Sex slave history erased from texts; ’93 apology next?

by Reiji Yoshida

Former education minister Nariaki Nakayama takes pride in an achievement he and about 130 fellow members of the Liberal Democratic Party took the past decade to accomplish: getting references to Japan’s wartime sex slaves struck from most authorized history texts for junior high schools.

“Our campaign worked, and people outside the government also started raising their voices, creating a national trend,” said the 63-year-old Lower House member from Miyazaki Prefecture, who also openly claims the 1937 Nanjing Massacre was a “pure fabrication.”

Nakayama feels he and the LDP group he heads played a key role in getting the descriptions of the “comfort women,” the euphemism Japan used for the wartime sex slaves for its army, deleted from most junior high school history books.

“Now few textbooks carry words like ‘military comfort women’ or that the women were ‘forcibly taken’ (to the frontline brothels). I think that’s good,” said Nakayama, a former elite Finance Ministry bureaucrat who served as education minister from September 2005 to October 2006.

Nakayama’s group has been busier than ever lately. They are now campaigning against a resolution before the U.S. House of Representatives that demands a formal apology from Japan’s prime minister for the wartime sexual enslavement of women and girls across Asia. They have also pushed for the LDP to reinvestigate the sex slavery with an eye to watering down a 1993 official government apology.

Nakayama claims the women were professional prostitutes at frontline brothels run by private agencies, and neither the state nor the army forcibly took the women there.

Some historians estimate the sex slaves numbered up to 200,000, including those in their teens, while others say the figure was much lower.

“(Working at the brothels) was their commercial business. They were never sex slaves,” Nakayama reckoned, challenging the public testimony of scores of aging Asian and Dutch women who recalled being forcibly taken, some in their teens, to the frontline brothels and being gang-raped by Japanese troops for little or no reward.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was director general of the LDP group in the 1990s and party policy chief Shoichi Nakagawa was its chairman.

Before taking key positions in the government, Abe had openly demanded the withdrawal of the 1993 government statement by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that apologized for the “comfort women” and officially admitted the military, along with private-sector agents working at its request, forced those females into sexual slavery.

After taking office in September, Abe appears to have changed his position and repeatedly stressed that he stands by the 1993 statement as the official government view on the issue.

He also admitted that private agents for the army took some of the victims to the frontline brothels against their will.

“From the heart, I sympathize with the comfort women, who were put under extreme circumstances and suffered hardships. (We) have already expressed an apology,” Abe told an Upper House session Friday.

But Abe also keeps pointing out that no documentary evidence has been discovered to prove direct involvement by the government or army in taking the females by force — as in kidnapping — to the frontline brothels. His statement has sparked a storm of criticism from China, Taiwan, South Korea and other parts of the world.

Some experts say Abe is technically correct because no Japanese official documents dating back to before the surrender have been found, although scores of former sex slaves have testified about their ordeals.

Nobuo Ishihara, who was deputy chief Cabinet secretary when the 1993 statement was issued by Kono, claimed no government documents turned up that prove the military coerced the women into the brothels.

The government’s acknowledgment that the military was involved was based mostly on interviews of 16 women who said they were forced into sexual servitude for Japanese soldiers, he said.

“Yes, I think what Abe said was right. But he should have made the comments only after thinking how his remarks would be reported (overseas),” said Kazuhisa Kawakami, professor of political psychology at Meiji Gakuin University in Tokyo.

Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a professor at Chuo University and a leading expert on the issue, said Abe’s argument is completely off the mark.

Whether they came voluntarily, possibly by deception, to the frontline brothels or were taken by force by the army or private agents, the comfort women were effectively in a state of slavery at that point because they had no freedom and were under strict military control, Yoshimi pointed out.

Whether the victims were “recruited” by private agents or the army is also not the point, Yoshimi argued. A number of government documents have been discovered to prove the army planned the brothels, ordered them set up and was deeply involved in managing them, he pointed out.

“I don’t understand why (Abe) only tries to focus on how those women were taken there. It should be made clear that it is the army that caused this problem, not private agents (working for the army),” he said.

Amid the ongoing dispute, Abe himself may have realized the difficulty in downplaying the army’s culpability, because he appears to be trying to keep his distance from Nakayama’s group.

On Thursday, the LDP group visited Abe and asked him to reopen an investigation into the sex slaves with an eye to diluting the statement Kono made in 1993 under the administration of then Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa. Kono is now Lower House speaker.

Nakayama quoted Abe as saying at the meeting that the government will launch a reinvestigation as requested, but Abe himself later told reporters that the LDP — not the government — will probe the issue and the government will only cooperate.

“I have already said that I will stand by the 1993 Kono statement,” Abe said.

He also said he will no longer discuss his position with reporters, because his words “have not been correctly reported.” He did not elaborate.