U.S. historians slam Abe effort to change textbook dealing with ‘comfort women’

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Nineteen U.S.-based historians have protested attempts by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration to suppress statements in U.S. and Japanese history textbooks about the “comfort women” who suffered under a brutal system of sexual exploitation during World War II.

In a letter to the editor in the March edition of “Perspectives on History,” a scholarly journal published by the American Historical Association, the group acknowledges that historians continue to debate whether the numbers of women exploited were in the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands, and what precise role the military played in their procurement.

“Yet the careful research in Japan, especially by (Chuo University professor) Yoshiaki Yoshimi, of Japanese government archives and the testimonials throughout Asia have rendered beyond dispute the essential features of a system that amounted to state-sponsored slavery,” the letter says.

The group warns that, as part of their efforts to promote patriotic education, Abe and his allies are on a quest to eliminate references to the issue in textbooks.

In November, the Foreign Ministry told the Japanese Consulate in New York to ask publisher McGraw-Hill for changes in “Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past,” its world history school textbook co-authored by historians Herbert Ziegler and Jerry Bentley.

The ministry was upset over what it said were “grave errors and descriptions that conflict with our nation” on the issue of the comfort women, without specifying what errors it was talking about.

However, a passage in the book says the Imperial Japanese Army forcibly recruited up to 200,000 women to serve in military brothels, an assertion that Abe and Japan’s right wing have long rejected.

Japanese mainstream historians say it is impossible to determine the exact number, while Yoshimi has estimated there were at least 50,000 comfort women.

Last month, Abe joined the debate, saying he was shocked at the McGraw-Hill textbook. He pledged to step up international efforts to push his administration’s view of history.

The part about the comfort women was written by Ziegler, who teaches modern European history at the University of Hawaii.

McGraw-Hill rejected the ministry’s request, saying that scholars are aligned behind the historical facts of the issue.

“We support the publisher (McGraw-Hill) and agree with author Herbert Ziegler that no government should have the right to censor history. We stand with the many historians in Japan and elsewhere who have worked to bring to light the facts about this and other atrocities of World War II,” the letter says.

  • The research of Yoshiaki Yoshimi was new to me. However, it shows there are really Japanese scholars with conscience. What I can’t understand is the fact that all Japanese media and right-wingers are only busy with Yoshda’s testmony and the Asahi Shibum. Their logic is clear: Yoshda lied and so did Asahi which used his testmony. But Yoshimi is still there! How could they convince the whole world that there were no forced comfort women?

    • soudeska

      They accuse him of “teizo” as well. I don’t know the details but if you watch Toru Hashimoto’s comfort women press conference at the FCCJ (available on Youtube) someone mention’s Yoshimi’s work and this guy stands up and says “you can’t use him as a reference! He’s teizo!” or something like that. (Teizo=fabrication)

      • I have read 5 Japanese newspapers since one year and found no mention of Yoshimi there. Even Asahi, a so-called liberal press, talks merely about Yoshida. As we know, it has apologized for citing Yoshda’s testmony but seemingly never referred to the existence of Yoshimi’s research. The right-wingers would sure always find an excuse for the denial of CW. Still, it’s mysterious fo me why Asahi has never stated that Yoshda’s tesmony is not the only point. This contributes a lot to the illusion among many Japanese that Yoshida and Asahi ruined Japan’s image.

  • timefox

    About guarantee money, South Korea should just pass comfort women the money which South Korea received from Japan by the Japan-ROK Basic Relations Treaty. Although the South Korean President’s father did not do it, it is not what present Japan should perform instead. The Japanese government’s apology to comfort women is also executed. Moreover, life assistance to comfort women was also supported in Asian Women’s Fund.

    Since this is a problem in South Korea, it should just support a life of all the comfort women in whom the South Korean government contains U.S. Forces comfort women.

    There is no freedom which doesn’t involve responsibility. If a publishing company believes it, that’s fine, but when that was a mistake, will you take responsibility?

    • eric

      Only a few women are alive from this tragedy, and it was never about the money for them. Abe’s japanese government are refusing to accept the fact it was forced. Also, they were not just raped. You should find out what else they have done to the “comfort women” and imagine what if the same thing happened to you mother, siblings, or friends.

      This is not about Korean and Japan. We are talking about humanity, ethics, and morals.

      • Ruud Thea Bisenberger

        My mother and her sister were Dutch and held in camp Moentilan during WW2 and were numerous times raped. Also young girls from this camp were forcefully taken to serve the Japanese military.Young girls ripped from their mothers arms. Girls who had no idea what was in store for them.

  • Richard Solomon

    It is reassuring to know that prominent historians and a publishing company in the USA refuse to be intimidated by PM Abe’s wishes to re-write/distort the history of the comfort women so as to conform to their illusory ideas about the Japanese government’s actions during WW II. I hope this article is also published in Japanese language newspapers and reported in Japanese on NHK and other television outlets in Japan. If it is limited to English, it will not reach the vast majority of Japanese voters. They should be reminded of the extent to which Abe and his cohorts are willing to go to reinforce their one sided self protective perspective on this shameful episode in Japan’s history.

    • JimmyJM

      I haven’t seen this information on NHK yet – and probably never will.

  • GIJ

    FYI, those 19 historians are:
    Jeremy Adelman, Princeton University
    W. Jelani Cobb, University of Connecticut
    Alexis Dudden, University of Connecticut
    Sabine Fruhstuck, University of California Santa Barbara
    Sheldon Garon, Princeton University
    Carol Gluck, Columbia University
    Mark Healey, University of Connecticut
    Miriam Kingsberg, University of Colorado
    Nikolay Koposov, Georgia Institute of Technology
    Peter Kuznick, American University
    Patrick Manning, University of Pittsburgh
    Devin Pendas, Boston College
    Mark Selden, Cornell University
    Franziska Seraphim, Boston College
    Stefan Tanaka, University of California San Diego
    Julia Adeney Thomas, Notre Dame University
    Jeffrey Wasserstrom, University of California Irvine
    Theodore Jun Yoo, University of Hawaii
    Herbert Ziegler, University of Hawaii

  • swimvalley

    > up to 200,000 women
    There is a misunderstanding, Japan government does not want to change the “shameful history”, just want to correct the obvious mistakes.
    Such kind of mistaken information is oriented from Korean propaganda ( sometimes includes Chinese ones).

    • johnniewhite

      This misinformation originated from the propaganda activity of Asahi Shimbun. It was originally a domestic battle between libereal and conservative. One must read the newspaper articles from 1980s and 90s how this issue has evolved, and taken over by Korean politics in the early 1990s, and became out of control by the end of that decade.