His­to­ri­ans fault Ja­pan on ‘com­fort women’ flak

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By HUA SHENGDUN in Wash­ing­ton

Some Amer­i­can his­to­ri­ans are urg­ing their Ja­panese coun­ter­parts not to al­low the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment to min­i­mize the preva­lence of “com­fort women” dur­ing World War II.

To mark the 70th an­niver­sary of war’s end, Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe is now “push­ing to put a gloss on Ja­pan’s wartime his­tory and, in turn, to loosen some of the post­war con­straints on its mil­i­tary”, said a re­port in The Wash­ing­ton Post on Tues­day.

A public let­ter was signed by 19 aca­demics from Prince­ton, Columbia, Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity and else­where to be pub­lished in the March is­sue of Per­spec­tives on His­tory, a mag­a­zine of the Amer­i­can His­tor­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion.

“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 said, re­fer­ring to the women who were forced into pro­vid­ing sex­ual fa­vors to the Ja­panese Im­pe­rial Army in wartime.

The Amer­i­can his­to­ri­ans ex­press their dis­may “at re­cent at­tempts by the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment to sup­press state­ments in his­tory text­books both in Ja­pan and else­where”, ac­cord­ing to the let­ter.

An es­ti­mated 30,000 to 200,000 women from China, Korea and other Asian coun­tries were forced to be sex slaves in the 1930s and 1940s. Chi­nese re­searchers’ find­ings in­di­cate the num­ber is about 400,000, ac­cord­ing to Peipei Qiu, pro­fes­sor of Chi­nese and Ja­panese and direc­tor of the Asian Stud­ies Pro­gram at Vas­sar Col­lege, New York.

The is­sue is con­tro­ver­sial in Asia, es­pe­cially when the Ja­panese gov­ern­ment re­cently of­fered a dif­fer­ent in­ter­pre­ta­tion and at­tempted to “get the Amer­i­can pub­lish­ing house McGraw Hill to re­move two para­graphs about com­fort women from a col­lege text­book”, ac­cord­ing to the Post.

The book, Tra­di­tions and En­coun­ters: A Global Per­spec­tive on the Past, said the Ja­panese Army “forcibly re­cruited, con­scripted and dra­gooned as many as 200,000 women aged 14 to 20 to serve in mil­i­tary broth­els, called ‘com­fort houses’ ”. It also says that the Ja­panese mil­i­tary “mas­sa­cred large num­bers of com­fort women to cover up the op­er­a­tion”.

The dis­pute lingers on the num­ber of the women co­erced into sex­ual slav­ery and the pre­cise role that Ja­panese troops played in their pro­cure­ment dur­ing the war. Many Ja­panese con­ser­va­tives re­garded the women sim­ply as pros­ti­tutes.

McGraw Hill de­clined the re­quest, say­ing that “schol­ars are aligned be­hind the his­tor­i­cal fact of com­fort women” and that it “un­equiv­o­cally” stands be­hind the book.

Her­bert Ziegler, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Hawaii and co-au­thor of the text­book, said that he got an e-mail late last year from an of­fi­cial of the Ja­panese Con­sulate Gen­eral in Hawaii.

The Ja­panese side re­quested a dis­cus­sion about the pas­sages, which Ziegler called “an in­fringe­ment of my free­dom of speech and my aca­demic free­dom”.

She co-au­thored a book called Chi­nese Com­fort Women: Tes­ti­monies from Im­pe­rial Ja­pan's Sex Slaves, with Su Zhil­iang and Chen Lifei, two schol­ars based in Shang­hai, China.

The book, which is the first English-lan­guage ac­count of the women’s or­deal, fea­tures per­sonal nar­ra­tives of 12 vic­tims and was pub­lished last year by the Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity Press as part of the Ox­ford Oral His­tory Se­ries.

Qiu said in her book launch at the Johns Hop­kins School of Ad­vanced In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies that if the wounded failed to be rec­og­nized by his­tory, it would be a new wound for them.

“Hu­man suf­fer­ings of such mag­ni­tude can­not, and should not, be dis­missed,” she said.

Pe­dro Chan, an ad­viser to the Pa­cific Avi­a­tion Mu­seum, Pearl Har­bor, Hawaii; the Chi­nese Amer­i­can Mu­seum of Los An­ge­les; and the Fly­ing Tigers His­tor­i­cal Or­ga­ni­za­tion in the US, col­lected pho­tos of the women and sup­ported a World War II me­mo­rial statue in Cal­i­for­nia last year.

Kim Bok-dong,

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