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Tsutomu Nishioka

【#860】Magazine Deleted Article Claiming Comfort Women as Not Sex Slaves

Tsutomu Nishioka / 2021.12.06 (Mon)

December 2, 2021

An online magazine on international affairs based in the United States carried a South Korean scholar’s contribution claiming wartime comfort women as not sex slaves but quickly deleted it and apologized for publishing the contribution. The magazine then replaced the contribution with another scholar’s article claiming comfort women as sex slaves. This incident represents this year’s second infringement on academic freedom regarding comfort women, following a request for withdrawing Harvard Law School Professor J. Mark Ramseyer’s paper from an academic journal.

Editors succumbed to protests

On November 14, The Diplomat carried the contribution titled “Anti-Japan Tribalism on the Comfort Women Issue” by Lee Woo Yeon, a co-author of “Anti-Japan Tribalism” that has become a bestseller in Japan and South Korea. The contribution said: “‘Comfort women’ were engaged in a ‘high-risk, high-return’ occupation. Some occasionally earned enormous sums, and a great many returned to Korea or re-entered the workforce after their contracted term of employment ended. Restrictions of daily freedoms applied equally to military personnel, civilian employees, nurses, and anyone else in the battlefield environment. In conclusion, comfort women were not sex slaves, but sex workers who were fundamentally no different from today’s sex industry workers.”

Diplomat editors then received protests from readers in South Korea and the United States. On November 15, they deleted Lee’s contribution and posted a message of apology: “Over the weekend The Diplomat published an article that contained inaccurate and insensitive statements about South Korean ‘comfort women.’ This article did not meet our editorial standards and we are addressing the issue internally. We apologize.”

David Ambaras, a professor of history at North Carolina State University who opposed the publication of the Ramseyer paper, continued his protest by making a post on an SNS: “The editors still owe it to the public to explain why they allowed it to appear in the first place and what steps they will take to avoid such mistakes moving forward.”

On November 18, The Diplomat published an article titled “Why Did the 2015 Japan-Korea ‘Comfort Women’ Agreement Fall Apart?” by Yuji Hosaka, a naturalized South Korean scholar from Japan who has been claiming the Takeshima Islands as South Korean territory and comfort women as sex slaves. In an SNS message on November 19, a South Korean correspondent for The Diplomat thanked Hosaka for writing the article in response to an urgent request and described the publication of Lee’s contribution as an unforgivable mistake.

Infringement on academic freedom

The above is what happened. Instead of deleting Lee’s contribution, The Diplomat should have set a stage for debate by publishing both Lee’s and Hosaka’s articles. I cannot but to conclude that academic freedom or freedom of speech has been remarkably infringed in the United States regarding the comfort women issue.

On November 29, the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals announced a policy proposal calling for improving Japan’s international public relations regime regarding history awareness. I would like to emphasize that Japan’s government and private sectors should cooperate in strengthening public relations regarding history awareness in the United States.

Tsutomu Nishioka is a senior fellow and a Planning Committee member at the Japan Institute for National Fundamentals and a visiting professor at Reitaku University. He covers South and North Koreas.