On May 5, in an open letter in support of historians in Japan, an international group of 187 scholars (of which I am one) urged Japan to acknowledge and atone for the forced prostitution that occurred during wartime, stating: "Denying or trivializing" what happened to the "comfort women" is "unacceptable."

There are many instances of sexual violence in wartime, but the letter, which has already been widely circulated on the Internet and has been the topic of numerous news reports, says, "The 'comfort women' system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan."

The scholars note disagreement over how many women were involved, but stress that "large numbers of women were held against their will and subjected to horrific brutality" in what was a brutal and "inhumane system." The letter goes on to call for further research that is "free from government manipulation, censorship and private intimidation."