The History the Japanese Government Is Trying to Erase | #socialmedia


It was predictable that most of the early online harassment would target the one Japanese member of our group. As we prepared what would become an open letter demanding retraction of Harvard Law School professor J. Mark Ramseyer’s article claiming that Korean “comfort women” were contractually bound prostitutes, we had braced ourselves for abuse. Ramseyer’s piece bolstered the ultranationalist Japanese worldview that rehabilitates Japan’s history of militarism and colonialism and denies the coercive and brutal nature of much of that era’s violence. Although it appeared in an obscure law and economics journal, the far right in Japan embraced it as “cutting edge” research. The Japanese far-right newspaper Sankei Shimbun introduced the article’s claims as definitive scholarly confirmation that “comfort women” were not sexual slaves. It made front-page news in Korea, and was discussed and debated on television and in print for weeks.

The five of us—Amy Stanley, Hannah Shepherd, David Ambaras, Sayaka Chatani, and myself—had worked around the clock, producing a constant stream of texts and Google doc updates, in an intense two weeks of checking and rechecking each other’s work. We found it difficult to believe the extent to which the short article distorted and misused evidence. After we published our letter, the journal, the International Review of Law and Economics, issued an “expression of concern” and said that it is reviewing the article. That, of course, didn’t stop Japanese cybernationalists from dismissing the non-Japanese among us as ignorant and “anti-Japanese” and labeling Sayaka a race traitor.

The “comfort women” first became figures of international controversy in 1991, when Kim Hak-sun came forward under her real name as a survivor of the Japanese military’s “comfort station” system. Although the sufferings of “comfort women” had been an open secret, feminism as a transnational social movement in East Asia made it possible for people to care about how war created gendered forms of violence, particularly sexual violence.

Democratization in South Korea also created space for previously unheard voices to ask about the terms under which all Japan’s wartime atrocities had been settled by the 1965 agreement that normalized relations between Japan and South Korea. So when Kim and other survivors spoke out, South Korean society as well as feminist activists and academics in Japan were ready to listen. And what did they hear? That an estimated 50,000 to 200,000 “comfort women” were conscripted, often with force, from across Japanese-occupied territory; they were Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipina, Indonesian, and Dutch. But the majority of non-Japanese “comfort women” came from the Korean Peninsula. Kim testified that she had been taken to a Japanese military comfort station in China at the age of 17, where she was raped daily by multiple soldiers. When she tried to run away, she was recaptured and raped again. She was eventually able to escape with the help of a Korean merchant who became her husband. But many women did not survive this ordeal, and many others remained silent. The cases of a few remaining survivors continue to be heard in South Korean courts and remain a sticking point in Korea–Japan diplomacy.





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