Shinzo Abe becomes the 96th Prime Minister of Japan
2013-01-10 PM Abe appoints Shiro Takahashi to the Council for Gender Equality
2013-05-13 Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto argues that organized prostitution was necessary at the time, and suggests that the U.S. military should utilize legal sexual services to reduce sexual violence committed by the U.S. servicemen in Okinawa
2013-05-16 U.S. Department of State spokesperson Jen Psaki calls Hashimoto’s statement “outrageous and offensive”
2013-05-22 San Francisco asks Hashimoto to cancel sister city visit due to the furor caused by his remarks
2013-05-27 Hashimoto retracts his comment about the U.S. servicemen while insisting that the Japanese military was not involved in the trafficking of CW
2013-06-18 City and County of San Francisco passes resolution condemning CW system in response to Hashimoto’s statements
2013-07-09 Glendale, California approves the establishment of CW statue in its Central Park after heated discussions
2013-07-30 Glendale unveils the CW statue; Japanese American leaders from Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress and the San Fernando Valley chapter of Japanese American Citizens League attend in support
2013-09 Yumiko Yamamoto and others form Alliance for Truth about Comfort Women
2013-12-16 Koichi Mera, Tomoyuki Sumori (True Japan Network, Voluteer Group for Fight Against Comfort Women), and three Japanese MPs (Mio Sugita, Yuzuru Nishida, and Hiromu Nakamaru) meet with representatives of NCRR and JACL-SFV; Sugita dismisses Japanese American representatives as “left-wing”
2014-01-08 JACL-SFV chapter formally adopts a statement supporting CW statue in Glendale
2014-01-16 Members of (Japanese) National Association of Municipal Legislators Against Comfort Women Statue visit Glendale to protest the CW memorial; they hold a sign that reads “Children Need Heart-Warming Memorials”
2014-02-20 Koichi Mera founds Global Alliance for Historical Truth and files a lawsuit against the City of Glendale
2014-05-05 Japanese American Bar Association of California and Korean American Bar Association along with dozens of other law associations issue a statement supporting the CW memorial and opposing GAHT’s lawsuit
2014-06-06 Japan-U.S. Feminist Network for Decolonization (FeND) formed
2014-06-20 Abe administration releases a report on the “process resulting in Kono Statement,” widely seen as a first step to retracting or trivializing it
2014-07-06 Mera and Nobukatsu Fujioka of GAHT hold an event in Los Angeles; read a letter from Yamamoto
2014-07-14 Yamamoto, Mera, Mitsuhiko Fujii, Shunichi Fujiki, Tony Marano, and other members of ATCW visit Geneva to lobby the U.N. Commission on Human Rights
2014-08-04 GAHT’s federal lawsuit against the City of Glendale is dismissed
2014-08-05 Asahi Shimbun retracts decades-old articles about forcible CW recruitment by the Japanese military in Jeju Island, Korea
2014-08-13 Fullerton, California passes resolution recognizing CW
2014-09-03 GAHT files a state suit against the City of Glendale
2014-09-04 GAHT appeals the decision of the federal case to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
2014-10-15 The Historical Science Society of Japan issues a statement criticizing Abe administration’s denial of historical facts of CW
2014-10-30 Japanese MPs form the Special Committee to Restore Japan’s Honor and Trust in order to refute allegations on CW
2014-12-13 Yamamoto, Mitsuhiko Fujii, and other revisionists hold an event in Redwood City, California near SFO; coalition of peace and human rights activists holds a protest
2014-12-14 Yamamoto, Mera, Fujii, and other revisionists hold a panel in Torrance, California
2015-01 Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs demands American publisher and historian to alter the description of CW in college-level world history textbook
2015-02-18 Japanese residents in Los Angeles area join in a lawsuit in Japan against Asahi Shimbun
2015-03 20 U.S. historians publish a letter in support of Japanese historians in response to MOFA’s attempt to censor textbooks
2015-03-09 Yamamoto, Fujii, Shunichi Fujiki, Shiro Takahashi, and other revisionists hold an event in New York City; original venue, Japanese American Association of New York, cancels their reservation due to a protest by peace and women’s groups
2015-03-10 GAHT and ATCW members Mera, Takahashi, and others hold a press conference in NYC to counter the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women sessions
2015-03-17 Group of conservative scholars led by Ikuhiko Hata holds press conference to demand “corrections” to an American history textbook over CW
2015-03-27 PM Abe refers to CW as victims of human trafficking in an interview with Washington Post without admitting Japanese military’s role in it
2015-04-28 Mariko Okada-Collins organizes a screening of Yujiro Taniyama’s film, “Scottsboro Girls” at Central Washington University; Mera, Jason Morgan, and others join Taniyama
2015-04-29 PM Abe delivers a speech at the joint session of U.S. Congress without mentioning CW
2015-05-04 GAHT’s state lawsuit against the City of Glendale is dismissed; City files for attorney’s fees under anti-SLAPP statute
2015-05-07 “Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan” released with 187 signatures by historians, Japan scholars, and others (mostly in the U.S.); the number of signatories grows to 464 within a week
2015-05-25 16 associations of historians and history educators in Japan issue a joint statement criticizing CW revisionism
2015-07-21 City and County of San Francisco considers a resolution establishing CW memorial; Mera, Okada-Collins, Terumi Imamura, and others speak in opposition
2015-07-23 Osaka Mayor Hashimoto criticizes SF resolution as “unfair,” sends a letter
2015-07-27 Nadeshiko Action and ATCW members visit Geneva to lobby the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women
2015-09-22 City of San Francisco unanimously passes a resolution establishing CW memorial
2015-10-02 MP Yoshiaki Harada, chairman of LDP’s Committee on International Communications, states “our country denies the existence of Nanking Massacre and comfort women”
2015-09 MP Kuniko Inoguchi of LDP mails revisionist books to scholars in the U.S., Australia etc., and foreign correspondents based in Japan
2015-11 LDP forms new group to review history, particularly war crimes verdicts and GHQ policies
2015-12-18 California Department of Education releases a draft of the Social Sciences framework that includes the teaching of CW issues at 10th grade level; historical revisionists start multiple petitions against it
2015-12-28 Foreign ministers of South Korea and Japan reach an agreement on CW issue; CW survivors denounce the agreement, while the right-wing is split between those who oppose the agreement and those who support Abe’s decision
2016-01-18 PM Abe states that CW were “not sex slaves” in the parliament
2016-02-16 Japanese official denies “forcible recruitment of CW by the Japanese military” and sexual slavery at the U.N. Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women in Geneva; about 30 right-wing activists including Yamamoto, Sugita, Fujiki, Fujii, Hosoya, and others also lobby the CEDAW
2016-03-16 Mera,Hosoya, and Sugita hold a panel titled “Misunderstood Comfort Women” at the NGO Parallel Event coinciding with the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women in New York City.
2016-03-17 Mera, Hosoya, and Sugita hold a version of the above panel in Japanese for Japanese audience in New York City.
2016-03-23 Yamamoto, Fujiki, Fujii, and Norimasa Suzuki (Seiron-no-Kai) hold an event featuring Marano at an Armenian Church.
2016-03-24 Yamamoto, Mera, andothers hold another panel at the NGO Parallel Event titled “Women’s Rights Under Armed Conflict: Japan’s Approach to Respect Women.”

Diplomatic “resolution” does not lead to healing or dignity: Making sense of the Japan-ROK “agreement” on “comfort women”

This week, foreign ministers of Japan and South Korea announced a bilateral “agreement” to “finally and irreversibly” settle historical disputes arising from the WWII-era Japanese imperial military enforced prostitution/sexual slavery known as the “comfort women” system. The agreement was reportedly reached under heavy pressures from the United States government, which has military pacts with both Asian nations, for its own geopolitical needs. The agreement has been widely denounced by the “comfort women” survivors and their advocates in South Korea, Japan, and elsewhere as an act of further violence to silence the survivors.

In a statement read by Japan’s Foreign Minister, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe acknowledged “the issue of comfort women” was “a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large numbers of women,” and expressed his “most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”

Abe’s apology is a reiteration of previous statements issued by the Japanese government, most notably the 1993 Kono Statement in that it accepted moral, but not legal, responsibilities for the suffering of women under the “comfort women” system. Japanese conservatives, including Abe himself, have long argued that Japanese military’s “involvement” in the atrocity was peripheral (e.g. performing medical checks at military brothels, etc.) and have rejected the notion that Japanese military itself was responsible for the trafficking and coercion of women and girls for sexual exploitation (see Dudden and Mizoguchi for a critique of Abe’s 2007 statement expressing this view, or our debunking of common revisionist talking points).

The new “agreement” does not go beyond Kono Statement in acknowledging Japanese military’s direct role in the coercion and trafficking of women under the “comfort women” system. Worse, the few remaining survivors of the “comfort women” system were cut off from the negotiation altogether, and their voices were systemically silenced. As a result, virtually none of the demands of the survivors are reflected in the final “agreement” that the Korean government accepted, supposedly, on their behalf.

Survivors and advocates continue to call on Japan to fully acknowledge Japanese imperial military’s direct culpability for the violence perpetrated against women from across Asia-Pacific, and to meet other demands of the survivors, which, according to Korean American Forum of California, include:

  1. Full acknowledgement of the military sexual slavery implemented by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 to 1945
  2. Thorough and complete investigation to fully chronicle the scope of the crime
  3. Formal apology from the National Assembly (Diet) of Japan
  4. Legal and full reparations to all victims
  5. Prosecution of the criminals responsible for the crime
  6. Full and ongoing education through proper recording and acknowledgement in textbooks and history books in Japan
  7. Building of memorials and museums to commemorate the victims and preserve the history of sexual slavery by the Japanese Military

For further information, please read the following:

Also: watch former “comfort woman” Lee Yong-Soo protest the Deputy Foreign Minister of Korea, with English translation, below:

Debunked: Right-wing “evidences” that supposedly prove “ethical” recruitment of “comfort women”

Aside from the 1944 U.S. military report that we analyzed previously, there are a few more historical documents that the Japanese far-right historical revisionists use repeatedly as “evidences” that “comfort women” were not systematically trafficked by the Japanese military and its contractors, but were recruited legally and ethically. These documents come in three categories: 1) recruitment ads published in Korean newspapers seeking applicants for “comfort women”; 2) the 1938 directive by Japan’s Deputy Army Secretary requesting the military to carefully vet contractors recruiting and managing “comfort women” to ensure that their conduct would not “disgrace” the Japanese military; and 3) newspaper articles that “prove” that Japanese government prosecuted kidnapping and forced prostitution.

Let’s start with the recruitment ads. Right-wing nationalists argue that the existence of ads explicitly recruiting “comfort women” proves that the recruitment was done fair and square, and that their pay was quite high. But there is a problem with it: the literacy rate for Korean women of that generation was low. In other words, except for a small number of elites, who would probably not voluntarily choose to become “comfort women,” Korean women at the time would not have been able to read the ads.

Supposed recruitment ads for comfort women published in state-controlled newspaper in occupied Korea

Historians believe that these ads were not actually targeted toward potential “comfort women” applicants, but toward independent recruiters and subcontractors that would supply the contractor with the women that they could then ship to “comfort stations” across Asia. Thus, the only thing these ads prove is the existence of a market to buy and sell women, and they do not indicate how these women were recruited. Besides, only two such ads have been discovered so far, and cannot be responsible for the recruitment of all the women who became “comfort women.”

Which brings us to the next document: the 1938 directive by the Deputy Army Secretary that denounces recruiters that use deceptive or otherwise problematic tactics that “diminish the military’s dignity” and urges Japanese military to carefully vet contractors. This document was first publicized by Asahi Shimbun newspaper in 1992 as a proof that the Japanese military was directly involved in the operation of the “comfort women” system, but since then reclaimed by the right-wing nationalists as an evidence for what they call “good involvement”–that is, the argument that Japanese military’s only involvement with the “comfort women” system was to prevent trafficking and protect women.

1938 Japanese government directive

The impetus for this directive came from early stages of the “comfort women” deployment, when most “comfort women” were still Japanese women. The military tried to recruit “comfort women” from women who were already working at brothels (most likely under debt bondage), luring them with a way to repay their debt more quickly. But some contractors began luring other, “pure” Japanese women by deceiving them about the nature of the “good job” they were offering, and it led to criticisms from within Japan. The 1938 directive specifically mentions instances of kidnapping and deceptive recruitment in Japan, and it only applies to recruitment in Japan. No comparable directives have been issued that applied to Japan’s colonies (Korea and Taiwan) or its occupied territories.

To counter this criticism, the right-wing nationalists often produce newspaper articles about arrests and prosecution of individuals who kidnapped or sold women into prostitution in Korea. But these are cases of simple kidnapping or forced prostitution by criminal elements, and do not show that Japanese government properly regulated its licensed contractors who recruited Korean women for Japanese enforced military prostitution, or that it protected Korean women from such recruitment.

Newspaper articles showing prosecution of non-military sex trafficking

Japan was a signatory to the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children of 1921, which prohibited the recruitment of women under the age 21 for prostitution even with her consent, as well as the use of force, fraud, or coercion (including debt bondage) in the recruitment of adult women for prostitution. However, when Japan signed the treaty, it declared that new treaty would not apply to its colonies (Korea and Taiwan) or occupied territories, clearly indicating the Japanese government’s conscious policy choice to permit and sanction the trafficking of Korean and Taiwanese women and girls, which helped to further its imperial war of aggression in Asia and the Pacific.

Watch Full Documentary: Testimonies from the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery

“Breaking the History of Silence” is a documentary film from the historic 2000 Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery that was convened by non-governmental organizations and international team of legal experts to hear the testimonies of victims of Japan’s “comfort women” system during the WWII and to try those responsible for the crime.

The full documentary (68 minutes) in English is now available for viewing online.

You can also watch the digest version of the film, as well as each testimony by itself on Fight for Justice.

“Comfort women” denier Michael Yon attacks facts without providing any counter-arguments or evidences

“Journalist” and “Comfort women” denier Michael Yon posted a link to our article, “Debunking the Japanese ‘Comfort Women’ Denier Talking Points” on his blog and on his Facebook page, suggesting that “feminists” are now forced to respond to specific “facts,” presumably because of Mr. Yon’s work exposing the “lies” of “comfort women.”

Mr. Yon writes:

The sex slavery revisionists are now reacting to facts, rather than conducting their blind assaults against Japan and our alliance. The feminists know that the sex slavery narrative is a grand fabrication. The feminists are getting cornered up. Their arguments are collapsing and they know it.

It is curious that Mr. Yon thinks that our article represents a new development in the decades-old debate over “comfort women.” In reality, we merely summarized what actual historians have been saying for many years, and is common knowledge among people who are working toward redress for the victims and survivors of Japanese military “comfort women” system.

If our article seemed like a new development, it is because Mr. Yon is ignorant about the work of Japanese historians and the hundreds of historical documents that they have studied and analyzed. It is understandable that Mr. Yon is completely clueless about the topic because he does not speak or read Japanese, but perhaps he needs to realize that and get out of the business of propagating historical revisionism.

It is telling that while Mr. Yon claims that feminists’ “arguments are collapsing,” he does not dispute or refute any of the facts we presented. Come on, Mr. Yon, give us concrete rebuttal on any and all of the facts we raise! You can’t, can you?

Debunking the Japanese “Comfort Women” Denier Talking Points

“Comfort women” is a historical term referring to the women who performed sexual labor in Japan’s military brothels (“comfort stations”) across Asia and the Pacific during its imperial wars, 1938-1945.

Experiences of “comfort women” were varied: some women, especially in the early years, were recruited from existing brothels in Japan as a way to pay off their debts more quickly; other women, mainly from Japan’s colonies (Korea and Taiwan) and occupied territories, were deceived with the promise of lucrative career, or were outright kidnapped and forced into the system.

Below are some of the most commonly encountered Japanese “comfort women” denier talking points, and the facts according to actual historians. We plan to provide more detailed analysis and documentation for each of these points on this blog, but for now here is what you need to know.

*****

TALKING POINT: “The 1944 U.S. military report says that ‘comfort women’ are just prostitutes!”

FACT: They are taking a sentence out of context. The same document clearly states that most women were deceived with the promise of a good job and forced to perform sexual acts on Japanese soldiers under debt bondage. That describes victims of human trafficking, not women voluntarily engaging in prostitution. [Read more about this]

TALKING POINT: “The 1944 U.S. military report also says that ‘comfort women’ received exceedingly high salaries!”

FACT: According to the same document, many women suffered in poverty because their nominally high earnings were taken away by the Japanese “house masters” as debt repayment and living expenses, which the women had to procure from them. [Read more about this]

TALKING POINT: “Korean newspapers at the time published ads recruiting ‘comfort women,’ which proves that they were voluntary!”

FACT: Most Korean women who became “comfort women” were not literate, so the ads were not designed to entice them. The ads (and only two such ads have been discovered) were placed by contractors to entice private recruiters and subcontractors to go out and recruit the women. [Read more about this]

TALKING POINT: “News reports from the era show that Japanese government arrested and prosecuted contractors that kidnapped and trafficked Korean women!”

FACT: Japanese government prosecuted kidnappers and traffickers in general, but those were not contractors that are kidnapping and trafficking women on behalf of the Japanese military (except for recruitment in Japan–see the next point). [Read more about this]

TALKING POINT: “Japanese government issued a directive ordering the military to carefully select contractors to avoid those that engage in kidnapping and trafficking!”

FACT: The 1938 directive was issued in response to an incident in which local police in Japan detained a contractor recruiting women as “comfort women” for the Japanese military. The local police did not realize that Japanese military was directly involved in establishing and operating brothels, and assumed that the contractor was falsely claiming to be working for the military. This incident led to the directive urging greater coordination between military contractors and local police departments and requiring the contractors to conceal their ties to the Japanese military publicly so as to not embarrass the military. The directive only applies to recruitment in Japan, and excludes its colonies of Korea and Taiwan. There are no comparable directives addressing deceptive or illegal recruitment outside of mainland Japan. [Read more about this]

TALKING POINT: “If any kidnapping or trafficking happened, it was done by private recruiters or businesses operating brothels, and not by the Japanese military! Or they were simply sold by their parents to pay off debts!”

FACT: Japanese military built or requested contractors to build “comfort stations,” provided special documents to women who did not otherwise have legal documentation to travel out of the country, transported women on military vehicles, established fees, policies, and schedules for the “comfort stations,” etc.–all of which are considered human trafficking under current as well as historical standards, especially since many of the women were underage. Debt bondage is also considered a form of slavery under current as well as historical standards.

TALKING POINT: “The whole ‘comfort women’ story was invented by Asahi Shimbun newspaper, which recently retracted the fabricated testimonies of professed ‘comfort women’ recruiter Seiji Yoshida!”

FACT: Yoshida’s testimonies have been refuted and rejected by virtually all historians in the 1990s, and is not the basis for Japanese government’s Kono Statement (1993), the United Nations’ report on “comfort women” by the special rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy (1996), or the U.S. House Resolution 121 (2007). Asahi’s retraction makes no difference to our current conversations on the topic.

TALKING POINT: “Former Asahi reporter Takashi Uemura, who wrote articles former comfort women’s lawsuit against Japan, was biased because his mother-in-law was a leader of the Korean group that was suing the Japanese government on behalf of the women!”

FACT: The organization Uemura’s mother-in-law was involved in had nothing to do with the lawsuit at the time. Uemura also never quoted Yoshida, or wrote articles that alleged direct “taking” of Korean women by the Japanese military. A third-party review of Uemura’s reporting found no wrongdoing on his part.

TALKING POINT: “Interagency Working Group of the United States spent 30 million dollars and seven years to search for evidences supporting the testimonies of ‘comfort women,’ but could not find anything incriminating Japanese military!”

FACT: IWG was tasked with reviewing and declassifying WWII-era U.S. official documents to find records of German and Japanese war crimes. Most inquiries were related to the Nazi Germany, because most documents about Japan were not classified in the first place. The search did not result in the discovery of any new evidences documenting Japan’s war crimes related to “comfort women.” Prior to IWG’s review, however, there were many publicly available U.S. government documents, including the 1944 U.S. military report mentioned earlier, that shows Japan’s wartime violations of human rights and international law in its management and operation of the “comfort women” system.

TALKING POINT: “Some Korean scholars such as Ahn Byong Jik and Park Yuha question the allegation that Korean women were forcibly taken by the Japanese military!”

FACT: There are some disagreements in terms of how much blame should be assigned to different parties, including the Japanese military, Korean brokers who did the actual recruitment, etc., but neither Ahn or Park deny that Japan bears responsibility for the trafficking and exploitation of women under the “comfort women” system and for the colonial rule that enabled it even if the military did not directly kidnap Korean women.

TALKING POINT: “Anthropologist C. Sarah Soh has documented that former ‘comfort women’ have changed their testimonies, so they are unreliable!”

FACT: Testimonies of survivors of severe trauma often shift and change, and it should not be considered a reason to dismiss their testimonies altogether. Historians do not rely on any single document or testimony for their understanding of historical events; rather, they look at many different documents and testimonies to corroborate what actually took place. Regardless of the accuracy of any particular claim or any particular testimony, it is undeniable that tens or hundreds of thousands of women were forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese military. In fact, Soh argues: “The fact that some individual survivors and their advocates have given accounts that are exaggerated or only partially true, however, does not warrant the assertion by conservative leaders in Japan that Japan is being ‘condemned based on propagandistic accounts of things that simply did not happen.'”

“Comfort Women” denier alleges threats and bullying by attorneys representing the City of Glendale; Japanese government admits to working closely with revisionists

In an article published in the conservative Sankei Shimbun newspaper, Koichi Mera, the leader of the Japanese historical revisionist group Global Alliance for Historical Truth suing the City of Glendale over its “comfort women” statue now alleges that attorneys for the defendant City of Glendale threatened and bullied the plaintiff’s attorneys, forcing them to withdraw from representing the revisionist group.

We are not lawyers ourselves, but this does appear to be an actionable libel. Glendale should at least demand that Sankei and Mera retract the statement and apologize for making such an outrageous claim.

Meanwhile, Cabinet Minister under Prime Minister Abe’s administration admits that the Japanese government has been working closely with the plaintiffs in the suit. Japanese government had not been publicly involved with the lawsuit, but it is now official that the Japanese government is actively attempting to suppress the right of a U.S. city to memorialize victims of Japanese military’s system of enforced prostitution during the WWII.

Does 1944 U.S. Military Report Prove “Comfort Women” Were “Just Prostitutes”?

When Japanese politicians visited Glendale and tried to “convert” Japanese American leaders who had supported the city’s peace memorial dedicated to the victims of Japanese “comfort women” system of enforced military prostitution, the politicians presented a copy of a U.S. military report from 1944 that they believed would “prove” their position that “comfort women” were simply prostitutes who followed Japanese military for business. Their American apologists Tony Marano (a.k.a. “Texas Daddy”) and Michael Yon both cited the same document when they descended on our facebook page to argue the same thing. Clearly, they view this U.S. report as their strongest evidence absolving Japanese military of wrongdoings.

The report is based on interviews with 20 Korean “comfort women” as well as two Japanese civilian “house masters” held by the U.S. military as prisoners of war in Burma. Because it was written by the U.S. Army that was still fighting against the Japanese Empire at the time, right-wing nationalists argue, it cannot be challenged as being biased in favor of Japan. Unfortunately, however, both Japanese and American military can still be biased against Koreans or women, and especially against Korean “comfort women.”

POW Report No. 49 (1st page)

Indeed, the report does contain passages that seem to uphold right-wing nationalists’ view that “comfort women” were prostitutes making good money doing business with the Japanese military. The right-wing nationalists selectively quote passages such as “a comfort girl is nothing more than a prostitute or ‘professional camp follower’ attached to the Japanese Army for the benefit of the soldiers,” or “they lived in near luxury… they had plenty of money.”

The right-wing nationalists cannot help also quoting parts of the document that do not actually help their argument that the author was an objective third party, but are too pleasurable for them to ignore. For example, they like to quote the report’s description of Korean “comfort women” as “uneducated, childish, whimsical, and selfish” and “not pretty either by Japanese or Caucasian standards” (this is why Marano decided to place a paper bag over the Glendale memorial, according to his own article published in Japan). While Japanese nationalists may be quoting these passages to amuse their racist and sexist selves, they clearly show that the author’s prejudice toward Korean “comfort women.”

Some of the Japanese right-wing nationalists cite this report as if it is a newly uncovered historical evidence, but it has been known among scholars of “comfort women” for more than 20 years. In fact, it was part of the supporting documents compiled by the Japanese government when then-Cabinet Minister Yohei Kono released the famous statement in 1993 in which Japanese government acknowledged responsibility for its direct involvement in the trafficking and exploitation of “comfort women” for the first time. While right-wing nationalists believe the report to be the “silver bullet” proving their case, scholars actually consider it one of many documents that prove Japan’s culpability.

Right-wing nationalists are correct that the U.S. military report describes a “comfort woman (girl)” as “nothing more than a prostitute.” But in the next paragraph, the report details how “comfort women” were taken from Korea under false pretense (offer of a good job) and placed in a situation that they could not escape from due to debt. Also according to the report, most “comfort women” were never involved in prostitution prior to arriving at Japanese military “comfort stations,” and many were considered “underage” under the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children of 1921, which Japan had signed.

“House masters” took 50-60% of the fees paid by Japanese soldiers, depending on the amount of money the women owed. Women also had to purchase food and other necessities from the house masters, which “made life very difficult for the girls” because house masters often charged excessively high prices for these necessities. We find these descriptions believable because they are very similar to how contemporary human trafficking cases look like.

The report also states that women had the freedom to refuse customers, for example when a soldier was extremely drunk. But even if it were true, they obviously did not have the freedom to refuse the “job” altogether and leave because they were taken far away from home in a foreign land and had to repay their debt, which was made difficult by the fact that they had to pay excessive prices for food and other necessities in order to survive.

To understand why the report seems to contain such contradictory information (did “comfort women” lived in near luxury, or had difficult life due to economic exploitation?), we need to understand the context and purpose of the report itself. The report’s author is Alex Yorichi, a Japanese American soldier working for the U.S. Army’s Office of War Information, Psychological Warfare Team. Yorichi was tasked with finding out the effectiveness of Japanese-language leaflets that the Psychological Warfare Team had distributed in Japanese-occupied territories in Burma, and interrogated “comfort women” and their “house masters” as part of that investigation.

In other words, it was never Yorichi’s intention to investigate the “comfort women” system itself. As such, he simply recorded testimonies of the “comfort women” and their “house masters” without verifying any particular claim about the “comfort women” system. Because the interview was likely conducted in Japanese (after all, the unit was interviewing Japanese prisoners of war), and many Korean “comfort women” did not receive Japanese education (most “comfort women” could not read the propaganda leaflets distributed by Yorichi’s colleagues), it would be natural to assume that the voices of the two Japanese “house masters” are disproportionately represented over the voices of Korean “comfort women” in the final report. Even then, the report details policies, structures, prices, and schedules at “comfort stations” that clearly prove the active involvement of Japanese military in managing or administering the everyday operation of “comfort stations.”

A copy of the U.S. military report is available for download here.