187 scholars urge Abe to address Japan’s wartime history


Staff Writer

A group of 187 scholars of Japanese and East Asian studies have called on Japan to accurately address its history of colonial rule and wartime actions, particularly the “comfort women” who were forced to work in Japanese wartime military brothels.

In a letter sent Monday to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, the group, including Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Dower, and Ezra Vogel, professor emeritus of history at Harvard University and author of the 1979 best-seller “Japan As No. 1: Lessons for America,” said the ability to celebrate 70 years of peace between Japan and its neighbors was being undermined by the comfort women issue.

“This issue has become so distorted by nationalist invective in Japan as well as in Korea and China that many scholars, along with journalists and politicians, have lost sight of the fundamental goal of historical inquiry, which should be to understand the human condition and aspire to improve it,” the group, mostly from the U.S. and Europe, said.

Conservative and right-wing politicians, academics and media in Japan, as well as Abe, have long insisted the Japanese government and military was not directly involved in recruiting the women and did not force them to serve in comfort women stations.

“The ‘comfort women’ system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan,” the letter said.

“Much of the archive of the Japanese imperial military was destroyed. The actions of local procurers who provided women to the military may never have been recorded. But historians have unearthed numerous documents demonstrating the military’s involvement in the transfer of women and the oversight of brothels,” it added.

Estimates of the number of comfort women vary between 20,000 and 200,000, a wide gap that has fueled anger and mistrust between Japan and South Korea in particular.

“Historians disagree over the precise number of ‘comfort women,’ which will probably never be known for certain. Establishing sound estimates of victims is important. But, ultimately, whether the numbers are judged to have been in the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands will not alter the fact of the exploitation carried out throughout the Japanese empire and its war zones,” the letter said.

The letter concluded by noting that in his April 29 address to the U.S. Congress, Abe spoke of the universal value of human rights, of the importance of human security, and of facing the suffering that Japan caused other countries.

“We applaud these sentiments and urge the Prime Minister to act boldly on all of them,” the scholars said.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Of course on this issue Abe Shinzo is on the wrong side of history, so to speak, but unfortunately he holds the reins of power. He is, through Shimomura Hakubun, using that power to try to impose a distinctly false or “factually free” interpretation of history that will continue to perpetuate ignorance.

    The American government seems content enough to give and Shinzo a pass, now that the Americans have gotten some security commitments and some headway on getting the TPP through — we will leave the argument in that to another occasion. The sad part is that the American government could not be as honest and straightforward as these historians. There is real danger in falsifying the past because it misleads one in dealing the present and the future. I guess these historians are smart enough to figure that out. Too bad neither the Obama nor the Abe administrations can figure that out.

  • Maddog Blitz

    Abe san.
    You should understand that your every attempt of denying the atrocities represents by just so much a loosening of the bands of Japanese civilization. The spirit of your party’s denial inevitably throws into prominence in the Japanese community all the foul and evil creatures who dwell therein.
    No man can take part in the denial of the evil done to another human being without having his own moral nature permanently lowered. Every whitewashing of the truth in your education means just so much moral deterioration in all the Japanese children who have any knowledge of it, and therefore just so much additional trouble for the next generation of Japanese.

  • Richard Solomon

    While S Korean women get most of the attention in regards to the Comfort Women issue, Indonese and Chinese women were also forced into sexual slavery during the war. In fact, it was an Indonesian whose efforts largely led to the Kono apology in 1993.

    It does not seem likely that PM Abe will heed the advice of these 187 scholars. Perhaps the next PM will be more amenable to admitting the Japanese military’s role in these heinous acts…..only if the Japanese electorate rises up and faces this issue themselves.

  • Paul Johnny Lynn

    Considering Abe ignores the desires of the majority his own people (re: the constitution and nuclear power), it seems like misplaced optimism of the highest order to imagine he’ll listen to the words of foreign intellectuals asking him to do the very thing he has no desire to.

  • Tonyly

    “This issue has become so distorted by nationalist invective in Japan as well as in Korea and China”
    So these professors have well known that Korea and China also distort the truth (probably more than Japan). Why didn’t they at the same time ask the Korean and Chinese governments to stop distorting the history?

  • Anil Samal

    The Japanese are the most educated illiterate about their own history.
    Their understanding is that Japan was trying to save Asia from western power.
    But everyone knows what these people did in all the countries they invaded.

    The mindset has not changed after 70 years. They consider women as things which should be buy, play and destroy.

  • Hitokiri 1989

    Quite a damning indictment of Abe and his supporter’s attempts to whitewash Imperial Japan. Those scholars such as Vogel and Dower are well known Japanophiles, so it is difficult to dismiss them as “anti-Japan”.

  • Ahojanen

    Nothing new or remarkable, save that these scholars find China and Korea also responsible for making wartime history issues more complicated to resolve.

  • Yu Kondo

    Those 187 “experts”…they have no idea how much the Japanese public detests Koreans and Chinese today. They are underestimating this growing public anger that is driving Japanese to boycott anything Korean and limiting business with Chinese. This “lecturing” by a group of mostly White scholars will only serve to offend them further, and an apology from Abe will exacerbate the situation. While the Koreans and Chinese vent their anger in protest, the Japanese internalize their anger in silence, which manifests in right-leaning voting behavior and public support for conservative agenda which are counter-productive to the regional stability. Lack of apologies has caused enough problems, but a forced apology will have dire consequences. Those scholars will find out soon enough.

  • rue warwick

    I read full text of the letter signed by 187 scholars.
    I as a Japanese and strong supporter of Prime Minister Abe, I 100 % agree with what scholars wrote. As you know Mr. Abe
    admits and regrets human trafficking tragedies befallen upon ‘Comfort Women’ in the interview by Washington Post.
    I also noticed there are many Japanese names among signee but it looks to me there is no Korean name. Maybe Koreans have different opinion from that of Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Dower, and Ezra Vogel.
    I understand signee scholars practically side with mainstream Japanese view as to ‘Comfort Women’ issue and keep distant from Korean argument started in 1990’s.
    Since 1991 Koreans started to trumpet the story Japanese Imperial Army itself kidnapped as much as 200,000 girls. We regard it as willful lie to satisfy their twisted victim mentality and just to harm mutual relationship between two neighbors also in the future.
    Existence of Comfort Women or professional camp followers was no secret after WW2. They were portrayed in novels, newspapers and governmental documents.
    Most of Japanese admit that sufferings of Comfort Women were genuine and we have no wish or reason to retract government’s apology made in 1993. We wished better relationship with Koreans after 1993 apology and we didn’t imagine that the apology itself was regarded as new evidence for further claims; i.e. direct involvement of Japanese Imperial Army in abductions of as much as 200,000 girls and request for more apologies and compensations.
    It’s pity to learn that indentured labor was illegal but did exist in Japan before WW2. Many of Korean prostitute girls were sold by their parents. Few might have been cheated by pimps.
    I personally feel sorry for their sufferings but it is not correct to modify history in order to denounce neighboring country and harm mutual friendship in the future.

  • rue warwick

    We Japanese are very much aware of dark side of Japan’s past imperialism.
    And we know that we Japanese should be grateful to the fact that we enjoy peace, prosperity and freedom for 70 years.
    But at the same time it is quite pity to learn our sincere apologies had been ignored, forgotten and got stomped on.
    You might say Japan just offered half-hearted apologies, but I think that is unfair. For example, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, often described as a far-right nationalist because he visited Yasukuni shrine, also visited Seoul’s Seodaemun prison. This was where, during Japan’s rule of the Korean peninsula, colonial authorities incarcerated, tortured, and killed Korean independence leaders and their family members. Today the prison features a museum that explicitly details Japanese atrocities, and a monument to Korean independence leaders.
    Koizumi laid a wreath at the memorial and offered his “heartfelt remorse and apology for the tremendous damage and suffering Japan caused Korean people during its colonial rule.” Koizumi commented that after he viewed the prison exhibits, “I felt strong regret for
    the pains Korean people suffered during Japanese colonial rule. As a politician and a man, I believe we must not forget the pain of Korean people.”
    Koizumi’s apology was far from isolated. Another prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, gave another impressive apology during a trip to South Korea. He said: “During Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula, the Korean people were forced to suffer unbearable pain and sorrow in various ways. They were deprived of the opportunity to learn their mother tongue at school, they were forced to adopt Japanese names, forced to provide sex as ‘comfort women’ for Japanese troops, forced to provide labor. I
    hereby express genuine contrition and offer my deepest apologies for my country, the aggressor’s, acts.”
    Because these statements accepted Japanese guilt, enumerated Japanese crimes, and were offered at symbolic locations, I think they were not half-hearted apologies by any standard. And other Japanese leaders have offered several other important statements, including Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 apology that subsequent governments (including Shinzo Abe’s) have reaffirmed.
    When Kakuei Tanaka visited People’s Republic of China first time as Japanese prime minister in 1972 he made first apology towards Chinese people and after that at least more than 50 apologies were made either by prime ministers or emperor himself.
    From 1979 Japanese government had provided accumulation of 3,133 billion JPY low interest loan, 146 billion JPY grant aid, and 145 billion JPY technical aids to China.
    Japanese industries invested and transferred its technologies to China not only by economical point of view. Most of their first investments were done as atonements. First Baosteel shaft furnace plant near Shanghai was built with technical help from Nippon steel.
    We Japanese know well that our leaders have apologized, so when those gestures are ignored and Tokyo is repeatedly asked to apologize again, we naturally protest. They argue that Chinese and South Korean leaders are not truly interested in reconciliation, but are wielding the history weapon to score domestic and diplomatic points at Japan’s expense.

  • Amanda Price

    May I just draw everyone’s attention to the subject here, or rather the subjects, that is the unknown numbers of girls and woman who were violated, brutalized and raped in the belief that soldiers would perform their killing duties more efficiently if they could abuse a woman every now and then.
    The term “comfort woman” is a mask for a much more horrible reality and enables us to distance ourselves from this atrocity. Though there are no records of their deaths, many of these woman did die as a result, many more were never able to return home or lead a normal life. Many committed suicide. I will not venture to describe the fate of those who became pregnant. Yes, Japan has twice before acknowledged this heinous, large scale and systematic crime against humanity, but how is it unreasonable to expect that when the topic is raised, Japan’s leader again expresses a deep and heartfelt apology? If I were to inflict that level of suffering upon another, I would assume that my life’s mission would include doing everything within my power to right the wrong I committed. This was not a random event, but a highly organized and government sanctioned system of abuse.
    I am quite certain that most, it not all, Japanese citizens are appalled that their country could directly create and perpetuate an evil on such a large scale, but that is not the issue. The issue is that as every generation passes the suffering of these women, much like the suffering of thousands of Okinawans co-erced by the Emperor and the military to commit mass suicide or murder family members, is made a little less significant in the collective narrative. Having had their lives stolen by Japan, it is the very least thing that Japan can do to remember them, and in remembering them express what I know must surely be a deep sorrow. This is not to the shame of every Japanese citizen, but speaks to their courage and compassion, and most importantly their resolve to never again inflict such a horror on the world.
    For those who wish to dive behind the banner of the atrocities that other country’s committed they are forgetting one important factor, the women in question did not suffer as a result of those banners, they suffered as a result of this banner. We cannot negate evil through such baseless and illogical comparisons.
    I am blessed to count many from Japan as my friends and I have had the great privilege of caring for many Japanese students as an International Student Director. I have taken my students to Retirement Homes to meet with veterans of World War II and I have seen what reconciliation can achieve when it is based on honest acceptance and a desire never to repeat the mistakes of the past.
    I encourage everyone reading this article to look to their own hearts and come up with an answer to this question, what will it cost us to say ‘we’re sorry’, and what will it cost us to be silent?

  • David Lawler

    Those 187 scholars need to apply for scholarship and go back to school and study more.

    Comfort Woman equals Well Paid Prostitute

    They were not forced,

    Korea has no right to demand an apology.
    I want to see Korean government apologize to the Vietnamese people

    Please search
    Lai Dai Han

    It is not Japan’s fault the Koreans are psycopaths.

    In Korea 1 in 25 women are prostitutes
    There are over 1, 500, 000 sex workers in Korea

    In the USA there are Asian massage parlors in nearly every city that are merely houses of prostitution that employ Korean women.

    90% of all arrests for prostitution in LA every month are Korean.

    Whatever Abe says , he needs to offer no apology to Korea.

    I would rather hear Abe speak of how during 1/2 century the Japanese have become the model of a peaceful, moral, and civilized society.

    I will loose all respect for Abe if he offers even an ambiguous apology for the Well paid prostitution sanctioned by Korea ‘s own government,

    Maybe he should apologize for Japan performing so well that Korea now has a Japan inferiority complex.