National / History

Japanese historians seek revision of U.S. textbook over ‘comfort women’ depiction

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

A group of 19 Japanese historians and scholars plan to file a protest with U.S. publisher McGraw-Hill, claiming a history textbook it published in 2011 contains a number of “factual errors” on the “comfort women” issue.

Comfort women is a euphemism used in Japan to refer to women and girls who were forced to work at wartime Japanese military brothels during the 1930s and 1940s.

The group, represented by historian Ikuhiko Hata, said the number of women cited in the book — 200,000 — is too large.

Hata, a professor emeritus at Nihon University and a noted expert on Japanese military history, estimates the number at about 20,000.

The group also said the textbook’s assertion that Japanese soldiers “massacred large numbers of comfort women to cover up the operation” is not supported by any historical evidence.

If Japanese soldiers massacred comfort women, the postwar Tokyo Tribunals or other war crime trials for officers of lower rank would have addressed such incidents, the group said, but there are no records of any such massacres.

The textbook, titled “Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past,” was co-authored by historians Herbert Ziegler and Jerry Bentley.

“The sentences (on comfort women) are written in 26 lines. I’ve never seen such a short text that contains so many errors,” Hata said during a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Tuesday.

Hata told The Japan Times on Wednesday that the group will soon send a letter requesting “corrections” to McGraw-Hill.

The Foreign Ministry has already complained to the publisher over the textbook, although it has not made public what specifically it called “grave errors” on comfort women in the book.

The textbook states “the Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted and dragooned as many as two hundred thousand women age fourteen to twenty to serve in military brothels.” It also says a majority of the comfort women were Koreans and Chinese.

Hata said that of his estimate of 20,000, he believes Japanese accounted for about 8,000 and made up the largest segment, followed by Koreans at 4,000.

According to him, as of 1943 about 1 million Japanese soldiers were deployed overseas excluding Manchukuo, in present-day northeastern China, where Hata believes the army mainly used state-regulated private brothels instead of “comfort stations.”

If there had been 200,000 comfort women, and each serviced five soldiers a day — as was cited in one U.S. military document — Japanese soldiers would have spent so much time in the brothels that they would had little room to engage in combat or any other activity, Hata argued.

No records or other historical material have been found to show the number or nationalities of comfort women, although media reports have often quoted estimates of 100,000 to 200,000.

Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a leading historian on the topic, argues that there were at least 50,000 comfort women, assuming one female was allocated for every 100 troops.

The group of Japanese scholars also claimed the military did not directly recruit the comfort women, and that this was mainly done by private-sector brokers.

As far as the Korean Peninsula is concerned, mainstream historians, including Yoshimi, agree that it was private-sector brokers, not the Japanese government or military, that mainly recruited the women, as claimed by the group.

But in China, the Philippines and Indonesia, many women were forcibly taken by Japanese soldiers to military brothels and were forced to work there.

Today, the government argues such incidents were isolated crimes by individuals, not committed by the Japanese military or the government because these actions were not based on any orders.

Meanwhile, left-leaning historians say that the victims in China and Southeast Asia were also “forcibly recruited” by the Japanese military.

The comfort women issue has long been a thorny topic between South Korea and Japan, and continues to draw emotional reactions from various quarters.

After the Foreign Ministry complained to McGraw-Hill, 19 U.S.-based historians slammed the ministry and supported the authors for refusing to revise their descriptions.

“We support the publisher and agree with author Herbert Ziegler (who wrote the comfort women section) that no government should have the right to censor history,” the group wrote in February in a letter to the editor in the March edition of the scholarly journal Perspectives on History.

Yoshimi believes about half of the comfort women were Korean, citing one Imperial army document on sexually transmitted diseases among Japanese soldiers in China up to 1940, which breaks down the females who infected them according to their nationality.

The document states that Koreans accounted for 51.8 percent, Chinese 36 percent and Japanese 12.2 percent. Yoshimi believes most of them were comfort women.