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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#299】U.S. Scholars’ Statement Represents Milestone for Correcting Misunderstanding on Comfort Women

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2015.05.13 (Wed)

May 11, 2015

     On May 5, 187 scholars of Japanese studies, most of whom are American, issued a new statement criticizing the Japanese government’s attitude over the comfort women issue. This statement led me to believe that the U.S. academic world might have at last understood the result of disputes within Japan over the issue.

Admitting "coercive recruitment" theory as wrong
     American scholars had retained an old view that Japanese forces coercively recruited hundreds of thousands of Koreans as comfort women. The view was completely rejected in Japan's academic and journalistic worlds in 1997.
American scholars had also failed to correctly understand the significance of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper's apology over some of its reports on the comfort women issue last year. The 2007 U.S. House of Representatives resolution and U.S. publisher McGraw Hill Education's controversial history textbook accounts on the issue also have been based on the U.S. misunderstanding.
     But the May 5 statement refrained from citing Japanese military’s coercive recruitment of comfort women. Instead, it said that "the evidence makes clear that large numbers of women were held against their will and subjected to horrific brutality," emphasizing that those women were recruited against their will.
     This view is similar to the “broadly-defined coercion” theory the Asahi Shimbun came up with in 1997. The newspaper then effectively denied its theory of Japanese forces' coercive recruitment based on false Seiji Yoshida statements and other materials as a “narrowly-defined coercion” and put forward the “broadly-defined coercion,” which the latest scholars’ statement endorsed.
     After participating in the disputes over comfort women over more than 20 years, I would like to tell American scholars, "You have admitted to your factual error at last."

New factual error
     Regrettably, however, the statement failed to squarely face past wrong arguments in the United States. What the 187 scholars should do first may be to correct the following account based on factual errors in the House resolution:
     “The Government of Japan officially commissioned the acquisition of young women for the sole purpose of sexual servitude to its Imperial Armed Forces.”
     "The 'comfort women' system of forced military prostitution by the Government of Japan, considered unprecedented in its cruelty and magnitude, included gang rape, forced abortions, humiliation, and sexual violence resulting in mutilation, death, or eventual suicide in one of the largest cases of human trafficking in the 20th century."
     Nevertheless, the scholars titled the statement "Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan" and noted that Japanese historians' work must "be free from government manipulation, censorship, and private intimidation," indicating a new factual error suggesting that the Japanese government and conservative groups have intervened in scholars' studies and arguments. I would urge American scholars again to have cool discussions based on facts.

Tsutomu Nishioka is Planning Committee Member, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals, and Professor at Tokyo Christian University.