Never mind the facts — logic alone demolishes ‘comfort women’ deniers’ case


Having decided early that I was likely to eat better as a lawyer than a historian, I had planned on sitting out the latest incarnation of the “comfort women” debate. Yet some of the arguments made by deniers of Japanese military involvement in wartime sexual slavery are so ridiculous that I thought they merited a slightly belated column, in part because they are relevant to how things sometimes still work in Japan today.

Comfort women were rounded up from Korea and elsewhere and put to work as sex slaves for the Japanese military. Deniers accept that serving the sexual needs of Emperor Hirohito’s soldiers was a serious logistic issue, and rightly point out that this was the case for other combatant nations as well. However, describing the women as having been coerced is to them a terrible calumny upon Japan’s honor, as is referring to them as “sex slaves.” In their version of events, comfort women responded to advertisements and worked as prostitutes at a time when the practice was perfectly legal. They did the job willingly and were paid for their efforts.

Rather than rehash old ground, let us ignore the numerous first-person accounts of women claiming to have actually been comfort women, as well as the findings of a number of historical researchers. Nor need we bother to mention an entire subset of war-crime tribunals arising from the sexual enslavement of female Dutch civilians interned when Japan conquered what is now Indonesia. Finally, we must resist the urge to cite past admissions of culpability by Japan’s own postwar government, including involvement in the establishment of a compensation fund and apologies by past Japanese prime ministers. According to the Deniers, these are all the result of a terrible misunderstanding caused by the shoddy yet inexplicably influential journalism of one reporter at the Asahi Shimbun.

You don’t need anything more than the central Denier argument — that comfort women were just willing prostitutes earning an honest wage exchanging services for payment — to appreciate how contextually ridiculous it is. Why? Because it hangs on the premise that these women were among an apparently privileged minority of people in Japan’s Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere who weren’t being forced to do things against their will as part of the war effort.

The list of people not so favored would be long indeed. It would start with the war-weary soldiers the comfort women serviced, most of whom were conscripts. Next would be Imperial subjects (including schoolchildren) in Japan and its colonial possessions put on a total war footing by the National Mobilization Act of 1938 and subject to compulsory labor under the National Service Draft Ordinance. Then would come the Korean men forcibly brought to Japan as laborers, not to mention the countless other people in the parts of Asia occupied by the Japanese military forced to provide work and materials to assist the war effort.

As for the comfort women being paid, even if that was true in every single instance (a giant if!), so what? Japanese conscripts were paid too, but it didn’t make their participation in the war and the suffering they endured any more “voluntary.” Even allied POWs forced to work in brutal conditions at gunpoint were theoretically being paid for their labors — that was a requirement of the 1929 Geneva Convention on the Treatment of Prisoners of War, which Japan did not ratify but made a “qualified promise” to follow. Payment doesn’t make it any less accurate to characterize them as having been used as “slave labor” or subjected to “torture” comprising war crimes.

Oh, and under the Geneva Convention, POWs who were officers did not have to perform manual labor unless they volunteered. Guess what: A lot “volunteered,” though beatings and bayonets may have encouraged them to do so in many instances.

You see, the Denier argument involves an almost willful blindness to how much scope there is for coercion in a wartime environment dominated by stressed-out men carrying lethal weapons who have devoted themselves to the task of killing other people.

It also demonstrates an impressive degree of ignorance as to how human trafficking — and thus a lot of prostitution — works even in peacetime, with either some form of coercion or, at the very least, calculated deceit being used to get women on trains, planes or boats “voluntarily” to wherever the brothel is located. According to a 2007 U.S. Congressional Research Report, “the evidence points to deception as a common practice of military and military contractor procurers.”

Insistence by Deniers that comfort women all willingly submitted to their roles deserves attention because the fiction of consent still looms large in the shadows of Japan’s famous social order and supposed love of harmony. I like not fighting with my neighbors and gunshot-free school zones as much as the next guy, but if you have spent any time in Japan, you have likely become accustomed to hearing explanations like “It has been decided” or “That’s how things work.” In other words, you and everyone else are supposed to voluntarily follow a rule without understanding who made it or why.

The same dynamic exists in more formal situations as well. Oxymoronically, mandatory “agreements” are the basis for how NHK fees are collected. Coerced consent also features in the criminal justice system: You “voluntarily” accompany a cop to the station where you stay “voluntarily” until you “voluntarily” make a confession that is the basis for arresting you and detaining you further until you “voluntarily” sign a more detailed confession suitable for convicting you in court. By the time you get before the judge, the burden is on you to prove your innocence — i.e., that your confession was coerced.

Fictional consent is the oil that keeps the wheels of justice moving smoothly. The civil and family justice systems feature a more subtle version of coerced consent, with judges sometimes encouraging settlement by threatening to rule against parties or write unfavorable findings of facts, regardless of the merits of their claims.

Japanese family law, too, assumes that most marriages and adoptive relationships are formed through the free will of the parties, but lacks significant procedures for confirming that the consent of both parties is real, or protections for parties with unequal bargaining power. In fact, Japan may be one of the minority of countries where you can discover that you have married or adopted someone without even knowing it through the magic of fraudulent family-registry filings.

Then there is the term shinjū or “joint suicide,” which assumes that lovers or family members found dead all died of their own free will rather than some of them having been murdered (sometimes the oxymoronic muri shinjū, or “forced joint suicide,” is used).

Phony assent also features in the Japanese economy in practices such as sābisu zangyō, the supposedly voluntary unpaid overtime that Japan’s salarymen are famous for enduring, not to mention gyōsei shidō (administrative guidance), by which industries “willingly” submit to mandates from governmental authorities that have no basis in law and have occasionally bordered on criminal solicitation. The ridiculous fiction that borrowers “voluntarily” paid interest above statutory usury caps enabled loan sharks to enjoy massive profits until the Supreme Court put a stop to the farce a decade ago.

Even the seemingly innocuous use of hanko (seals) to execute documents allows government agencies and businesses to assume the person whose seal has been affixed is agreeing to the transaction without bothering to confirm the reality of the consent or even the identity of the person wielding it. Until international money-laundering regulations forced Japanese financial institutions to confirm the identity of those conducting banking transactions, they were pretty much free to rely on possession of a bank book and seal as evidence of the account holder’s consent to whatever happened to the money.

While convenient, these systems of fictional or assumed consent also make it easier for the strong to prey on the weak. More importantly, however, they absolve the authorities who operate them of responsibility for the results.

This brings us to another Denier claim: that Japanese military or civil authorities were not directly involved in whatever “systems” were developed for sexually satisfying Japanese troops. While we might be tempted to refer again to the Congressional Research Service findings that “the evidence describes the involvement of the Japanese military at all stages in the operation of the system,” we can address this argument at face value too because it is simply vacuous. When it comes to government, the difference between having a system and not is irrelevant to the people who suffer as a result.

Furthermore, “nongovernmental system” systems are an obvious part of daily life in Japan. The Japanese government has no system for regulating slot machine gambling or prostitution because both are illegal. Yet the nation has plenty of slot machines and sex workers and heavy police involvement in the existence (or if you prefer, “nonexistence”) of both. It would also be true to say that there is no system for coercing confessions because, well, that would be unconstitutional. Nonetheless, it sure seems to happen with disturbing frequency.

Returning to our historical context, it would also be technically correct to say that Japanese soldiers never systematically used Chinese POWs for bayonet practice because there were no such things as Chinese prisoner of “war,” at least not until Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist government formally declared war on Japan on Dec. 9, 1941 — four years after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident served as a pretext for armed intervention on the Chinese mainland. The conflict not being a “war” in legal terms, the Japanese military never put in place systems for looking after Chinese prisoners, leaving them as burdensome “enemy combatants” to be dealt with by the combat units that captured them in the first place.

Whether there were “systems” in place is irrelevant to whether unarmed Chinese prisoners died violent premature deaths or helpless women were forcibly penetrated by Japanese soldiers. These were all intentional acts that caused harm for which people can be held responsible because they were part of a larger tragedy: Japanese military aggression and all that sprang from it. Here is where the Denier arguments are at their most facile, because they seem to assume that Japan’s war was some sort of natural disaster for which nobody was responsible. Yet identifiable responsibility is arguably one of the most important features of civil society, particularly the responsibility of people who govern and wield the power to harm.

For the reflexively-defensive-of-Japan, I will close by noting that with my own country of birth having just disclosed how it “tortured some folks” a shameful six decades after war-crimes tribunals convicted Japanese military men for torturing POWs and murdering civilians, there may well be no moral high ground left to squabble over (if there ever was any in the first place). Perhaps honest debate may be the only thing left for any of us to aspire to in the post-Obama age.

Colin P.A. Jones is a professor at Doshisha Law School in Kyoto. Law of the Land appears in print on the second Thursday Community Page of every month. Comments: community@japantimes.co.jp

  • johnniewhite

    This is yet another propaganda article carried by JT to engage with Japan bashing armed with the lies of the past by the liberal papers such as Asahi Shimbun and liberal lawyers. Something has to be done to stop this kind of activities that do not help anyone other than those greedy and dirty people in Japan as well as those holding power at present in China.

  • Ahojanen

    Sorry Colin, your discussion is very tedious, lack of sensemaking, and apologetic despite (or because of :)) your profession at school.

    One thing is crystal-clear (on which you seem to agree…reluctantly?): Japan is cleared of all criminal charges relating to comfort women namely state-planning forced recruitment. Innocent until proven guilty. End of story.

    If you are putting it into the question of morality, that’s fine. But I’d be able to address innumerable “slavery” stories and even counter-evidence. Or much beyond the comfort women, would you like me to bring up other immoral, despicable acts by the Allied, namely the Atomic Holocaust? Shame on you.

  • Fred Orangefield

    Doshisha University is well known for strong Zainichi presence. Perhaps Professor Colin Jones wrote this article for those people in mind? It is not appropriate to publish such a heavily biased article of this kind in the Japan Times. It is not the Korean Times.

  • Hiruto

    I have to disagree with the first two posters.
    Johnniewhite: All your post amounts to is name-calling. If you’re so convinced of the wrongness of the claims in this piece, you should debate content not just launch an ad hominem attack.
    Ahojanen: Japan has not been cleared of these charges. Specifically the governments of Japan, the USA and the Netherlands have concluded wrongdoing of Japan in this case.
    Of course other countries have acted despicably at times. The US had already been mentioned and what happened after the war in the Dutch East Indies was also morally wrong. This does not have any bearing on the case however.

    • johnniewhite

      If you follow all my post in JT or Disquis, then you must surely know all my evidence and supporting argument I gave in the past. I don’t want to repeat myself.

    • Oliver Mackie

      “This does not have any bearing on the case however.”

      If you think that then you really don’t understand the debate here in Japan at all. The Debate is ALL about holding some countries to certain standards (and ‘convicting’ them as ‘war criminals’) and not holding certain others (who were in fact those who “concluded wrongdoing”) to those standards.

      Yes, I know “two wrongs don’t make a right” but you can’t expect one group of wrongdoers to admit they were wrong whilst others do not: it’s basic human nature. And no, there’s no validity in the argument that at that certain point in history ‘international standards had changed’ especially when some of the countries in question had not ratified certain ‘international agreements.’

      • Hiruto

        I get what you’re saying, I really do. The reaction to the recent torture report in the US, basically sweeping under the rug the kind of behaviour that Japanese were convicted for after WWII, shows the hypocrisy of some.
        On the other hand I can’t ignore how different things played out in Germany. After WWII they were truly apologetic without hemming or hawing and taking back of apologies. I think Japan would have been better served with a more similar approach. Now the whole discussion is just a rallying cry for nationalists on all sides.

      • Ahojanen

        FYI, Japan officially apologised for its mistreatment of US POWs in 2009. Please don’t stay ignorant of or play down Japan’s postwar reconciliation efforts.

        Germans have not apologised some of their war crimes. All their apologies is aimed for the Holocaust which is NOT a war crime. Persecutions against Jews or “non-Aryan” races already took place prior to WWII.

      • Hiruto

        Yes there have been apologies, but there have also been qualifications on past apologies, political shows of going to Yasukuni shrine, plans for ‘more positive’ retelling of national history in textbooks etc. I would say a majority of Japanese people and politicians have actually been apologetic, but a significant part of the establishment has seemed to want to reverse this stance.
        As for your second point, I hope you are not serious when you say genocide is not a war crime or the Holocaust does not amount to genocide. That is both factually incorrect and morally reprehensible. Mistreatment of minority groups did also take place before the official start of war, but that does not mean that those crimes committed during war are not war crimes

      • Ahojanen

        I don’t think further apology is necessary. Let’s stick to the article story while I have my thoughts on Yasukuni and textbook issues.

        Only on the second point, quickly. You should not be confused between war crimes and crimes against humanity (including genocides). The two are different by nature although they often concur especially at a conflicting moment.

        I also never downgrade crimes against humanity. On the contrary. Another good example would be A-bombings devastating civilian and non military targets. It is more than a war crime, thus I prefer to call it Atomic Holocaust. It is the US who should follow German’s suit, no?

      • KenjiAd

        I also never downgrade crimes against humanity. On the contrary. Another
        good example would be A-bombings devastating civilian and non military
        targets. It is more than a war crime, thus I prefer to call it Atomic

        For your information, use of “holocaust” (with or without capital “H”) to describe other human atrocities tends to offend the actual Holocaust survivors and most historians.

        Holocaust stands alone, not just in its sheer scale, but for the fact that it was a governmental policy to exterminate human beings merely based on the victim’s race.

        Other atrocities, including Nanking Massacre and strategic bombing campaigns, including A-bomb, carried out by both Allied and Axis powers, are not “holocaust.”

      • Ahojanen

        Got it, though I don’t see Nazi’s programme something special and incomparable to any other historic genocidal cases by objective criteria.

        What do you say about the “Ground Zero”? It originally means the A-bomb drop point of the Hiroshima city. This special word is “stolen,” now often referred to the former WTC-site under 911 attack. Agreed with careful word use, but let’s be fair.

      • Simon

        “Germans have not apologized some of their war crimes.” How can you say that! Go to Berlin and many other places in Germany and you see how they are miles ahead in terms of making up their past comparing to Japan! You’ve no idea.
        I often miss the awareness of the wrongdoings, a kind of humbleness concerning the past – very different from the Germans. In Germany it is common sense that just idiots defend the Holocaust, nobody takes them serious.

        Holocaust not a war crime? What else is a war crime if not the Holocaust? Absurd!

      • Ahojanen

        Check my post above, as you also seem mistaken and confused between war crimes and crimes against humanity (including Holocaust).

        I’ve been oftentimes visiting Germany as living nearby. I know much better than you regarding its postwar-reconciliation. Germans (were allowed to) focus on the case of Holocast while exempting from a number of war crimes. Do you know the German military also held comfort women? They forced women into sex service (and unlike the Japanese case, there are proven records). Germany has yet to apologise for it.

        Postwar Germans are also lagerly “saved” thanks to active forgiveness of neighbouring European countries namely France (and Soviet for East Germany). Why not ROK following France if Japan are to follow Germany?

        All in all German wartime history is different from Japanese one. You cannot apply the German model of apology to other cases without taking into account contexts.

      • Oliver Mackie

        I certainly agree that it might very well have been better on many fronts (international business, for example) to have simply ‘swallowed the bullet’ a la Germany. But there are a couple of interesting and relevant points:

        Firstly, there is the undenability that the Holocaust was a pre-conceived plan way from the very top. The debate about, for example, ‘comfort women’ is very much about how much this was certain elements who had taken things into their own hands and how much it was a governmental or military official policy.

        Second, I have given strong data elsewhere that whilst Germany may have a much better international image over such matters, it actually has 10 times as many right-wing radicals/neo-nazis currently. If one looks solely at this factor (though it might of course simply be correlation rather than causation) you could make an argument that rubbing the populace’s noses in the deeds of those in the past is not conducive to a more civilized society.

        As I have just recommended to another poster in a different thread with similar overtones,
        if you’re interested in a highly relevant read, I today received my copy of John H. Mearsheimer’s “Why Leaders Lie” It’s a very dry analysis of the topic as it relates to both domestic and intl politics, and deliberately sticks to ‘utilitarian’ analysis, but nevertheless is a fascinating read regarding whitewashing history, justifying pre-emptive wars, and the establishment/nurturing/revival of nationalistic feeling. Once you have absorbed his categorizations of lying, I imagine you will have your head zooming around with examples you recognize from history.

      • Hiruto

        Granted, the situations are different on a number of points. The war-time actions for one, the relations with the neighbouring countries for another.
        Although right-wing extremism is a problem, I don’t know if that factor of 10 is a realistic number. Japan also has its share of unsavoury characters. Also don’t forget that Germany has perhaps 10 times the relative amount of immigrants, and that seems to be a motivation for nationalist parties in many European countries. Anyway, much of this is beside the point. Thanks for the recommendation.

      • Oliver Mackie

        The numbers are very reliable, please check my posts on Disqus elsewhere if you wish to see them. But as you point out, it may well be due to other factors, such as the number of immigrants etc.

    • Ahojanen

      >>Ahojanen: Japan has not been cleared of these charges.

      Evidence? Not circumstantial one. Don’t know the presumed innocence-principle?

      The comfort women case has long been messed up due mostly to ignorance and confusion between criminality and morality. Here I am only trying to make it clearer paving the way for a better discussion and understanding. Criminality dismissed/unproved. Morality to be further discussed, much better put into a perspective with other comparable cases. I never claim that the wartime Japan did nothing wrong.

      • Hiruto

        There is plenty of evidence in those government reports. The debate is (at least in my mind) much more about morality than criminal culpability. For that debate to have any meaning you have to agree on certain facts though, and as for that it seems we’re walking backwards.

      • Ahojanen

        There is also plenty of COUNTER-evidence, some official ones stored at US archives, telling otherwise. No single document has so far proved a forced recruitment by Japanese military officials under an official command.

        Well, I stay sober and open-minded to any new “discovery” if surface :)

      • KenjiAd

        I think you do have a point, but probably misunderstood (or perhaps ignored?) what “Hiruto” said, particularly this one. He said,

        The debate is (at least in my mind) much more about morality than criminal culpability

        America used to have have a slavery system. It was completely legal. Yet the vast majority of Americans think it was wrong to use other human beings for that purpose.

        Do you agree with them?

      • Ahojanen

        If you attempt to bring moral debate to the comfort women case, that’s fine. Yet notice it’s another story at another level. What South Korea is seeking (in vain) is to prove criminality and liability. I simply claim it lacks evidence, never goes beyond reasonable doubts. They have not even take the burden of proof. Moral debate on the comfort women is more recent phenomenon, yet such is misleading quite many.

        In fact, Japan is not really ignorant of moral issues on comfort women. The Asian Women’s Fund, established in 1995, aimed to compensate former comfort women for their wartime hardship. This is an initiative on moral ground. I wonder if the US government has ever paid reparations to descendants of slaves on moral ground?

        Unfortunately this reparation programme was however rejected by the South Korea side, and some women who agreed on the settlement were even threatened.

      • PuyiGoroIgor

        Morality ? Japanese have NONE!!! they feign it very well though. They appear inclined to naturally do
        the evil thing even when unnecessary. The present day’s God’s scourge to humanity, if not the devils very own defilers of humanity.

  • A.J. Sutter

    As a lawyer myself and with absolutely no stake in the comfort women argument, I think this article is unsuccessful. Better to have stuck with the more direct evidence mentioned in the third paragraph, which Prof. Jones didn’t want to “rehash.” The very lawyerly attempt to argue from analogy, which takes up most of the piece, heads off into distant and speculative territory, such as talking about the use of hanko. That’s not at all persuasive.

    Despite the claims that it’s relying on “logic,” the piece could have made more fruitful use of logical quantifiers — especially, the fact that “some” doesn’t logically imply “all.” That fact cuts both ways. That some women may have been in effect enslaved doesn’t imply that all were; nor would evidence that some women were working voluntarily imply that all or even a majority were. My wife’s family has some wartime letters sent by friends of a relative, an Imperial Army officer who apparently was assassinated by his own men out of jealousy over female attention, which suggest that at least in that particular theatre of the war, some Japanese women were working voluntarily and for compensation that they were able to set aside and save. Nothing in the letters, though, suggests that those circumstances were common, much less universal; nor, conversely, that they were exceptional.

    Of course, if even some women were enslaved (and the evidence Prof. Jones explicitly sets aside does seem to suggest this), that would have been a bad thing, and its badness should be acknowledged. I won’t address here the question of whether Japanese politicians have done that adequately up to now. My point is simply that this debate — assuming it to be a sincere and rational one, and not an international shouting match conducted cynically for supposed political advantage —- would benefit from both sides’ paying more attention to nuance, not less. “Never mind the facts,” even in the rhetorical context proposed here, isn’t exactly a step in the right direction.

    • KenjiAd

      Actually I wholeheartedly agree with you. I think this article started out with a wrong premise that lumps together all the “Comfort women deniers” into one basket, and he kept hitting that basket of straw men.

      Note, for example, what “Ahojapan” is saying in this thread. Although I strongly disagree with his line of thinking, I admit that “Ahojapan” is at least not “denying” that whatever happened was bad. He seems to be just making excuses for it and probably feels it unfair to single out Japan.

      As a lawyer, Jones could have shown us what the Japanese laws on prostitution were in 30’s-40’s. Were the laws applicable to occupied territories?

      As far as I understand, prostitutes in pre-war Japan were nothing but sex slaves – although the law allowed them to quit their “job” at free will, in fact they couldn’t because most of them were bound by the debt they or their parents owed. Perhaps Prof Jones could have enlightened us on that.

      Also I wanted to know something about international laws on human trafficking, as most of “Comfort women” were moved to the areas outside of their own countries. Was Japan violating any human-trafficking laws? In other words, was it legal to move under-aged girls from one country to another? Prof Jones could have addressed this issue.

      • Hiruto

        As for the laws regarding prostitution in pre-war Japan, professor Mark Ramseyer has written an insightful account in ‘Odd markets in Japanese history: Law and economic growth’. According to him the indenture contracts were legal and the women entered by their own volition (if often forced by severe economic circumstances). These contracts did not give employers the right to force people to work. If a prostitute refused to work, legally the employer could only ask for a repayment of the debt. Quote:
        “Although prostitution was harsh work, most brothel owners were not able to manipulate indenture contracts to keep prostitutes at work indefinitely, and most prostitutes did not become slaves. Instead, licensed prostitutes generally enlisted under six-year indenture contracts. They earned (what were for them) very high incomes. Many repaid their debts in three or four years and quit early. Most of the rest quit when their contracts expired.”
        Extra-legally brothel-owners might of course have have used other methods to ensure the prostitutes did as promised in their contract.
        This would mean that, according to the legal situation in Japan proper, forcing women to do this work was definitely illegal.

      • Ahojanen

        Correction: x Ahojapan, o Ahojanen :)

        My understanding of the comfort women is neither sex slavery nor prostitution in a commercial, adult-entertaining sense. Truth may lie somewhere in between.

        All published accounts are subject to interpretation & scrutiny. And we better stop rushing to generalize a single episode or a few into the whole picture of comfort women life per se. Don’t you even know the large majority of comfort women were actually Japanese, not ethnic Koreans (well technically they were “Japanese” under the colonial rule) or other foreigners? Better first get yourself familiar with the basic background before addressing your thoughts if not compulsory here.

      • Mary Anne Hanna

        Ahojapan was meant to be an insult.

  • johnniewhite

    I see that the moderator has decided to remove those comments that are critical with the stance held by this writer whose view is heavily biased towards one direction. The Japan Times’s stance is understood — it’s not only worthless but also harmful.

  • Fred Orangefield

    Doshisha University is well known for being sympathetic to Japanese-Korean people who strongly campaign the comfort women issue. It may be that Professor Colin Jones wrote this article for those people in mind.

  • rossdorn

    Its hard to read some of the crypto-fascist garbage, without getting angry. But then, I have talked to too many mentally normal Japanese to know what probably a large majority thinks of the subject.

    Anyway… Thanks to the Japan Times for the articel and this sentence in ít: “…the arguments made by deniers of Japanese military involvement in wartime sexual slavery are so ridiculous…”

    When I wrote that a few years ago, you censored it?
    Change of policy?

  • KenjiAd

    I’ve been meaning to say this for a long time, but I’ve suppressed it because I’m Japanese and feel much affection to the culture I grew up with. But now I just want to say it and see where it sticks.

    When it comes to the issue of Comfort women, I notice that there’s something very wrong with thinking of many Japanese people – i.e., almost total lack of empathy toward those women.

    The lack of empathy just amazes me and makes me angry at the same time, because, setting aside the legal technicality, there is no question these women suffered a lot. If you are talking about the suffering of other people, there are certain things that you would never say – such as “Criminality dismissed/unproved.”

    At the same time, people who say those insensitive things are invariably ultra-sensitive when their own culture and nation are criticized. In other words, their empathy or sensitivity is spent only on their own group.

    That’s disturbing.

    Do Japanese people have a tendency to not feel much empathy to the suffering of non-Japanese, when this suffering was caused by their own action?

    I feel very sorry for those women.

  • tiger

    in war, people do horrible things, japanese or not.

    but the lack of remorse should not be your pride.

  • Ahojanen

    Are you suggesting that the comfort women case be tried and punished retroactively? I don’t really oppose to it, but please know the risk of being too judgmental on historical events. We tend to go dumb by assessing history in our present-day values.

    If you are to stress morality or justice, put other historic “unmoral” cases together into perspective for a better understanding. And it is crucial to separate history enquiry and debate from ongoing politics. I only agree to understand, not take advantage of history for political purpose.

  • Tim Groves

    Professor Jones’s article is a model of how not to write a persuasive opinion peace. It’s far too obviously one-sided and written in a snide and vitriolic vein that discourages all but the most partisan readers from engaging with it. It sets up the straw-man of cartoonish “deniers” to give the impression that this character is representative of Japanese attitudes to the comfort women issue. I don’t know where he finds such people – surely not among the teaching staff at his university? Not even the rightist writers at Will Magazine are quite so unsubtle in their views.

    Also, in the middle of the piece he goes off topic to give a personal laundry list of things about Japan and the Japanese that irritate him. He makes no attempt to analyze any of this, but just rants on like a neurotic with an overwhelming urge to vent. This may have been an attempt at sarcasm, or the result of overdosing on “The Enigma of Japanese Power”, but reading through it, I find it hard to resist quoting Bob Dylan: “Why don’t you just shove off if it bothers you so much?”

    A serious article about a serious issue doesn’t include serial references to people whose views the author disagrees with as “deniers”. Using the word “denier” in this context implies that the issue is settled and the author’s own arguments are infallible. A serious article about a serious issue doesn’t include the phrase “never mind the facts” in the title. The opinions of those of us speculating on what happened in the past are irrelevant to what actually happened in the past. What we need in order to understand the past are the relevant facts. It is the task of historians to assemble and interpret these facts impartially from the information that can be gathered. This article isn’t interested in the relevant facts. It isn’t a serious attempt to analyze anything. It’s a propaganda piece dressed up in tones of moral indignation.

    • Bruce Chatwin

      Wikipedia category: Japanese war crime deniers

      2013 Japan Times article: Resisting the historical deniers

      2013 Japan Focus article : Abe Shinzo: Japan’s New Prime Minister a Far-Right Denier

      2012 Foreign Policy magazine article: Japanese comfort- women
      deniers force White House response

    • Toolonggone

      Fact #1: Deniers are feeding many young people and those to instigate confrontation and hatred through using local language SNS(e.g., mixi, YouTube Sakura channel, 2-channel).

      Fact #2: Conservatives are making arguments based on ideology of national/cultural superiority to claim historical righteousness. This is historically proven by many countries–including but not limited to Japan, China, SK, US, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Northern Ireland, Vietnam, Cambodia, Israel, Pakistan, Cuba, Venezuela, etc. In Japan’s case, deniers are considered to be selective, but they are supported by the conservative activists and Abe’s supporters on a daily basis. These people really don’t care about the presence of physical evidence. They demand the evidence for forceful taking of victims on one hand, and admit the history of military threat, violence, abuse on the other. They are not limited to male politicians(Hashimoto, the late Nakagawa, Takeo Hiranuma). Deniers also include female activist and politicians like Yumiko Yamamoto, Yoshiko Matsuura, and Tomoko Tsujimura.

  • MM333

    A very interesting article. It’s too bad some of you might have missed the point and instead decided to jump right back into the cesspool.

    The simple point being made is that IF the comfort woman were in fact volunteers, it would be an absolutely extraordinary aberration from how Japanese society was ordered and is still ordered up to the present day. Without explaining why Japanese norms supposedly didn’t apply to these women, any theory that they were volunteers seems to crumble like a house of cards.

    As of yet, none of the comments here seem to directly address the very precise and modest argument Colin Jones is putting forward.

    • Tim Groves

      “The simple point being made is that IF the comfort woman were in fact volunteers, it would be an absolutely extraordinary aberration from how Japanese society was ordered and is still ordered up to the present day.”

      The above insinuation implies that ALL prostitutes working in Japan today are doing so under coercion, which is ridiculous. As with much of Prof. Jones’s article above, the rhetoric of this comment looks plausible until the reader starts to parse it, whereupon it crumbles like a layer of fresh snow in response to the pressure of the footsteps made through it. Anybody who wants to take a shot at debating history needs to do much better than this.

      I have no way of knowing how many of “the comfort women” were volunteers and how many if any were coerced, enslaved, or started out as volunteers and were later coerced and enslaved, or who volunteered on weekdays but were coerced on the weekends. And I have no way of knowing if the Japanese military authorities were involved. Moreover, I have no way of knowing how many of the former “comfort women” who have testified are telling the truth and how many are telling lies. I have no way of establishing the relevant facts. Experience, literature and common sense tells me that many soldiers of many armies in time of war have resorted to rape, prostitution or illicit sexual activity and that authorities have played a roll in EITHER organizing this, facilitating this, OR turning a blind eye to this, including the Japanese.

      I don’t defend the Japanese on this and I don’t need to. Any large group who claim they are victims of injustice and have the backing of governments and powerful organizations should be able to come up with enough evidence to prove their case beyond reasonable doubt without attempting to appeal to the the world’s collective emotions and without getting into racist accusations about collective guilt and national character assassination.