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.