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[Interview] Japanese professor calls PM’s historical stance ‘bizarre’
Prof is expert on issue of WWII sexual slavery by Japan
"It is bizarre that Prime Minister Abe only speaks of whether or not the ‘comfort women’ were taken forcefully by the Japanese military. Wasn’t the very system of ‘comfort women’ one based upon sexual slavery?"
"Abe said that there were no violent abductions of women, but in fact there were. The 1994 report released by the Netherlands found such actions took place in at least eight separate locations."
An authority on the issue of the comfort women, the over 200,000 foreign women made to serve as sexual slaves for the Japanese military during World War II, Japanese professor Yoshimi Yoshiaki of Chuo University methodically criticized Prime Minister Abe’s recent comments and historical consciousness. In reference to the 1993 apology made by Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono Yohei, Yoshimi said "it was unclear who exactly was taking responsibility," and that on the next opportunity, legal responsibility must be clearly assigned and an unambiguous apology must follow.
Professor Yoshimi unearthed official documents from March 1938 sent to the Japanese military stationed in China detailing regulations regarding "comfort stations" and the "recruitment" of women for them. His discovery was carried in the news daily Asahi Shimbun in 1992, and the Japanese government admitted to some degree the reality of the forced abductions the following year via Chief Cabinet Secretary Kono Yohei’s statement.
What first drew the professor’s interest to the subject was his meeting with Kim Hak-sun, who was forced to serve as a comfort woman and the first one to openly declare this bitter part of her past. "I felt a responsibility as a historian to study the subject when on the NHK network, Kim Hak-sun expressed her desire that Japanese youth be informed about how the Japanese military had commited such vile deeds during the war."
However, his research activities brought him the unwanted attention of Japanese right-wing groups. For some time, the phone would ring at 2 or 3 a.m. As soon as he picked up the receiver, the caller would hang up. Presiding over a document center on the Japanese war, he dug into the reality of the Japanese germ warfare program, as well.
On March 8, Professor Yoshimi spoke at a gathering hosted by a group of Japanese lawmakers, where he sharply criticized Abe’s comments.
Question Recently, Prime Minister Abe has repeatedly made apologies in regard to the comfort women issue...
Answer It appears like a temporary retreat on his part. I think he’s changing his stripes in view of the American reaction. But his heart has not changed. His stock argument is that there were no forced abductions by Japanese military personnel, and that given that fact, there is nothing else to discuss. In other words, there was no coercion ‘in the narrow sense of the term.’ His opinion is that civilians managed the activities, and thus the Japanese government and military is exempt from responsibility.
Q There are also scholars who assert, like Prime Minister Abe, that the documents of the Japanese government do not prove such a "coerced agreement" took place.
A Prime Minister Abe is focusing exclusively on the issue of how the comfort women were taken. What is important, however, is whether or not the women wanted to work at the comfort stations. No matter how courteously they were taken away, the things done to them at the stations were criminal. In clause 226 of the old Meiji Constitution, trade in people, kidnapping, and overseas abduction are all outlawed. Yet it seems that Prime Minister Abe does not know these actions were and are criminal, regardless of whether the victims were taken by force. In 1937, the Japanese Supreme Court found a comfort station guilty of kidnapping under clause 226.
There was also a system of licensed prostitution within Japan during the war. The rights of the women working to stop work and leave were acknowledged only on paper, but research shows they were no different from sex slaves. The overseas comfort stations were much more severe. The women there had none of these rights, and endured nothing less than sexual slavery. Some say that there are no documents to prove this, but it is only natural that there are no memorandums ordering the Japanese soldiers to "violently conscript" women.
Q What’s your view of the Kono Statement [or the Kono Apology]?
A We must not retreat from the Kono Apology. We must take another step forward. The major problem with the Kono Apology is that it is unclear exactly who is taking responsibility for the human rights abuses. By some interpretations of the statement, the government merely provided a small amount of assistance to civilian enterprises. But it is clear from the historical documents that private companies could not have established the comfort stations singlehandedly. The facilities could not have been made without permission from the military. The comfort station administrators were pawns of the Japanese, whether the military or the police.
Furthermore, the Kono Statement speaks only of moral responsibility, but clearly asserts there is no legal responsibility within its legalese. At this point, though, full responsibility [both moral and legal] needs to be taken and reparations must be paid.
Q What do you think of the resolution before U.S. Congress [to compel the Japanese government to apologize officially]? Prime Minister Abe said there was no further need for apologies...
A The thought behind the U.S. resolution seems to be that insufficient Japanese reflection on the issue of war responsibility is creating an uneasy situation in East Asia. I think of the resolution as less criticism than advice. Indeed, it is advice that Japan needs to hear. Rather than vaguely putting the issue aside, Japan should take this opportunity for the sake of the future to officially record its responsibility and send a message that this must never happen again. Several Prime Ministers have released letters of apology, but they were all tinged with vagueness. After clarifying where responsibility lies, it is right to apologize.
Q I feel that Japan’s historical consciousness is on the retreat in view of Prime Minister Abe’s statement.
A Me, too. The new consciousness is most clearly rearing its head in school textbooks. The year following Kono’s apology in 1993, the comfort women issue was described in all middle school textbooks. But afterwards, people like Abe began a movement to remove this content, and now there is not a single textbook that discusses the issue frankly. There is one textbook that mentions the comfort facilities without elaboration, and there is another that explains that they were coerced into this ‘work.’ The comfort women have all but disappeared from Japanese books.
Two years ago, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology [and head of the group of legislators urging the withdrawal of Kono’s apology] Nakayama Nariaki declared, "it is a good thing that the number of references to the comfort women has decreased."
But in addition, several Prime Ministers sent separate letters of apology to the victims stating, "the truth of the comfort women must be passed down to future generations," yet they have not lived up to their words.
Q What do you see as the context for the decline of Japanese historical consciousness?
A It seems like it is related to the situation that emerged since the mid-1990s. After the bubble economy collapsed, there were few things on which one could rely and finding regular employment became difficult. It was amidst this atmosphere that the desire for pride took root.
Students these days do not want to reflect upon the past at all, and are unwilling to acknowledge the things that occurred. However, if there were mistakes in the past, then a healthy pride would require one to acknowledge them and vow to never allow them again. Of course, there are many young people who think this way, too.
Another reason is that although the Japanese media prominently covered this issue earlier, now they show hardly any interest. Only recently have they brought up the issue, and only to the extent of covering the U.S. Congressional resolution under debate, as well as Chinese and Korean criticism about the issue.
Kim Do-hyeong, Tokyo Correspondent
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Posted on : Mar.17,2007 14:21 KST Modified on : Mar.17,2007 14:40 KST
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