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The New York Times
March 9, 2007
Wearing the Green, and the Pink
Everyone loves a parade. Sadly, the reverse is not always true. Consider the St. Patrick’s Day Parade that makes its way along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan every year, a salute to all things and all people Irish — except those who wish to wear any symbol declaring they are gay or lesbian.
For the second year in a row, the parade will be missing the city’s most powerful Irish-American politician: Christine Quinn, the speaker of the City Council, who is a lesbian. Ms. Quinn boycotted last year’s parade after failing to persuade organizers to allow gay groups to march. Several compromises were rejected, including allowing gay marchers to wear pink triangles or rainbow sashes, symbols that would be more subtle than carrying a banner.
John Dunleavy, a leader of the Roman Catholic group behind the parade, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, last year compared the exclusion of gays to barring the Ku Klux Klan from marching in Harlem, or Nazis from joining an Israeli parade. The insult did more than just put a damper on the festivities — it also damaged the inclusive image of the city and the day.
Rather than fighting the organizers again, Ms. Quinn has found a way to show them up in style and in the motherland. She accepted an invitation to march in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Dublin. The speaker says she will wear an apple pin in homage to her home city, a pin with American and Irish flags, and a sticker with a pink triangle and a shamrock, a symbol of gay and ethnic pride.
With a nod to religious belief, the courts have ruled that parade organizers can legally exclude gay marchers. But they do that at their own peril. The joy of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade is that for one day, every New Yorker can feel proudly Irish. So much for that. The absence of Christine Quinn should haunt the whole length of Fifth Avenue.
The New York Times
March 8, 2007
Denying Rights in Nigeria
A poisonous piece of legislation is quickly making its way through the Nigerian National Assembly. Billed as an anti-gay-marriage act, it is a far-reaching assault on basic rights of association, assembly and expression. Chillingly, the legislation — proposed last year by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo — has the full and enthusiastic support of the leader of Nigeria’s powerful Anglican church. Unless the international community speaks out quickly and forcefully against the bill, it is almost certain to become law.
Homosexual acts between consenting adults are already illegal in Nigeria under a penal code that dates to the colonial period. This new legislation would impose five-year sentences on same-sex couples who have wedding ceremonies — as well as on those who perform such services and on all who attend. The bill’s vague and dangerous prohibition on any public or private show of a “same sex amorous relationship” — which could be construed to cover having dinner with someone of the same sex — would open any known or suspected gay man or lesbian to the threat of arrest at almost any time.
The bill also criminalizes all political organizing on behalf of gay rights. And in a country with a dauntingly high rate of H.I.V. and AIDS, the ban on holding any meetings related to gay rights could make it impossible for medical workers to counsel homosexuals on safe sex practices.
Efforts to pass the bill last year stalled in part because of strong condemnation from the United States and the European Union. Now its backers are again trying to rush it through, and Washington and Brussels need to speak out against it. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country and one of the most politically influential. If it passes a law that says human rights are not for every citizen, it will set a treacherous example for the region and the world.
The New York Times
Denial Reopens Wounds of Japan’s Ex-Sex Slaves
Japanese students visiting South Korea view photos of Korean women who were sex slaves of Japan's army.
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
Published: March 8, 2007
SYDNEY, Australia, March 7 — Wu Hsiu-mei said she was 23 and working as a maid in a hotel in 1940 when her Taiwanese boss handed her over to Japanese officers. She and some 15 other women were sent to Guangdong Province in southern China to become sex slaves.
Among the victims of Japanese sexual slavery addressing a conference in Sydney were, top, from left, Wu Hsiu-mei of Taiwan; Jan Ruff O’Herne, an Australian formerly from Java; and bottom, Gil Won-ok, a South Korean.
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Tony Sernack for The New York Times
Demonstrators near Parliament in Tokyo with placards denouncing remarks last week by Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, denying the role of the country’s military in coercing the women into their plight.
Close allies are urging Mr. Abe to ease the government’s 1993 admission of wartime sexual slavery.
Inside a hotel there was a so-called comfort station, managed by a Taiwanese but serving only the Japanese military, Ms. Wu said. Forced to have sex with more than 20 Japanese a day for almost a year, she said, she had multiple abortions and became sterile.
The long festering issue of Japan’s war-era sex slaves gained new prominence last week when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied the military’s role in coercing the women into servitude. The denial by Mr. Abe, Japan’s first prime minister born after the war, drew official protests from China, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines, some of the countries from which the sex slaves were taken.
The furor highlighted yet again Japan’s unresolved history in a region where it has been ceding influence to China. The controversy has also drawn in the United States, which has strongly resisted entering the history disputes that have roiled East Asia in recent years.
Ms. Wu told her story on Wednesday outside the Japanese Consulate here, where she and two others who had been sex slaves, known euphemistically as comfort women, were protesting Tokyo’s refusal to admit responsibility for the abuse that historians say they and as many as 200,000 other women suffered.
All three — Ms. Wu, who is now 90; a 78-year-old South Korean from Seoul; and an 84-year-old Dutch-Australian from Adelaide — were participating in an international conference for Japan’s former sex slaves here. Now, just days after Mr. Abe’s remarks, the three were united in their fury.
“I was taken away by force by Japanese officers, and a Japanese military doctor forced me to undress to examine me before I was taken away,” said Ms. Wu, who landed here in Sydney on Tuesday night after a daylong flight from Taipei. “How can Abe lie to the world like that?”
Mr. Abe, a nationalist who had built his career partly on playing down Japan’s wartime past, made his comments in response to a confluence of events, beginning with the Democratic victory in the American Congressional elections last fall. That gave impetus to a proposed nonbinding resolution in the House that would call on Japan to unequivocally acknowledge and apologize for its brutal mistreatment of the women.
Even as Mr. Abe’s closest allies pressed him to soften a 1993 government statement that acknowledged the military’s role in forcing the women into sexual slavery, three former victims testified in Congress last month.
On Monday, Mr. Abe said he would preserve the 1993 statement but denied its central admission of the military’s role, saying there had been no “coercion, like the authorities breaking into houses and kidnapping” women.
He said private dealers had coerced the women, adding that the House resolution was “not based on objective facts” and that Japan would not apologize even if it was passed.
The resolution calls for Japan to “formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery.”
“Prime Minister Abe is in effect saying that the women are lying,” Representative Mike Honda, the California Democrat who is spearheading the legislation, said in a telephone interview. “I find it hard to believe that he is correct given the evidence uncovered by Japanese historians and the testimony of the comfort women.”
Japanese historians, using the diaries and testimony of military officials as well as official documents from the United States and other countries, have been able to show that the military was directly or indirectly involved in coercing, deceiving, luring and sometimes kidnapping young women throughout Japan’s Asian colonies and occupied territories.
They estimate that up to 200,000 women served in comfort stations that were often an intrinsic part of military operations.
Yet although Mr. Abe admitted coercion by private dealers, some of his closest allies in the governing Liberal Democratic Party have dismissed the women as prostitutes who volunteered to work in the comfort stations. They say no official Japanese government documents show the military’s role in recruiting the women.
According to historians, the military established the stations to boost morale among its troops, but also to prevent rapes of local women and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among soldiers.
Japan’s deep fear of rampaging soldiers also led it to establish brothels with Japanese prostitutes across Japan for American soldiers during the first months of the postwar occupation, a fact that complicates American involvement in the current debate.
In 1995 a private fund was set up to compensate the women, but many refused to accept any money because they saw the measure as a way for the government to avoid taking direct responsibility. Only 285 women have accepted money from the fund, which will be terminated at the end of this month.
The most direct testimony of the military’s role has come from the women themselves.
“An apology is the most important thing we want — an apology that comes from the government, not only a personal one — because this would give us back our dignity,” said Jan Ruff O’Herne, 84, who testified to a Congressional panel last month.
Ms. Ruff was living with her family in Java, in what was then the Dutch East Indies, when Japan invaded in 1942. She spent the first two years in a prison camp, she said, but Japanese officers arrived one day in 1944. They forced single girls and women to line up and eventually picked 10 of them, including Ms. Ruff, who was 21.
“On the first night, it was a high-ranking officer,” Ms. Ruff said. “It was so well organized. A military doctor came to our house regularly to examine us against venereal diseases, and I tell you, before I was examined the doctor raped me first. That’s how well organized it was.”
In Japan’s colonies, historians say, the military worked closely with, or sometimes completely relied on, local people to obtain women.
In Pyongyang, now the capital of North Korea, Gil Won-ok said, she lined up outside a Japanese military base to look for work in her early teens. A Korean man, she said, approached her with the promise of factory work, but she eventually found herself in a comfort station in northeast China.
After she caught syphilis and developed tumors, Ms. Gil said, a Japanese military doctor removed her uterus.
“I’ve felt dead inside since I was 15,” said Ms. Gil, who was 16 when the war ended.
Like many comfort women, Ms. Gil was unable to bear children and never married, though she did adopt a son. She now lives in a home with three other former comfort women in Seoul.
Ms. Wu married twice, each time hiding her background. Somehow the husbands found out, and the marriages ended unhappily. Her adopted daughter is now angry with Ms. Wu for having spoken in public about her past, she said.
As for Ms. Ruff, she returned to the prison camp in Java after her release from the comfort station. Her parents swore her to silence. A Roman Catholic priest told Ms. Ruff, who had thought of becoming a nun: “My dear child, under these circumstances it is wise that you do not become a nun.”
It was at the camp that she met her future husband, Tom Ruff, one of the British soldiers who had been deployed to guard the camp after Japan’s defeat. She told him her story once before they were married — long before they had two daughters and migrated to Australia.
“But I needed to talk about it,” Ms. Ruff said, sitting at the kitchen table in her daughter Carol’s home here. “I could never talk to my husband about it. I loved Tom and I wanted to marry and I wanted a house. I wanted a family, I wanted children, but I didn’t want sex. He had to be very patient with me. He was a good husband. But because we couldn’t talk about it, it made it all so hard.”
“You could talk to Dad about it,” said her daughter Carol, 55.
“No, this is what I keep saying,” Ms. Ruff said. “I just told him the story once. It was never talked about again. For that generation the story was too big. My mum couldn’t cope with it. My dad couldn’t cope with it. Tom couldn’t cope with it. They just shut it up. But nowadays you’ll get counseling immediately.”
“It’s a wonderful thing,” Carol said.
“You don’t know how hard it was to carry this enormous burden inside you, that you would like to scream out to the world and yet you cannot,” Ms. Ruff said. “But I remember telling Carol, ‘One day I’m going to tell my story, and people will be interested.’
International Herald Tribune
Letter from China: In Asia, the past divides and alienates
By Howard W. French
Thursday, March 8, 2007
SHANGHAI: Imagine a world where Germany denied the Holocaust, the United States denied the slaughter of Native Americans and Europe denied organizing its immensely profitable and centuries-long trans-Atlantic trade in African slaves.
Why would they bother? Presumably because they thought cleaning up these dark blots on their past would boost their self-esteem, enhance patriotism and raise their stock in the world.
Close your eyes, spin on your toes three times and reopen them to behold a world where precisely this sort of thing goes on: today's East Asia.
In many respects, this region has been a guiding light for the rest of the world in the past three decades or so, building strong global economies, providing near-universal education for its people and lifting huge numbers of citizens out of poverty.
As we were reminded in the past week, however, a more honest and sophisticated attitude toward history, however, has not been one of the bright spots.
For there was Japan's new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, insisting "there is no evidence to prove there was coercion" of the 200,000 or so Asian women who historians say were pressed into sexual servitude for Japan's imperial army.
Trying to explain how this might be, members of Abe's governing Liberal Democratic Party made what they thought was a helpful suggestion. "Some say it is useful to compare the brothels to college cafeterias run by private companies, who recruit their own staff, procure foodstuffs and set prices," said Nariaki Nakayama, leader of a group of 120 Japanese lawmakers who want to rescind a 1993 official declaration acknowledging the imperial army's exploitation of what are euphemistically called "comfort women."
"To say that women were forced by the Japanese military into service is off the mark," Nakayama continued. "The issue must be reconsidered, based on truth, for the sake of Japanese honor."
Honor and history, as we can see, make poor bedfellows, with the typical result that both end up suffering.
The comfort women comments emanating from the Japanese political class brought a rare rebuke from the country's closest ally, the United States, in the form of a statement by John Negroponte, the deputy secretary of state, who during a visit to Tokyo said "the forced mobilization of comfort women is the most deplorable act of the war."
Even North Korea managed to hitch a ride on the high road on this issue. Korean women constituted perhaps the largest group of wartime sex slaves, and Japanese obfuscations are particularly resented on the Korean Peninsula. A North Korean group that calls itself the Measure Committee for Demanding Compensation to "Comfort Women" denounced Abe as "the grandson of a Class A war criminal," which in fact he is, and said that as such, Abe is "obliged to more straightforwardly and sincerely reflect on the past crimes of Japan than anyone else, and settle them."
The response of the Chinese government, to its credit, has been carefully measured throughout this flap. China and Japan have been enjoying a tentative détente under Abe, following the bitterness of the Koizumi years, when the former Japanese prime minister made regular pilgrimages to Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where Class A war criminals are honored, along with the souls of all of the other fallen soldiers from Japan's modern wars.
"History, in my view, is a strong progressive force," China's foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, said at a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday. "It should not become a burden to the progression of peace."
Unfortunately, that is precisely what it has been doing in this part of the world, where the wounds and fissures of the World War II and of the Cold War have been much slower to heal than they have been in the West.
The reasons for this are, of course, complex. Korea remains divided in two. China remains authoritarian, still ruled by a Leninist party, even as it becomes increasingly capitalist. And Japan, having failed to integrate Asia by force of arms, has remained largely alienated from its own continent, clinging out of misplaced pride to a distorted and self-defeating picture of the past.
People everywhere want to feel good about themselves, and for many countries an accretion of national myths, often laid down over centuries, helps make this possible. East Asia's two big powers, Japan and China, share more than either would care to acknowledge in this regard, taking this process one big step further, through the promotion of what each calls "patriotic education."
Abe arrived in power after a lengthy association with this current of nationalist politics. Though they would never admit it, what he and his allies have been striving for is something that has long existed in China, an airbrushed version of history that leaves little room for anything cruel or embarrassing.
Japan's nationalists long for a youth that is proud and patriotic. China already has one, and this has been achieved, in part, by carefully tailoring education, filling young people's heads with unrealistic and unreliable information about their country's past — so much so that it is almost impossible to resist a snicker whenever Chinese leaders lecture the Japanese about respecting "correct history."
Young Chinese tend to know next to nothing about their country's own conquests, or even about atrocities committed in living memory by their own government. What they are taught is what Japan's nationalists seek to teach: their own essential goodness.
The reason this all matters, though, has nothing to do with what might be called the tsk-tsk factor, and everything to do with the real world we live in. Limiting one's history to what is emotionally or ideologically satisfying is to limit a nation to the most parochial of destinies. And when countries with deeply intertwined pasts persist in doing this, new collisions can never be far off.
Tomorrow: Roger Cohen on the brief Swiss invasion of Liechtenstein.