Abe denies existence of “Comfort Women”, overseas media and US Congress react, Abe backpedals, then clams up. Media pounces
Posted by arudou debito on March 3rd, 2007
Hi Blog. Here we go. Now the Western media has their peg to unzip the Abe Adminstration’s overt right-wing historical revisionist bent. Newsweek did a puff piece on Abe’s wife (comparing her to Jackie O) not too long ago, sigh. Now Abe undoes her image control with these revelations. NYT and Time Magazine articles (with updates from CBS News, showing Abe suddenly backpedalling, plus Kyodo and NYT again, plus links to US Congressional hearings by Mike Honda and actual victims on this issue) follow.
A quick note beforehand: Remember that Abe tried this on NHK in 2001 before he was PM, forcing NHK to re-edit a historical piece involving the Comfort Women some years ago. Sources:
NHK stung by censorship suit appeal
Court links politics with deletion of Hirohito verdict in sex-slave program
The Tokyo High Court on Monday… ordered NHK and two production companies to pay damages to a women’s rights group for altering the content of a documentary on a mock tribunal over Japan’s wartime sexual slavery… The suit has been closely watched because the NGO claimed NHK censored or otherwise altered part of the 2001 program after being pressured by heavyweights in the Liberal Democratic Party, including Shinzo Abe, who is now prime minister, and Shoichi Nakagawa.
(Japan Times Jan 30, 2006)
The political pressure put, in 2001, on NHK, the national broadcaster, by the current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to excise portions of a program that would imply imperial responsibility for war crimes. Add to this the government ordering NHK in 2006 to broadcast information about the North Korean abductions in the service of the country.
(Japan Times Jan 7, 2006)
That event was basically ignored by the foreign media, sadly. Not this time.
(And yes, given that these “Comfort Women” (ianfu), better known as sexual slaves, were almost all foreign, this is definitely germane to the focus of this blog.) Debito in Youga, Tokyo
TIME MAGAZINE ARTICLE
Japan PM Denies WWII Sex Slavery
By AP/HIROKO TABUCHI
Time Magazine Thursday, Mar. 01, 2007
TOKYO—Yasuji Kaneko, 87, still remembers the screams of the countless women he raped in China as a soldier in the Japanese imperial army in World War II. Some were teenagers from Korea serving as sex slaves in military-run brothels. Others were women in villages he and his comrades pillaged in eastern China.
“They cried out, but it didn’t matter to us whether the women lived or died,” Kaneko said in an interview with The Associated Press at his Tokyo home. “We were the emperor’s soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.”
Historians say some 200,000 women—mostly from Korea and China—served in the Japanese military brothels throughout Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Many victims say they were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops, and the top government spokesman acknowledged the wrongdoing in 1993.
Now some in Japan’s government are questioning whether the apology was needed.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Thursday denied women were forced into military brothels across Asia, boosting renewed efforts by right-wing politicians to push for an official revision of the apology.
“The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion,” Abe said.
Abe’s remarks contradicted evidence in Japanese documents unearthed in 1992 that historians said showed military authorities had a direct role in working with contractors to forcibly procure women for the brothels.
The comments were certain to rile South Korea and China, which accuse Tokyo of failing to fully atone for wartime atrocities. Abe’s government has been recently working to repair relations with Seoul and Beijing.
The statement came just hours after South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun marked a national holiday honoring the anniversary of a 1919 uprising against Japanese colonial rule by urging Tokyo to come clean about its past.
Roh also referred to hearings held by the U.S. House of Representatives last month on a resolution urging Japan to “apologize for and acknowledge” the imperial army’s use of sex slaves during the war.
“The testimony reiterated a message that no matter how hard the Japanese try to cover the whole sky with their hand, there is no way that the international community would condone the atrocities committed during Japanese colonial rule,” Roh said.
Dozens of people rallied outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul to mark the anniversary, lining up dead dogs’ heads on the ground with pieces of paper in their mouths listing names of Koreans who allegedly collaborated with the Japanese during its 1910-45 colonial rule. Protest organizers said the animals were slaughtered at a restaurant; dogs are regularly consumed as food in Korea.
Roh’s office said late Thursday it did not immediately have a direct response to the Japanese leader’s remarks. In Beijing, calls to the Chinese Foreign Ministry seeking comment on the remarks were not immediately returned.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack would not comment on Abe’s statement. “I’ll let the Japanese political system deal with that,” he said.
Abe’s comments were a reversal from the government’s previous stance. In 1993, then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologized to the victims of sex slavery, though the statement did not meet demands by former “comfort women” that it be approved by parliament.
Two years later, the government set up a compensation fund for victims, but it was based on private donations—not government money—and has been criticized as a way for the government to avoid owning up to the abuse. The mandate is to expire March 31.
The sex slave question has been a cause celebre for nationalist politicians and scholars in Japan who claim the women were professional prostitutes and were not coerced into servitude by the military.
Before Abe spoke Thursday, a group of ruling Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers discussed their plans for a proposal to urge the government to water down parts of the 1993 apology and deny direct military involvement.
Nariaki Nakayama, chairman of the group of about 120 lawmakers, sought to play down the government’s involvement in the brothels by saying it was similar to a school that hires a company to run its cafeteria.
“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,” he said.
“Where there’s demand, businesses crop up … but to say women were forced by the Japanese military into service is off the mark,” he said. “This issue must be reconsidered, based on truth … for the sake of Japanese honor.”
Sex slave victims, however, say they still suffer wounds—physical and psychological—from the war.
Lee Yong-soo, 78, a South Korean who was interviewed during a recent trip to Tokyo, said she was 14 when Japanese soldiers took her from her home in 1944 to work as a sex slave in Taiwan.
“The Japanese government must not run from its responsibilities,” said Lee, who has long campaigned for Japanese compensation. “I want them to apologize. To admit that they took me away, when I was a little girl, to be a sex slave. To admit that history.”
“I was so young. I did not understand what had happened to me,” she said. “My cries then still ring in my years. Even now, I can’t sleep.”
AP writer Burt Herman contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.
TIME MAGAZINE ARTICLE ENDS
Abe Rejects Japan’s Files on War Sex
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
NEW YORK TIMES: March 2, 2007
TOKYO, March 1 — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied Thursday that
Japan’s military had forced foreign women into sexual slavery during
World War II, contradicting the Japanese government’s longtime
Mr. Abe’s statement was the clearest so far that the government was
preparing to reject a 1993 government statement that acknowledged the
military’s role in setting up brothels and forcing, either directly or
indirectly, women into sexual slavery. That declaration also offered
an apology to the women, euphemistically called “comfort women.”
“There is no evidence to prove there was coercion, nothing to support
it,” Mr. Abe told reporters. “So, in respect to this declaration, you
have to keep in mind that things have changed greatly.”
The United States House of Representatives has begun debating a
resolution that would call on Tokyo to “apologize for and acknowledge”
the military’s role in wartime sex slavery.
But at the same time, in keeping with a recent trend to revise Japan’s
wartime history, a group of conservatives in the governing Liberal
Democratic Party is stepping up calls to rescind the 1993 declaration.
Mr. Abe, whose approval ratings have been plummeting over a series of
scandals and perceived weak leadership, seemed to side with this
group. A nationalist who has led efforts to revise wartime history,
Mr. Abe softened his tone after becoming prime minister last fall. In
fact, he first said he recognized the validity of the declaration,
angering his conservative base.
“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,” Nariaki Nakayama, the leader of 120
lawmakers who want to revise the declaration, said Thursday.
“Where there’s demand, business crops up,” Mr. Nakayama said,
according to The Associated Press. “But to say women were forced by
the Japanese military into service is off the mark. This issue must be
reconsidered, based on truth, for the sake of Japanese honor.”
Historians believe some 200,000 women — Koreans, Chinese, Taiwanese,
Filipinos, as well as Japanese, Dutch and other European women —
served in Japanese military brothels. For decades, Japan denied that
its military had been involved, calling the brothels private
enterprises and the women prostitutes.
But in 1992, a Japanese historian, Yoshiaki Yoshimi, outraged by
government denials, went to the Self-Defense Agency’s library and
unearthed, after two days of searching, documents revealing military
involvement in establishing brothels. One was titled “Regarding the
Recruitment of Women for Military Brothels.” Faced with this evidence,
the government acknowledged its role and issued the declaration.
But the response angered people across the political spectrum. The
women and their supporters said that the government was not fully
acknowledging its responsibility because the declaration was issued by
Yohei Kono, then chief cabinet secretary, and not adopted by
Parliament. It is known inside Japan simply as the “Kono Statement.”
What is more, supporters accused the government of evading direct
responsibility by establishing a private, nongovernment fund to
compensate the women. Many former sex slaves have refused to accept
compensation from this fund.
But conservatives said the declaration went too far in acknowledging
the military’s role in recruiting the women. While the documents
showed that the military established the facilities, Mr. Yoshimi did
not find documentation that the military had forcibly recruited the
women. Conservatives have seized on this distinction to attack the
Supporters of the women say that the Japanese authorities famously
burned incriminating documents or kept them hidden.
At the same time, many former sex slaves have stepped forward in
recent years with their stories. Three testified in the United States
Congress recently, saying that Japanese soldiers had kidnapped them
and forced them to have sex with dozens of soldiers a day.
NYT ARTICLE ENDS
UPDATE MARCH 4 2007
CBS NEWS ARTICLE–ABE BACKPEDALS
MIKE HONDA ET AL MAKE APPEALS TO US CONGRESS
COMMENT: Abe has apparently decided not to work to repeal Kouno’s apology (the “Kono Statement”) made back in 1993 after all.
Japan PM to Stand by Sex Slaves Apology
Japan PM will stand by apology over forcing Asian women to have sex with troops
CBS NEWS March 5, 2007 12:12am
(AP) Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will stand by Japan’s apology over forcing Asian women to have sex with Japanese troops in the last century, an aide said Sunday, after the leader’s denial that Tokyo used coercion caused an international uproar.
“Though there are many definitions of coercion, Prime Minister Abe has said … that he will stand by the Kono statement,” said Hiroshige Seko, special adviser in charge of Abe’s public relations, referring to a 1993 statement issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologizing to the victims of sex slavery.
The Kono statement also acknowledged many women were forced into prostitution and that the military government was involved in some cases.
“He has not denied the statement,” Seko told a TV Asahi talk show. He did not attempt to explain the apparent discrepancies between the statement and Abe’s denial that coercion was involved.
“The fact is, there is no evidence to prove there was coercion,” Abe said on Thursday.
South Korea later lodged an official protest, accusing the leader of “glossing over the historical truth.” Rights activists in the Philippines also slammed Abe for labeling the slaves as common prostitutes.
Historians say that about 200,000 women _ mostly from Korea and China _ served in Japanese military brothels throughout Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Accounts of abuse by the military have been backed up by witnesses, and even former Japanese soldiers.
Abe’s statement contradicted evidence in Japanese documents, unearthed in 1992, that historians said showed that military authorities had a direct role in working with contractors to forcibly procure women for the brothels.
But prominent Japanese scholars and politicians routinely deny direct military involvement or the use of force in rounding up the women, blaming private contractors for the abuses.
CBS NEWS ARTICLE ENDS
The Honorable Michael M. Honda
Member of Congress
Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific, and the Global Environment
Committee on Foreign Affairs
U.S. House of Representatives
Protecting the Human Rights of “Comfort Women”
Thursday, February 15, 2007
Now, nearly nine years after the passage of AJR27, I stand united with several of my colleagues in the House, from both parties, in support of H.Res.121 and the surviving Comfort Women who are here with us today. The urgency is upon this Committee and the Congress to take quick action on this resolution. These women are aging and their numbers dwindling with each passing day. If we do not act now, we will lose a historic opportunity to encourage the Government of Japan to properly acknowledge responsibility for the plight of the Comfort Women.
Elected officials of Japan have taken steps to address this issue, and for that they are to be commended. In 1993, Japan’s then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued an encouraging statement regarding Comfort Women, which expressed the Government’s sincere apologies and remorse for their ordeal. Additionally, Japan attempted to provide monetary compensation to surviving comfort women through the Asia Women’s Fund, a government initiated and largely government-funded private foundation whose purpose was the carrying out of programs and projects with the aim of atonement for the Comfort Women. The Asia Women’s Fund is to be disbanded on March 31, 2007.
Recent attempts, however, by some senior members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party to review and even possibly retract Secretary Kono’s statement are disheartening and mark Japan’s equivocation on this issue. Additionally, while I appreciate Japan’s creation of the Asia Women’s Fund and the past prime minister’s apologies to some comfort women, which accompanied this Fund’s disbursal of monetary compensation from this fund, the reality is that without a sincere and unequivocal apology from the government of Japan, the majority of surviving Comfort Women refused to accept these funds. In fact, as you will hear today, many Comfort Women returned the Prime Minister’s letter of apology accompanying the monetary compensation saying they felt the apology was artificial and disingenuous.
REST AT http://www.internationalrelations.house.gov/110/hon021507.htm
More Congressional Record on this, courtesy of Matt Dioguardi’s Blog:
UPDATE MARCH 7, 2007
More replies. Making a bigger hash of things as they go along… Now it’s time to blame the media for miscommunication….? Debito
Japan tries to calm outrage on sex slave issue, says
no new apology
TOKYO, March 7 KYODO
Courtesy of Club of 99
Japan’s top government spokesman on Wednesday
reiterated that there will be no new apology regarding
wartime sex slaves in response to a resolution pending
in the U.S. Congress and that discussions on the
”comfort women” issue should not continue any
further in an ”unconstructive” manner.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who sparked an
international outcry recently by saying there was no
proof that the Japanese military had coerced women
into sexual servitude during World War II, said,
”What we say in parliament on this issue is not
always conveyed (by the media) accurately. It
magnifies and spreads, and foreign countries react to
”The longer we continue this discussion, the
more misunderstanding there is going to be,” Shiozaki
told a morning news conference. ”I think it better
not to go on with this kind of discussion in a rather
Shiozaki again stressed that the government
continues to uphold a 1993 statement that acknowledged
and apologized for the forced recruitment of so-called
In an interview with Japanese media, Abe
reiterated that he stands by the statement and added,
”The U.S. resolution is based on a mistake of fact.
It contains the misunderstanding that there was
coercion, as in abductions carried out by the
(Japanese) authorities. There was no such thing and I
was just stating the fact that there have been no
documents or witnesses of proof.”
”The U.S. Congress bill is not based on
objective facts and does not take into consideration
the (Japanese) government’s handling of the issue so
far,” spokesman Shiozaki said. ”Therefore, no new
apology will be made in response to such a resolution
should it be passed.”
Shiozaki insisted that Abe’s recent remarks did
not contradict the so-called Kono statement, which was
issued by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono in
1993 and represents the government’s official stance.
The statement acknowledges that women from the
Korean Peninsula, which Japan had annexed at the time,
and other places, were in many cases ”recruited
against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, et
cetera, and that at times, administrative/military
personnel directly took part in the recruitment.”
Abe, however, reignited decades-old anger,
especially in Asian countries that suffered under
Japanese wartime aggression, when he said last
Thursday that there was no evidence that the military
was directly involved in forced recruitment.
This week, Abe further explained that there was
coercion ”in the broad sense” of the word, referring
to private traders who recruited the women, but
insisted that there was no coercion ”in the strict
sense,” as in military personnel taking women from
their homes and putting them in brothels.
The more Abe and his spokesman Shiozaki try to
explain the premier’s hair-splitting over the broad
and strict definitions of ”coercion,” the deeper it
seems they find themselves bogged in a quagmire.
Cornered by reporters’ questions at an afternoon
news conference, Shiozaki effectively retracted his
remarks in the morning that the Kono statement
stipulates ”both the strict and broad sense” of
”As the prime minister has said many times in
parliament, it was possible (the victims) felt
pressure in the broad sense,” he said. ”Issues in
the narrow sense were by no means written in the Kono
The hawkish premier, who declared immediately
after taking office last September that his
administration will stand by the Kono statement, was
once part of a group of lawmakers opposed to the 1993
Some historians estimate that up to 200,000 women
from the Korean Peninsula, China, Taiwan, the
Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere were forced into
sexual servitude by the Japanese military before and
during World War II.
Although Abe said there is no evidence to prove
there was physical coercion by the Japanese military,
some surviving former ”comfort women” and even
former Japanese soldiers have testified that girls and
women were abducted.
Earlier on Wednesday, Abe praised the work of a
semiofficial relief organization for former World War
II sex slaves and said it ”conveyed (to the world)
the feelings of Japan and the Japanese people.”
The premier also told reporters the government
does not plan to get involved in setting up any
organizations to carry on the activities of the Asian
Women’s Fund after it is disbanded at the end of this
The fund, launched in 1995, disbursed a total of
1.7 billion yen to support foreign women who were
forced into sexual servitude by the Imperial Japanese
Army during wartime. It has been criticized as being
an attempt by the government to avoid responsibility
for state redress.
Denial Reopens Wounds of Japan’s Ex-Sex Slaves
N Y Times March 8, 2007
By NORIMITSU ONISHI
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.
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.’ ”
…The beat goes on… With the government saying one thing in the morning and another thing in the afternoon. Keep buffeting them, media! Debito
JAPAN TIMES Friday, March 9, 2007
Abe endorses LDP probe into wartime sex slaves
By REIJI YOSHIDA and HIROKO NAKATA Staff writers
The government will provide documents to aid a new investigation by the Liberal Democratic Party into Japan’s wartime sexual slavery, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Thursday.
The move comes after Abe’s denial last week that the Japanese military coerced the “comfort women,” as Japan euphemistically called them, sparked a storm of criticism.
Earlier in the day, an LDP lawmaker quoted Abe as saying the government would open a new investigation into the issue. The remark was made at a meeting of LDP lawmakers who adopted a resolution claiming that neither the wartime government nor the Imperial Japanese Army was responsible for “forcibly bringing” women to frontline brothels in the 1930s and ’40s. Abe was previously a director general of the LDP group.
But when asked if the government plans to take another look at the issue, Abe said: “I heard the party is going to study and investigate the issue. As for the government, we will cooperate in providing documents as requested by the party.”
Abe repeated that his government will continue to stand by the 1993 statement made by then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono that admitted and apologized for the military’s involvement in forcing women into frontline brothels.
Abe declined comment on what kind of documentation or evidence the government would submit. “I don’t know about details yet,” he said.
In the resolution adopted Thursday, the LDP lawmakers’ association claimed its investigation showed that, despite the 1993 government statement, only private agencies forced women to work at the “comfort stations.”
The group admitted in a written statement that private-sector agencies did kidnap some women and forced them to work at their brothels, but it denied the government and army’s involvement in the process of “forcibly bringing” women to the military brothels.
Abe last week claimed there was no evidence that the army coerced women into sexual slavery, which drew fire from across Asia and provoked U.S. lawmakers to demand Japan’s apology on the issue.
The association, headed by former education minister Nariaki Nakayama, consists of 130 lawmakers, or nearly one-third of the 417 LDP lawmakers in both chambers of the Diet. The group handed the resolution to Abe Thursday afternoon.
Abe was once the director general of the association, which has long campaigned to push the education ministry to remove descriptions of “comfort women” from public high school history text books.
After becoming prime minister in September, Abe slightly changed his position and has repeatedly said he accepts the 1993 government statement as the official view.
The 1993 Kono statement was issued after the government examined historic government documents and interviewed 16 women who claimed they were forced into sexual slavery.
The government did not find documents that directly proved the involvement of the government or army, but in combination with the interviews and circumstantial evidence from state documents, Kono admitted the official involvement and extended a formal apology.
A number of wartime government documents have been discovered to suggest the Japanese army did order the creation of military brothels for soldiers, played a role in managing the brothels, and even transported women to those brothels in China and other parts of Asia.
But the association claimed the Japanese authorities did not forcibly take those women to the military brothels, most of which were run by private-sector agencies for the sake of the army.
Now Abe plays the blame game, blames media for misconstruing him, and clams up…
Abe won’t explain sex slave remarks, accuses media of being inaccurate
Japan Today/Kyodo News Friday, March 9, 2007 at 19:41 EST
TOKYO — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday declined to give further explanation of his recent remarks on wartime sex slavery, saying such discussion would be ‘unproductive” and accusing the media of being “inaccurate.”
“At this very sensitive time when it is difficult to have my remarks conveyed correctly, I believe discussion here will only become extremely unproductive,” said Abe, referring to criticism at home and abroad since he denied last week evidence of physical coercion by Japanese military in forcing women into sexual servitude.
“Last time I answered questions on this issue, my remarks were not conveyed or reported accurately, so I believe it to be the right political judgment not to spread this any further,” Abe told reporters at his office when asked if he intends to provide an easier-to-understand explanation.
The premier, a conservative hawk who seeks a bigger global role for Japanese troops and aims to revise the war-renouncing Constitution, has repeatedly said his government will stand by a 1993 statement that acknowledged and apologized for the military’s involvement in the forced recruitment of the so-called “comfort women.”
But Abe sparked an outcry when he said there was no proof of physical coercion by the military, namely soldiers kidnapping women and putting them in brothels.
The New York Times issued an editorial on Tuesday harshly criticizing Japan’s “efforts to contort the truth” and published a front-page article on the experiences of survivors in its Thursday edition.
Former comfort women, as the victims are euphemistically referred to in Japan, and even former Japanese soldiers, have testified that girls and women were coerced by the military. (Kyodo News)
THAT NYT EDITORIAL:
THE NEW YORK TIMES Editorial March 6, 2007
What part of “Japanese Army sex slaves” does Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, have so much trouble understanding and apologizing for?
The underlying facts have long been beyond serious dispute. During World War II, Japan’s Army set up sites where women rounded up from Japanese colonies like Korea were expected to deliver sexual services to Japan’s soldiers.
These were not commercial brothels. Force, explicit and implicit, was used in recruiting these women. What went on in them was serial rape, not prostitution. The Japanese Army’s involvement is documented in the government’s own defense files. A senior Tokyo official more or less apologized for this horrific crime in 1993. The unofficial fund set up to compensate victims is set to close down this month.
And Mr. Abe wants the issue to end there. Last week, he claimed that there was no evidence that the victims had been coerced. Yesterday, he grudgingly acknowledged the 1993 quasi apology, but only as part of a pre-emptive declaration that his government would reject the call, now pending in the United States Congress, for an official apology. America isn’t the only country interested in seeing Japan belatedly accept full responsibility. Korea and China are also infuriated by years of Japanese equivocations over the issue.
Mr. Abe seems less concerned with repairing Japan’s sullied international reputation than with appealing to a large right-wing faction within his Liberal Democratic Party that insists that the whole shameful episode was a case of healthy private enterprise. One ruling party lawmaker, in his misplaced zeal to exculpate the Army, even suggested the offensive analogy of a college that outsourced its cafeteria to a private firm.
Japan is only dishonored by such efforts to contort the truth.
The 1993 statement needs to be expanded upon, not whittled down. Parliament should issue a frank apology and provide generous official compensation to the surviving victims. It is time for Japan’s politicians — starting with Mr. Abe — to recognize that the first step toward overcoming a shameful past is acknowledging it.
THE KOUNO STATEMENT ON THE COMFORT WOMEN ISSUE (August 4, 1993), FOR THE RECORD
Following is the text of the statement in English translation from the Japanese Foreign Ministry’s Web site.
Original Japanese (included below) at
“The Government of Japan has been conducting a study on the issue of wartime “comfort women” since December 1991. I wish to announce the findings as a result of that study.
“As a result of the study which indicates that comfort stations were operated in extensive areas for long periods, it is apparent that there existed a great number of comfort women. Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day. The then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women. The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing coercion etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.
“As to the origin of those comfort women who were transferred to the war areas, excluding those from Japan, those from the Korean Peninsula accounted for a large part. The Korean Peninsula was under Japanese rule in those days, and their recruitment, transfer, control, etc. were conducted generally against their will, through coaxing, coercion etc.
“Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honor and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.
“It is incumbent upon us, the Government of Japan, to continue to consider seriously, while listening to the views of learned circles, how best we can express this sentiment.
“We shall face squarely the historical facts as described above instead of evading them, and take them to heart as lessons of history. We hereby reiterated our firm determination never to repeat the same mistake by forever engraving such issues in our memories through the study and teaching of history.
“As actions have been brought to court in Japan and interests have been shown in this issue outside Japan, the Government of Japan shall continue to pay full attention to this matter, including private research related thereto.”
Original Japanese, for the record:
Now fellow LDP legislators are going to the US to fight Abe’s battles… Article courtesy of the author. Debito
Japanese Prime Minister angers victims of wartime sex slavery
THE INDEPENDENT (London)
By David McNeill in Tokyo
Published: 09 March 2007
Once a week, anger and the call of the past drags Gil Won-ok from her bed in a suburb of Seoul to the Japanese embassy in the South Korean capital. The frail 78-year-old is haunted by memories of what happened to her as a teenage girl when she was raped daily by Japanese soldiers in a Second World War “comfort station”. “I was in so much pain. Sometimes I didn’t know if I was going to live or die.”
For 15 years, the Korean “comfort women” have stood outside this embassy to demand recognition from the Japanese government. Now, instead of an apology, they have heard another official denial. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said last week there was “no evidence” to prove the women were coerced. The statement has enraged the women. “They can’t make this go away by lying about it,” Gil Won-ok said.
Yesterday Mr Abe said the government stood by a 1993 admission that Japan had forced women into sexual slavery. But he also suggested that it would “reinvestigate” the comfort-women issue, a demand from about 120 politicians on the right of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who demand the admission be reversed.
Elderly women across Asia tell stories similar to the treatment of the Seoul pensioner. In the Chinese province of Shanxi, Guo Xi-cui was just 15 when she held in a comfort station for 40 days. She said Japanese soldiers stood watching as “two or three men” held her legs. “They spread them until I was injured and then they raped me,” she said. “When they sent me home I was not able to sit properly.”
Jan Ruff-O’Herne, an Adelaide grandmother, and her friends were taken from a Japanese concentration camp in Java to a comfort station. “We were given flower names and they were pinned to our doors,” she told Australian television. Then aged 21 and planning to become a nun, Ms O’Herne was raped by an officer.
According to Amnesty International, thousands of women from across Asia – some as young as 12 – were “enslaved against their will and repeatedly raped, tortured and brutalised for months and years” by the Japanese military. Thousands died in painful silence after a lifetime of torment until a group of Korean victims began to speak out in the early 1990s. Ms O’Herne remembers watching the women on television: “I thought, now is my time to speak out.”
But the issue has galvanised the Japanese right, who deny government involvement. “The women were legal prostitutes in brothels,” Nobukatsu Fujioka, a revisionist academic, said. He is one of the leading figures in a movement that aims to overturn much of the accepted wisdom about what took place during Japan’s rampage across Asia in the 1930s and 40s.
Twelve out of 18 members of Japan’s cabinet belong to a political forum that wants to “rethink” history education and backs many of Professor Fujioka’s views. His Society for History Textbook Reform has sold 800,000 copies of a revisionist history book that denies war crimes such as the comfort women and the Rape of Nanjing. Before coming to power, Mr Abe was one of the society’s supporters.
The revisionist denials are refuted by many Japanese historians. “The military decided when, where, and how ‘comfort stations’ were to be established,” Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a professor of history at Tokyo’s Chuo University, said.
Former Japanese soldiers have also testified to their involvement in the wartime rape of Asian women. Hajime Kondo, who was stationed in China from 1940-44, recalled kidnapping a woman in Shanxi Province and taking turns with his comrades in raping her. He said the thought that gang rape was wrong “never occurred” to him until he had his own family.
The deniers, however, have grown stronger since a 1993 statement by chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono that the military was directly involved. That statement has never been accepted by the right. Now, with the prospect of a US Congressional resolution calling on Tokyo to “formally apologise and accept historical responsibility” for the comfort women, a delegation of LDP politicians is to travel to the US to lobby for the resolution to be quashed.
Mr Abe’s supporters say his plummeting approval ratingshave forced him to go for broke. “If he is true to his beliefs and says what he feels, his popularity will rise,” Professor Fujioka said.
Another article of note sent to me as a letter to the blog, talking about how the J media is turning this international issue into a domestic political one: Philip Brasor in the Japan Times March 11, 2007:
LOS ANGELES TIMES EDITORIAL
Japan can’t dodge this shame
‘Comfort women’ were forced to work in brothels during World War II; Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says there’s no proof that ever happened.
By Dinah L. Shelton, professor of law at George Washington University.
LOS ANGELES TIMES EDITORIAL March 6, 2007
IN EUROPEAN COUNTRIES, it is a punishable offense to deny the Holocaust. In contrast, Japanese war crimes have never been fully prosecuted or acknowledged, nor have most victims been afforded redress. Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe exploited this lack of accountability by asserting that there is “no proof” that women were forced into sexual bondage to serve the Japanese military during World War II, in effect labeling as prostitutes or liars all the thousands of victims of this abhorrent practice. After international outrage erupted, Abe stepped back, but by then the survivors had once more been victimized by his denial of an overwhelming historical record.
The prime minister’s revisionist statement contradicts abundant evidence that has come to light despite the government’s efforts to conceal or minimize the mistreatment of thousands of women in about 2,000 wartime brothels run by or with the cooperation of the Japanese military. Although no one knows exactly how many girls and women were conscripted to provide sex to Japanese soldiers, most historians estimate the number at between 100,000 and 200,000. Most were Korean and Chinese, though they also included other Asians and Europeans from Japanese-occupied areas. Many were kidnapped and raped, others were tricked or defrauded; some were sold by their families.
Japanese soldiers have come forward during the last 15 years to admit to forcibly taking girls and women on orders of the military. In 1992, documents found in the archives of Japan’s Defense Ministry indicated that the military was directly involved in running the brothels. The Japanese government formally apologized to the women in 1993. Since then, Japan’s official position has been one of admitting moral but not legal responsibility. A private fund was set up to compensate the former “comfort women,” and two Japanese prime ministers wrote formal letters of apology to women who received the payments. Some victims claimed that this ambiguity was unacceptable and refused to accept compensation.
The Japanese government claims that even if the women were held involuntarily, there was no law against it at the time; alternatively, if coerced sexual relations were illegal, the laws did not apply in militarily-occupied territories. A third prong of the Japanese defense is that any misconduct that did occur was settled by the peace treaties at the end of the war. Human rights activists in Japan and abroad have sought to prove this wrong, but so far they have been unable to secure redress for “comfort women” who have come forward in recent years.
In 2000, the Tokyo District Court dismissed a case brought by 46 former sex slaves from the Philippines who accused Japan of war crimes and crimes against humanity. The court wrongly decided that “crimes against humanity” were not part of international law at the time. In 2001, a reparations claim by South Korean women who had been held as sex slaves failed in the Hiroshima High Court on the similarly erroneous grounds that coerced sex wasn’t illegal at the time.
However, there is a strong case to be made that the Japanese government does owe the women damages. Rape and kidnapping were crimes in Japanese law at the time and should have led to prosecutions of soldiers committing them. Moreover, despite the ruling in Tokyo District Court, the notion of crimes against humanity goes back to 1904, and such crimes were indicted after World War I and successfully prosecuted after World War II. On top of that, Japan had joined in four international treaties that barred sexual trafficking in women and forced labor: the International Convention for the Suppression of the Traffic in Women and Children (1921), the International Agreement for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic (1904), the International Convention for the Suppression of the White Slave Traffic of 1910 and the Agreement on the Abolition of Forced Labor (1930). In 1999, the Federation of Korean Trade Unions invoked these treaties and requested the International Labor Organization to rule that the women held by Japan in official brothels constituted forced laborers. The ILO Committee of Experts upheld the claim, despite Japanese contentions that the agreements did not apply to “colonial territories” such as occupied Korea. But the ILO had no power to order relief.
The Japanese government cannot be sued outside Japan because it has immunity from prosecution as a foreign state. Attempts by surviving women to sue in U.S. courts were dismissed on these grounds. Even if the victims were to surmount this “sovereign immunity” defense, they might run into problems with the peace treaties that ended World War II. For example, the 1951 U.S.-Japan peace treaty “recognized that the resources of Japan are not presently sufficient, if it is to maintain a viable economy, to make complete reparation” for damage and suffering. Japan has argued that this provision and others in peace treaties with some of its Asian neighbors and European powers closed the door on reparations claims by former prisoners of war, “comfort women” and other victims of Japanese atrocities and that nothing is owed anyone today. However, several provisions in the peace treaties suggest that reopening the issue of reparations might be possible, and advocates should look carefully at the texts. Still, it seems no court is likely to cure the injustice; Japan has a moral and legal obligation to do so.
UNREDRESSED GRIEVANCES have a habit of resurfacing, and sometimes burst forth in uncontrollable conflict, as in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Already, Japan is facing increasing demands from several countries, including China, South Korea and the Philippines, that it more directly acknowledge its wartime misconduct and compensate its victims. Japan’s long-term interests in peaceful relations with its neighbors, not to mention its moral standing in the world, call for it to do so.
The problem that Japan — and its neighbors — have today stems from the lack of an equivalent of the Nuremberg trials to establish a complete and irrefutable record of the war crimes in Asia. Moreover, the Japanese government burned many of its own records, and others fell into private hands. This historical vacuum provides the opening for statements like Abe’s that there is “no proof” that women were coerced into sexual bondage. Those who oppose the International Criminal Court should be mindful of this pitfall. Meanwhile, Japan owes far more than an apology to the comfort women. Redress is legally and morally required.
RESPONSE TO THE LA TIMES EDITORIAL
FROM THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT
Japan has atoned for transgressions
LA Times Letter to the Editor March 11, 2007
Re “The shame Japan can’t dodge,” Opinion, March 6
Let me set the record straight.
In 1993, the government of Japan acknowledged the involvement of former Japanese military authorities in the “comfort women” issue and expressed apologies and remorse to those who endured immeasurable pain and incurable wounds.
In 1995, the Asian Women’s Fund, which extended payments to women as a form of atonement and implemented medical and welfare projects, was established with the cooperation of the government and the Japanese people.
Since then, payments have been accompanied by letters from prime ministers saying: “We must not evade the weight of the past, nor should we evade our responsibilities for the future. I believe that our country, painfully aware of its moral responsibilities, with feelings of apology and remorse, should face up squarely to its past history and accurately convey it to future generations.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated that there has been no change in the position of the government of Japan.
Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles
(thanks to NHK 7PM news March 12, 2007, for notifying me)
ECONOMIST (LONDON) EDITORIAL
No comfort for Abe
Mar 8th 2007
From The Economist print edition
Japan’s prime minister picks a shameful fight over the organised rape of thousands of women
SIX months ago Japan, whose leaders have often been dull political ciphers, celebrated an unaccustomed transition: the handover of power from a confident, reforming prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, to an assertive, seemingly capable successor, Shinzo Abe. Mr Koizumi had pulled the economy out of its slump, and built up respect abroad. Japan may have failed last year to win the permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council that it covets, but its diplomats, aid workers and (in modest but useful numbers) its soldiers, sailors and airmen are now ever more routinely deployed—and appreciated—in troublespots and disaster zones from Asia and Africa to the Middle East. Mr Abe has talked about his fellow citizens taking new pride in their “beautiful country”.
So they should. But sadly for those who expected better from Mr Abe, he seems to think he can build pride in the future on untruths about Japan’s past.
Mr Abe started promisingly enough. By adopting a more subtle approach towards China and South Korea he undid much of the damage Mr Koizumi had caused by his stubborn visits to the Yasukuni shrine honouring Japan’s war dead (where the souls of some convicted war criminals have also been “enshrined” at the request of their families). Then last week he squandered all the goodwill. Planting his own feet in the mire of imperial Japan’s wartime history, he questioned whether the 200,000 or so “comfort women” (from Korea, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Burma and elsewhere) herded into the system of brothels run by the Japanese Imperial Army had really been coerced into their sexual servitude. Strictly speaking, Mr Abe said, there was no evidence of that.
Is he deaf? The first-hand evidence has mounted since some of the women courageously started breaking their silence, after decades of shame, in the early 1990s. More testified recently at hearings in America’s House of Representatives, where efforts are under way to pass a resolution calling on Japan to make a full apology, and where some of the victims explained, painfully, just how wartime sex slavery was for them. There would be more evidence too, if successive Japanese governments had not buried it in closed files or destroyed it.
Why pick this shameful fight? Other blunders have left Mr Abe dependent on his party’s noisy ultra-conservatives (see article). Resentful even of Japan’s past carefully parsed apologies for its wartime aggression, a group is now campaigning to overturn a 1993 statement by a cabinet official, noticeably unsupported by the parliament of the day, that for the first time accepted the army’s role in setting up the brothels.
The past is your country too
What the brothel survivors want is that full apology from Japan; they refuse to be fobbed off with offers of money instead from a private fund. By questioning their testimony—in effect, calling them liars—Mr Abe has instead added modern insult to past injury. But the damage goes wider. It revives distrust among Japan’s neighbours. And it belittles the efforts of those admirable Japanese working alongside others in the world’s dangerous places to help rebuild communities where people have sometimes suffered the same wartime traumas as the “comfort women”—victims of organised rape, in any other language than prime-ministerial Japanese.
Japan is not unique in its reluctance to confront a grim past. Though China lambasted Mr Abe for his statement, its Communist Party has never accepted responsibility for the 30m deaths from Mao’s self-inflicted famines of the 1950s, for example. But six decades on, deliberate amnesia is unworthy of modern, democratic Japan. Shame on you, Mr Abe.
Here’s a pretty much perfect article on the “Comfort Women” Issue at Japan Focus, which ties everything we need for this debate together: The USG and GOJ’s reaction to the issue, the UN’s reports, the background of the primary agents in the process of denial, and all contextualized within a comparison of Nazi Germany’s and Imperial Japan’s wartime behavior and postwar followup. Well done that researcher! Debito in Sapporo
Japan’s “Comfort Women”: It’s time for the truth (in the ordinary, everyday sense of the word)
By Tessa Morris-Suzuki (Professor of Japanese History and Convenor of the Division of Pacific and Asian History in the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University)
Japan Focus Article 780
Some select quotes:
Reading these remarks [from Abe and Aso regarding "coercion" and "facts"], I found myself imagining the international reaction to a German government which proposed that it had no historical responsibility for Nazi forced labour, on the grounds that this had not been “forcible in the narrow sense of the word”. I also found myself in particular imagining how the world might react if one of the German ministers most actively engaged in this denial happened (for example) to be called Krupp, and to be a direct descendant of the industrial dynasty of that name….
Many people were involved in the recruitment of “comfort women” – not only soldiers but also members of the Korean colonial police (working, of course, under Japanese command) and civilian brokers, who frequently used techniques of deception identical to those used by human traffickers today. Forced labour for mines and factories was recruited with the same mixture of outright violence, threats and false promises…
To summarise, then, not all “comfort women” were rounded up at gunpoint, but some were. Some were paid for “services”, though many were not. Not all “comfort stations” were directly managed by the military. None of this, however, negates the fact that large numbers of women were violently forced, coerced or tricked into situations in which they suffered horrible sexual violence whose consequences affected their entire lives. I doubt if many of those who, “suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds” have spent a great deal of time worrying whether these wounds were the result of coercion in the “broad” or the “narrow” sense of the word.
And none of this makes the Japanese system any different from the Nazi forced labour system…
In 1996, a Special Rapporteur appointed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights issued a detailed report on the “comfort women” issue. Its conclusions are unequivocal:
“The Special Rapporteur is absolutely convinced that most of the women kept at the comfort stations were taken against their will, that the Japanese Imperial Army initiated, regulated and controlled the vast network of comfort stations, and that the Government of Japan is responsible for the comfort stations. In addition, the Government of Japan should be prepared to assume responsibility for what this implies under international law”. 
This denial [from members of the LDP] goes hand-in-hand with an insistence that those demanding justice for the “comfort women” are just a bunch of biased and ill-informed “Japan-bashers”. An article by journalist Komori Yoshihisa in the conservative Sankei newspaper, for example, reports that the US Congress resolution is “based on a complaint which presumes that all the comfort women were directly conscripted by the Japanese army, and that the statements by Kono and Murayama were not clear apologies.” 
Komori does not appear to have read the resolution with much attention…
What purpose do Abe’s and Aso’s denials serve? Certainly not the purpose of helping defeat the US Congressional resolution. Their statements have in fact seriously embarrassed those US Congress members who are opposed to the resolution.  The main strategy of these US opponents of Resolution 121 was the argument that Japanese government had already apologized adequately for the sufferings of the “comfort women”, and that there was no need to take the matter further. By their retreat from remorse, Abe and Aso have succeeded in neatly cutting the ground from beneath the feet of their closest US allies.
UPDATE MARCH 19, 2007
Abe’s ‘comfort women’ remarks: What was he thinking?
Ralph A. Cossa and Brad Glosserman
Star-Journal (Honolulu, Hawaii) March 18, 2007
WHAT WAS he thinking? That is the question most Japan-watchers grappled with following Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s fumbled questions about the imperial Japanese government’s role in recruiting “comfort women” during World War II. His responses came close to undoing the progress he had made in restoring relations with China and South Korea and threatened to drive a wedge between Tokyo and Washington.
The controversy began March 1 when Abe was asked about a Liberal Democratic Party group that wanted the government to revisit the 1993 statement by then-Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono. Kono acknowledged that the “Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women” and that “in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing coercion , etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments.”
Conservatives object to two related points: the role played by the military and the degree to which it actually “coerced” women. Abe said that the meaning of coercion was unclear and the accuracy of the statement depended on how the word was defined. (Ignored was his comment that either way, his government stood behind the 1993 statement.)
The readiness to challenge the conclusion that the government had “coerced” the women unleashed a firestorm of controversy, not least because the U.S. House of Representatives — during hearings on a resolution that called on Japan to apologize for its actions — had days before heard testimony from former comfort women that seemed to confirm the charge. Abe’s response sparked fierce condemnation from leading U.S. and foreign newspapers and seriously undercut those arguing against the resolution.
Why did Abe fan the flames, especially when it threatened to undercut diplomacy that promised “a new start” for Japanese foreign policy and had offered such promise for the new administration?
First, it should be noted that Abe wasn’t volunteering for controversy; he was responding to questions triggered by the actions of others (the LDP group and the U.S. hearings). This does not excuse or fully explain the response, however.
One explanation is that Abe, like many other conservatives, genuinely believes that the Kono statement was wrong. They challenge the factual basis for the conclusion that the government was involved in coercion. This argument rests on the definition of the word “coercion,” a legal distinction that is jarring given the long-standing insistence that Japan is not a “legalistic culture” and operates according to more flexible principles. It also attempts to trump a moral argument with a legal one. Whether the army actually coerced the women or left that job to independent contractors (as one legalistic argument asserts), there is little doubt that women were forced into servitude at the army’s behest.
This argument also rests on a sense of nationalism. Many conservatives still chafe at the judgment of the Tokyo Tribunals. The Kono statement implies that Japanese behavior was somehow different from that of other countries and Tokyo must apologize for things that other governments have not.
Underlying that conclusion — and obliging Abe to defend it — is domestic politics. The prime minister believes that Japan should be a more assertive country, one that is judged by its record of the last 60 years rather than for the sins of its forefathers. His domestic political base agrees, and they both resent being told what to do by any country.
Ironically, many in the United States and Asia agree that it is time to stop dwelling on the past, that today’s Japan should be judged by its postwar history. Unfortunately, Abe’s comments — like his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine — make it impossible for even Japan’s supporters to move past the history debate.
The phenomenon drives home the rising significance of domestic politics in Northeast Asia and the transition that all countries are experiencing as the international environment evolves and a new generation comes to power. While the U.S.-Japan relationship has been strengthened in recent years, both countries must still be acutely sensitive to developments in the other and ready to challenge assumptions about how the relationship works.
FOR EXAMPLE, the presumption that a House of Representatives judgment on Japanese history would be above challenge is plainly wrong. Gaiatsu (outside pressure) no longer works, even when it comes from Tokyo’s closest ally.
Yet the Japanese assumption that the alliance would counterbalance domestic politics in the United States is equally mistaken. The usual group of alliance handlers didn’t — or couldn’t — quash this tempest.
Abe is not the first politician to put the need to appeal to his domestic base above his country’s international image or long-term national interest, but it could not come at a worse time. As the first Japanese prime minister to be born after the war, Abe had an opportunity to pursue a forward-looking agenda. Instead, he and his more conservative colleagues have forced us once again to dwell on the past. Does this really serve Abe’s — or Japan’s — interest?
Ralph A. Cossa and Brad Glosserman are president and executive director, respectively, of the Pacific Forum CSIS (email@example.com), a Honolulu-based nonprofit research institute affiliated with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, and senior editors of Comparative Connections, a quarterly electronic journal.