Kono Statement (慰安婦関係調査結果発表に関する河野内閣官房長官談話) is a 1993 statement by the Cabinet Minister Yohei Kono (河野洋平) which is widely seen as a formal admission by the Japanese government of the role Japanese government played in the recruitment, transfer, and control of comfort women during the WWII. Comfort women deniers have since been calling for the retraction or backtracking of the statement or delegitimizing it by dismissing it merely as a personal opinion of Kono himself or a political compromise lacking any actual evidence.
In particular, comfort women deniers criticize Kono Statement for “falsely” acknowledging the direct involvement of the Japanese military in the forcible recruitment and kidnapping of women for use in the military comfort stations. Japanese government has backtracked on this portion, explaining that it was in reference to a specific case of the military discipline breakdown, and not applicable to the recruitment of comfort women in general.
Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs parrots Kono Statement as the evidence that Japan has already taken responsibility for its role in the abuse of women under the military comfort women system, such as in response to the proposal in San Francisco to establish a memorial dedicated to comfort women, the wording of the statement leaves ambiguous what responsibility the Japanese government is acknowledging, especially it backtracked on the part that addresses the direct involvement of the Japanese military in the forcible recruitment and kidnapping of women.
In February 2014, Deputy Cabinet Minister under Kono at the time the statement was released told the parliament that the administration at the time did not verify testimonies of comfort women surveyed by the South Korean government, and it was “possible” that South Korean government was involved in the drafting of the statement. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered an investigation into the process behind the release of Kono Statement and released a report in June of that year, which was seen as a way to delegitimize and backtrack Kono Statement while avoiding diplomatically costly retraction.
Link: Kono Statement (unofficial translation)
Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report No. 49 is a 1944 report produced by the Office of War Information, Psychological Warfare Unit attached to the U.S. Army forces in CBI (China-Burma-India) Theatre. It documents interrogations of 20 Korean comfort women and two Japanese “house masters” detained by the U.S. military in Myitkyina, Burma. The report was originally declassified in 1973 and was part of the documents Japanese government gathered in the early 1990s prior to releasing Kono Statement (1993).
Comfort women deniers like Tony Marano and Michael Yon selectively quote the report to portray it as an evidence that comfort women were willing prostitutes who made a lot of money providing their service to Japanese soldiers. For example, they quote the sentence “a ‘comfort girl’ is nothing more than a prostitute or ‘professional camp follower’ attached to the Japanese military for the benefit of the soldiers” while neglecting that the report also states that the women were recruited under the false premise that they would “work connected with visiting the wounded in hospitals, rolling bandages, and generally making the soldiers happy.” For more details, read “Does 1944 U.S. military report prove that ‘comfort women’ were ‘just prostitutes’?”
Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group Report (IWG Report), published in September 2007, is the final product of the Interagency Working Group within the U.S. government established by the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act of 1998 and expanded by Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act of 2001. The IWG reviewed and declassified 8.5 million pages of formerly classified documents from various branches of the government, about 140,000 pages of which related to the Pacific Theatre (i.e. documents about the War with Japan).
Comfort women denier Michael Yon is credited with calling attention to the report, which found little new documentary evidence on Japanese military comfort women system. A notable exception, which Yon fails to mention, is a report by a U.S. informant who “attested to the establishment by the Japanese army of occupation in Malaysia of ‘licensed public comfort houses,’ a practice which did not prevent abuse and rape of Malaysian women.”
That said, the IWG acknowledges that “while the ‘comfort women’ issue is of great current importance, the U.S. government did not systematically collect or create records related to the topic during or after the war. As a consequence, there are very few documents pertaining to the topic in the archives.” The IWG also points out that a large portion of documents pertaining to the Pacific Theatre had already been declassified decades ago, some of which document the Japanese military comfort women system, and were not under the purview of the IWG.
While Yon and other comfort women deniers argue that the IWG’s failure to identify new incriminating evidences “proves” that there was no wrongdoings on the part of Japanese military, the U.S. Congressional Research Service published its own report in April 2007 that cite previously available documents in support of the H.Res.121 calling on Japan to take responsibility for the treatment of comfort women during the WWII. In addition, staff at the National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) do not question that Japanese military comfort women system was a form of sexual slavery, as evidenced by the phrase “the Japanese military used sex slaves, or ‘comfort women,’ during World War II.”
Link: Final Report of the IWG
Link: Researching Japanese War Crimes: Introductory Essays
Seiji Yoshida (吉田清治) is the author of the 1983 “My War Crime,” in which he confessed is role in recruiting women to become comfort women in Jeju Island, Korea during the WWII through force, fraud, and coercion. In the early 1990s accuracy of some or most parts of the book have been called into question, leading both conservative and progressive historians to dismiss the book as a reliable source of historical knowledge by the mid-1990s.
Right-wing comfort women deniers portray Yoshida as the only or primary source on the historical orthodoxy on comfort women, arguing that the dismissal of Yoshida leaves us with no evidence that indicate any wrongdoings by the Japanese military. But researches have considerably advanced since the early 1990s especially after survivors of Japanese military comfort women began speaking out publicly, and the historical consensus on comfort women at least since mid-1990s have not relied on Yoshida in any way. In fact, it is partly these testimonies and researches that proved that Yoshida’s story was unlikely to be accurate.
The right-wing narrative also cannot explain why there was little national or international attention to the issue of comfort women, even after the publication of Yoshida’s book, until survivors began speaking out in the early 1990s if Yoshida was so foundational in our understanding of comfort women.
Under pressure from right-wing critics who blame Asahi Shimbun newspaper for “fabricating” the comfort women issue when it published stories that reported Yoshida’s testimony in the 1980s, in August 2014 the newspaper formally retracted a series of articles mentioning Yoshida, despite the fact that Asahi‘s reporting at the time was no different from those of other publications at the time, and the newspaper had already reported in March 1997 that Yoshida’s testimony had been questioned by experts and that he had refused to defend his claims in the book, after which Asahi stopped quoting or citing Yoshida.