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Fifty Japanese scholars attack McGraw-Hill, U.S. academics on ‘comfort women’ issue

by and

Staff Writers

In the latest salvo in an ongoing battle over history, a group of 50 Japanese scholars has chided the author of a U.S. textbook and his backers in academia for “factual errors” that the group claims no Japanese scholar would support.

In a letter in the December edition of Perspectives on History, a scholarly journal published by the American Historical Association, the group defends a government move to request revisions to a high school history textbook published by U.S. publisher McGraw-Hill.

The book contains a section covering the “comfort women” issue, which the group dissects. The move is a rebuttal to a March statement by 20 American historians slamming a push to “censor history” by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The term comfort women is a Japanese euphemism referring to women and girls who were forced to work at Japanese military brothels before and during World War II.

The December letter calls out the American academics and claims that they would have difficulty finding a single Japanese scholar to support their position.

“The title of the statement of the 20 American historians . . . is ‘Standing with Historians of Japan.’ However, even Professor Yoshiaki Yoshimi, whom the 20 American historians hold in high regard in their statement, could identify multiple factual errors in the McGraw-Hill textbook, if he were asked to do so,” the statement says. “We are afraid that, in point of fact, the 20 American historians would never be able to find a single Japanese academician with whom they could stand. It would be as if they were standing with Japanese ghosts.”

Asked to respond, Yoshimi, a professor of history at Chuo University in Tokyo and a leading researcher on the issue, declined comment, saying he is unfamiliar with the content of the textbook and in what context the disputed phrases occur.

Eiji Yamashita, a professor emeritus at Osaka City University who spearheaded the group’s rebuttal, alleges that the textbook’s section on comfort women, comprising just 26 lines, contains eight mistakes. These include the phrases “the army presented the women to the troops as a gift from the Emperor” and “At the end of the war, (Japanese) soldiers massacred large numbers of comfort women to cover up the operation.”

“These two episodes are unsupported and fictional,” Yamashita told The Japan Times, adding that he believes the phrase “A Gift from the Emperor” might have been based on a novel titled “A Gift from the Emperor,” written by Therese Park, an author of Korean descent.

He also criticized the 20 American historians for the nature of their reaction: Instead of responding to the Japanese government’s call to correct the information, they took it to task for trying to do so.

“As scholars, they should have verified (the information) when they were informed of those mistakes,” Yamashita said.

Michiko Hasegawa, a professor emeritus at Saitama University and a governor at public broadcaster NHK, said she signed the protest letter because it was “meticulously” researched.

However, she said, the statement was not an attempt to impose her group’s views about comfort women on the American side. Rather, it was aimed at pointing out and criticizing the textbook’s mistakes, while also urging the American historians to correct errors in the historical record.

“Conveying information that contains even one mistake to younger generations is just inappropriate,” Hasegawa said. “There’s nothing more or nothing less to it.”

The American side, on the other hand, says its focus — as well as that of the letter — has always been on the larger issue of academic freedom in Japan and what some see as attempts to whitewash history.

“We do not make claims about the content of the textbook,” Alexis Dudden, a professor of history at the University of Connecticut and the main organizer of the group, said in an email. “Our concern was and remains with two basic features of historical research in an open society such as Japan.

“First, academic freedom; and second, the repression and denial of a proven international history — the brutal mid-20th century system of state-sponsored sexual slavery throughout the Empire of Japan.”

In January this year, textbook co-author Herbert F. Ziegler said representatives of the Japanese government had contacted him to demand a rewrite.

Andrew Gordon, a professor of history at Harvard University’s Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies and a signatory to the March statement, said this is what the U.S. statement centered on.

“(It) objected to the intervention of the Japanese government, which sent its officials directly/uninvited/unannounced to the office of the textbook author, demanding deletion or correction,” Gordon said in an email.

Meanwhile, the Japanese statement goes on to say that the American side has “never mentioned” the U.S. government’s Interagency Working Group, which worked for years to locate and recommend for declassification secret U.S. records relating to Nazi and Japanese war crimes, paying special attention to records related to areas such as the comfort women issue.

The IWG’s April 2007 final report stated that it could not find any documentation among the formerly classified papers it researched to show that the Japanese government had committed war crimes with respect to the comfort women issue.

However, a set of introductory essays entitled “Researching Japanese War Crimes” released by the IWG in 2006 just ahead of the final report makes specific note that “at the close of the war, Japanese authorities hid or destroyed much evidence of the country’s war crimes.” In this, it cited the vast disparity in the numbers of surviving documents that relate to war crimes committed by Nazi Germany as opposed to those of Imperial Japan.

According to the IWG’s findings, while there were nearly 8.5 million documents relating to Nazi war crimes, there were a mere 142,000 deemed relevant to Japanese war crimes.

“While it is standard practice for governments to destroy evidence in times of defeat, in the two weeks before the Allies arrived in Japan, various Japanese agencies — the military in particular — systematically destroyed sensitive documents to a degree perhaps unprecedented in history,” Daqing Yang, one of several independent historians employed by the IWG, wrote in an introductory essay.

Still, Yoshimi, the Chuo University professor, stressed that not all the documents related to the issues have been destroyed.

“There are many records that have been left and they may serve as evidence,” Yoshimi said. Victims’ testimonies as well as memoirs written by former soldiers should also be considered as historical evidence, he added.

Yamashita, however, argued that victims’ testimonies are often unreliable, citing a widely criticized practice in Japan where court rulings are highly dependent on suspects’ confessions, often made under made duress, which in turn often lead to false accusations of crimes.

Yamashita said while the victims have not sued any specific perpetrators, they have used their public statements to try to impose “responsibility” on a foreign government. This, he claimed, makes their testimony “even less reliable.”

“Some of those who have testified might be telling the truth, but how can it be confirmed?” Yamashita asked.

Dudden disputed this, calling the group’s latest push an effort to “will away the living victims of history.”

“There are 46 remaining registered South Korean survivors of the Empire of Japan’s state sponsorship of an egregious human rights crime: sexual slavery,” Dudden said. “These surviving women have been acknowledged as ‘real’ by prior Japanese administrations as well as countless Japanese historians, journalists, and others concerned with this history.

“These women are not ghosts; rather, they are human beings who bear physical witnesses to the history they endured.”

As for the Japanese group’s claims that the U.S. scholars may have wilfully ignored the IWG report’s final findings, Dudden called this a nonstarter.

“This report had nothing to do with our discussion — it is alarmingly apparent that the ‘Gang of 50’ did not even bother to learn that some of our signatories were part of that 2007 commission’s expert assistance,” she said, describing the Japanese historians who put their names to the statement.

Today, Dudden said, the plight of the comfort women has particular relevance.

“Under what conditions they became involved, in whose name and for what purpose, and how they disappeared are issues that continue to hold deep significance precisely because we need to learn from this history in order to stem its recurrence today and in the future,” she said.

“I think of Boko Haram and (the Islamic State group’s) current use of sexual slavery as a weapon of war critical to why denying away historical evidence is so deeply retrograde.”

Dudden said the current climate in Japan raises questions about continued access to the historical record.

“Will these materials and these historians be declared ‘state secrets’ under Abe administration-related efforts such as this letter? Will it become possible in today’s Japan to declare that this history did not happen, when many of us in Japan and around the world possess historical materials that prove it took place?”

  • Liars N. Fools

    This is yet another history denial move by the rightist historical revisionist movement, enabled by the revionist Abe Shinzo and the Nippon Kaigi. Far from restoring Japan’s honor, these people dishonor Japan.

  • Steve Jackman

    As an American and having lived in Japan as an expat for over a decade, I find the Japanese attempts to create its own reality in many areas, not just limited to sexual slavery during WWII, extremely disturbing.

    It takes a huge ego, arrogance and hubris for anyone to think that they can just go ahead and create their own reality just because they think so, regardless of facts and plenty of evidence to the contrary.

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    The more these people try to bully historians of the free world, the more attention they draw to japan’s shameful revisionism, white-washing, denials, and lack of contrition over the exceptionally brutal crimes committed by Imperial Japanese forces. These is no reasoning with these type of people, they are not interested in actual facts and reality, but rather brow-beating the world into giving Japan respect (which is counter-productive)- in fact, their ‘pride’ can only come from successful bullying of the international community to be complicit in their willful amnesia.
    Fortunately for everyone, the more these bullies stamp and stomp and whine, the more negative attention they draw to Japan precisely when Japan is hoping that record numbers of NJ tourists and the Olympics and Rugby World Cup will help their ailing economy, means that they can only sour Japan’s international image and put people off visiting and spending money.
    Pride doesn’t put food on the table.
    Whatever they say, the memory of The Greatest Generation and The Good War is inviolable, and precludes any backing down to Japanese right-wing bullies who don’t even understand their own country’s history.

  • Richard Solomon

    What an unfortunate, albeit with some reflection not surprising, attempt by Japanese scholars who are more invested in rewriting the history of the Comfort Women than they are in supporting the truth. They claim that Professor Yoshimi could find factual errors in the textbooks if he chose to. However, he refuses to comment on this when asked to. Perhaps this is because he sees the folly of these 50 scholars’ thinking?

    All of this seems to me to be a case of the following: shoot the messenger (the American scholars) if you don’t like and cannot really disprove their message. This is not scholarship based on the inclusion of ALL the facts. It is politically motivated character assassination!

  • Vixzer

    There was no “comfort women”, there was “raped, violated women.”

  • annupri

    “First, academic freedom; and second, the repression and denial of a proven international history”
    Says Alexis Dudden. So much for this american boss who didn’t even join the protest to protect Park Yu-ha for academic freedom.
    Yoshimi didnot comment simply because he knew those factual errors.
    Just a Coward.
    It’s much more difficult to prove what didnot take place. Hold on! Gang of 50

  • Meg Nakano

    “It takes a huge ego, arrogance and hubris for anyone to think that they can just go ahead and create their own reality just because they think so, regardless of facts and plenty of evidence to the contrary.”

  • manilamac

    I fail to understand the presumption of hostility the 50 scholars & the gov’t of Japan seem so invested in. Who do they think (in the English speaking world, where the textbooks would be in use) has anything to gain by falsely accusing Japan? Why would historians of international standing risk their academic credibility & entire careers by making unsubstantiated claims? For the simple purpose of humiliating Japan? I hardly think so. To triumph over Japan in the Globalized marketplace? Don’t think that would work—transnationals do plenty of business in countries that are *current*
    hot-spots of sex-slavery.

  • skattan

    Eiji Yamashita is an economist, not a historian. B.A. in economics from Keio Gijuku University in 1970, and Ph.D in Economics from Osaka City University in 2003. His publications include “The Regime Transformation of International Monetary System: the Case against Floating Exchange Rates Revisited” (Toyokeizai-shinposha in Tokyo in September 2010) and “The European Economic and Monetary Union; Its Making and Lessons for Asia” (Keiso Shobo, July 2002).

    Michiko Hasegawa, 67, is a professor emeritus at Saitama University who specializes in comparative ideology and Japanese cultural studies. In an essay distributed in 2013, Hasegawa praised Shusuke Nomura, an extreme nationalist who committed ritual suicide in the offices of the liberal Asahi newspaper in 1993 in protest at its mockery of his rightwing group. Hasegawa has also contributed an article to the Institute for Historical Review, an organisation known for its denial of the Holocaust and shoddy research and use of pseudo-science to bolster its assertions.

    Neither are historians; the question of whether or not they are scholars is open to debate.

  • Michele Marcolin

    I agree with Steve Jackman statement. Japanese tend to live in their own world, with their own self-supported value and vision, expecting everybody to appreciate them. And when they are correctly criticized, they get mad. It is true for tourism and omotenashi, where they do not minimally consider what guests are after, but tend to impose their view of what a customer/guest should be receiving (and when not appreciated are deleted and offended) and it hold true for history. This one in particular is a nonsense rebuttal, since it does not denie the fact. It just question some statements about a fact otherwise sustained by other evidence. The Japanese historians criticizes the lack of evidence for some statements, but they themselves bring no evidence for their opposite position. Argumenta ex silentio are never good in history.

  • Al_Martinez

    The December letter calls out the American academics and claims that they would have difficulty finding a single Japanese scholar to support their position.

    A comment on the freedom of expression in Japanese academia rather than support for the comfort women deniers.

    “As scholars, they should have verified (the information) when they were informed of those mistakes,” Yamashita said.

    Wow! How arrogantly presumptuous.

    “Conveying information that contains even one mistake to younger generations is just inappropriate,” Hasegawa said. “There’s nothing more or nothing less to it.”

    Then, I guess, Hasegawa would allow American scholars to pore over and carry out extensive change in the current works of fiction that pose as texts in the J-school system.

  • skattan

    “Fifty Japanese scholars…”
    Scholars my patootie.

  • skattan

    “Fifty Japanese scholars…”
    Scholars my patootie.

  • Jamie Bakeridge

    Regardless of who is correct here, the damage this argument is doing to the international image of Japan is incalculable. How has the Japanese government allowed this to get so out of control? They are being made to look foolish by the South Koreans who are light years ahead in terms of messaging and commanding the media debate. This comes down to diplomacy – and Japanese diplomacy is infantile at best.

  • J.P. Bunny

    “How dare those Americans try and distort Japanese history. That’s our job.”

  • skattan

    The “scholars” who signed the letter are a parcel of rogues. They include:

    Hidetsugu Yagi, a professor of constitutional law at Reitaku University, former chair of the Japan Society for History Textbook Reform, a group that criticised many existing Japanese school texts claiming they had a “masochistic view of history.”

    Shiro Takahashi, former deputy chairman of the same Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform.

    Tadae Takubo who is Vice President of Nanjing Massacre denier Yoshiko Sakurai’s Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.
    Other “scholars” signing the letter who are associated with Sakurai’s institute include Yasuo Oh-Hara (Ohara), Takashi Ito, Minoru Kitamura, Shiroh Takahashi, Taikin Tei, Akira Momochi, Toshio Watanabe, Yoichi Shimada, and Tsutomu Nishioka,

  • Ariko Honda

    Americans try to take the moral high ground here, but conveniently forget the way they justify dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the way they tried to whitewash history by not presenting the facts to the public at the Smithsonian on the 50th anniversary of the bombs being dropped on civilians.

  • Ariko Honda

    Americans try to take the moral high ground here, but conveniently forget the way they justify dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the way they tried to whitewash history by not presenting the facts to the public at the Smithsonian on the 50th anniversary of the bombs being dropped on civilians.

  • thedudeabidez

    ““(It) objected to the intervention of the Japanese government, which sent its officials directly/uninvited/unannounced to the office of the textbook author, demanding deletion or correction,” Gordon said in an email.”

    The same tactics of intimidation they are using against the press in Japan.

  • annupri

    Reading majority opinions posted so far, I cannot help thinking those posters have actually nither read, nor even interested in knowing what 50 gangs tried to point out…
    Just like Alexis Dudden and 19 other american historians who completely rejected opening constructive dialogue, they are no interested in details whatsoever.
    American high school students would probably try to remember 200k teenage mostly Korean, young girls abducted, raped and killed by IJA to mark high score in history exams.

  • johnniewhite

    I am disappointed to read this piece as the authors have astonishing fantasic misconceptions about the Abe administration (re: censorship on historical issues) as well as the whole concept of the so-called ‘comfort women’ (re: great majority of them were not forced to serve as such).

    I cannot understand why some historians conclude that Japan destroyed the evidence for CW-related documents. The non-existence normally and naturally indicates non-existence. But to me their view was based on their fantasic interpretation that has no historical and factual basis. Ms Dudden’s activities have often been seen from the supporter of activists in ROC as if her role is to fan the flame of hatred towards Japan. There should be close scrutiny of the surviving comfort women — there have been a number of reports pointing out that they are abused by the political activists, and forced to say lies. Historians must remain impartial when interpreting historical facts and evidence. They must not be abused by political propaganda.

  • johnniewhite

    I am disappointed to read this piece as the authors have astonishing fantasic misconceptions about the Abe administration (re: censorship on historical issues) as well as the whole concept of the so-called ‘comfort women’ (re: great majority of them were not forced to serve as such).

    I cannot understand why some historians conclude that Japan destroyed the evidence for CW-related documents. The non-existence normally and naturally indicates non-existence. But to me their view was based on their fantasic interpretation that has no historical and factual basis. Ms Dudden’s activities have often been seen from the supporter of activists in ROC as if her role is to fan the flame of hatred towards Japan. There should be close scrutiny of the surviving comfort women — there have been a number of reports pointing out that they are abused by the political activists, and forced to say lies. Historians must remain impartial when interpreting historical facts and evidence. They must not be abused by political propaganda.

  • Jam Awns

    Basic 13 questions about comfort women issue related with Japan.
    (1)What Korean men were doing if their wives or daughters were abducted for sex slaves? Why did NOT those men defend women and protest against criminals?
    (2)Mayors of ALL villages in Korea were ALL Korean, NO EXCEPTION.
    What were mayors doing if so many women in their towns were abducted, raped and to be forced sex slaves?
    (3)The military police in Korea who clamp down military soldier’s misconduct were ALL Korean, NO EXCEPTION because Korean language was necessary for duty.
    What Korean military police were doing if Japanese military in Korea came to a village and took women?
    (4)About 40% of governors of prefectures (equivalent to state in the U.S.) were Korean.
    What were Korean governors doing if so many women in their prefectures were abducted, raped and to be forced sex slaves?
    (5)There was a Korean lawmaker of the House of Representatives in Tokyo.
    What was he doing and why didn’t he complain if so many women in Korea were abducted, raped and to be forced sex slaves?
    (6)There were many Korean members of the House of Loads. Their power was so strong and cannot be compared to current member of the House of Council (Similar to the U.S. Senators).
    Why didn’t they say anything if so many women in Korea were abducted, raped and to be forced sex slaves?
    (7)There were so many Korean dukes and counts as Nobleman.
    What were they doing if so many women in Korea were abducted, raped and to be forced sex slaves?
    (8)Furthermore, there were so many Korean in the Japan’s imperial family. They were Yi imperial family whose rank was higher than Japan’s imperial prince. The rank was (1) Japanese emperor, (2) Yi imperial family, (3)Japan’s crown prince.
    Why didn’t they complain if so many women in Korea were abducted, raped and to be forced sex slaves?
    (9)Just after the Asia-Pacific war, Syngman Ree came back from the U.S. He started anti-Japan campaign in the fierce manner. He started to demand money for Korean People who fought for Japan. Notwithstanding, Syngman Ree did not mention comfort women at all, even a word. Why?
    (10)Toward the Japan-Korea Basic Relation Treaty in 1965, both Japan and Korea had negotiated for 14 years. During 14 years, Korean government did not mention comfort women at all, even a word. Why?
    (Here, a disclosed confidential document mentioned that South Korea had explained Comfort Women issues to Japan and settled it on the treaty.)
    (11)From 1965 to 1991 for 26 years, Korean government and Korean mass media did not mention comfort women at all, even a word. Why?
    (12)The person started abduction story was Japanese. The abduction story was fabricated by a Japanese, Seiji Yoshida. Later he admitted his fabrication. Also, Cheju Newspaper in Korea, August 14, 1989 had revealed“Coerced comfort women by Japan is fiction” U.N. Coomaraswamy report E/CN.4/1996/53 in 1996 and United States House of Representatives proposed House Resolution 121 in 2007 were based on such Seiji Yoshida’s perjury. Revised U.S. resolution 121 report removed Yoshida’s perjury on April 3 2007 but its public hearing on Feb 25 2007 was based on the Yoshida’s perjury.
    Why does Korea still want to stick the Yoshida’s perjury?
    (13)Korea accepted the apology of Kono DANGO but still require further apology. Therefore, Japan tried to review Kono DANGO due to insufficient. However Korea criticized Japan in order not to review the Kono DANGO.
    Why does Korea criticize making the past to be recognized honestly and fairly and to be accounted clearly?

    Korean, Japanese, Taiwanese and people in Sakhalin were considered as people evenly protected/embraced by Japanese Emperor. If Korean women and children were taken forcibly to be sex slaves, Emperor Showa would never have allowed that.

  • jcbinok

    Can’t disagree with you there. Started school in USA, mid-70’s, yet the first time I really considered the Vietnam War was after seeing Stallone’s: First Blood. That just wasn’t a topic discussed in school at the time.

  • 大千釜 創雷

    I love how nearly none of these Japan Times readers branding the Japanese historians as “revisionists” or “right wingers” are making no mention of their claims. They firmly believe that everyone who disputes the Comfort Women issue is a right winger and that none of his claims is worth looking into.

  • surya

    In a war situation atrocities get committed by all sides. German women were raped by allied forces, where is the apology. See the movies FURY, a recent movie to have an idea. Japanese soldiers were also massacred with no sympathy. Nuclear bombs were unnecessary, already Japan had lost the war by that time, but still not one but two atomic bombs were exploded in cities. That is the worst atrocity in modern history to speak of.

  • Toolonggone

    Is it any wonder that overwhelming majority of these ’50 Shades of Grey’ are right-wing academic pundits pledging allegiance to Abe and LDP? Amazing their desperate attempt to give credit to themselves by quoting Yoshiaki Yoshimi–even though he is NOT on the issue.

  • disqus_vBekJrf7g5

    I hope this gang of 50 get lots of press coverage! G7 in Ise, Rugby World Cup, Olympics; Japan has got everything to lose and nothing to gain from this revisionism! Go revisionist but-jobs! Show the whole world that Japan has been faking all along!

  • johnniewhite

    I noticed that The Japan Times published his letter today (18 December) as well.

  • Kobo Inamura

    Professional scholar wll start discussions or debate with an open mind, and it is unfair to begin the one sided attack by calling “Gang of 50” labalelling insults and politicking assault without any substantial findings. Japanese are usually quiet people but we are proposing the revision of a baldly compiled American high school text book for the betterment of understandings based on the historical facts. The Japan times is very much slanted and biased as if it is only politicking or kind of war propaganda which totally neglects facts and sincerity. I am one of those Academicians in Japan who signed the letter to the editor of the Amierican HIsoty Associations magazine together with Professor emeritus Eiji Yamashita as a rebuttal to the arrogant villainity shown by the American twenty herd (even if not Gangs). At least I am comitted to plant the trees of facts and evidences along the shores of civilizations and countries.

  • Naoko Koike

    We are so much looking forward that Korean government show us what they call the robust evidences that prove hundreds of thousands of Korean women were kidnapped and coerced to become comfort women by Japanese Army. The evidences that Korean government disclosed so far are a payroll slip, bank transaction details and some advertisement of recruiting by agents. Unfortunately, this year, Korean government abandoned the registration of “Korean Comfort Women Issue” to the UNESCO Memory of the World because they did not have any documentation to submit. What they have is only testimonies.
    We are really really looking forward to see the documentation that prove what Korean government has been insisting is correct.
    We don’t want to see a Korean professor facing prosecution due to her research on Comfort Women. We don’t want to see Korean government export hundreds of thousands of Korean women for prostitution overseas.
    What we want to see is the documented evidences, so that this kind of dispute will never be brought by Japanese scholars.