Below are Hashimoto’s statements to foreign press shortly before he appeared at the FCCJ on May 27. While I am disinclined to comment on the historical specifics (as I haven’t studied the WWII Sexual Slavery aka Comfort Women Issue sufficiently to make informed statements), I will say this about what Hashimoto’s doing: He’s bringing the issue to the fore for public scrutiny.
Bring this before public scrutiny in itself is a good thing. Too many times we have had bigoted, racist, sexist, and plain ahistorical statements by Japan’s public officials downplayed by the media, resulting in predictable backpedaling and claiming that comments were “for a domestic audience only”. This is typically followed by snap resignations without sufficient debate or correction (or, in recent years, people not resigning at all and just waiting for the next media cycle for things to blow over), undercarpet sweeping, and a renewed regional toxic aftertaste: How Japan’s elite status in Asia under America’s hegemony allows it to remain historically unrepentant and a debate Galapagos in terms of historical accountability. Japan’s media generally lacks the cojones to bring the xenophobic and bigoted to account for their statements (after all, Hashimoto to this day has not developed a filter for his role as public official; he still talks like the outspoken lawyer he was when appearing on Japanese TV as a pundit). So having him show some unusual backbone before the foreign press is something more Japanese in positions of power should do. Let’s have the debate warts and all, and let the historians debunk the ahistorical claims being made. But the claims have to be made clearly in the first place before they can be debunked.
The bad thing going on here, in my view, is that Hashimoto is rationalizing and normalizing sexual slavery as a universal part of war — as if “blaming Japan” is wrong because everyone allegedly did it. In his words, “It would be harmful, not only to Japan but also to the world, if Japan’s violation of the dignity of women by soldiers were reported and analyzed as an isolated and unique case, and if such reports came to be treated as common knowledge throughout the world.” That is: Japan did nothing all that wrong because it did nothing unusually wrong.
Hashimoto is also denying that the GOJ was “intentionally involved in the abduction and trafficking of women”. And that is wrong both morally and factually. It is also wrong because working backwards from a conclusion of relativism. People (especially those of Hashimoto, Abe, and Ishihara’s political bent) have the tendency to not want to view their “beautiful country” “negatively” as the bad guy in the movie. Therefore their countrymen’s behavior must have been within context as part of the “normal”, because to them it is inconceivable that people could possibly have acted differently in the same circumstances.
But not only is this a dishonest assessment of history (EVERY country, yes, has a history that has shameful periods; the trick is not to cover them up, as Hashimoto’s ilk seeks to do, down to Japan’s education curriculum), but it is also disingenuously circumspect: For Hashimoto’s ilk, not only must Japan be seen ACCURATELY (as they see it), it must be seen NICELY. That’s simply not possible for certain time periods in Japan’s history.
At least Hashimoto is willing to boldly present that side for people to shoot down. Hopefully he will lose his political career because of it, for a man like this is unfit to hold political office. But it is more “honest” than the alternative.
Hashimoto’s statements follow in English and Japanese, plus an AJW article on the FCCJ Q&A. After that, let’s have some comments from Debito.org Readers. But an advance word of warning: Although this falls under Discussions (where I moderate comments less strictly), the sensitive and contentious nature of this subject warrants a few advance ground rules: Comments will NOT be approved if a) they seek to justify sexual slavery or human trafficking in any form, b) they try to claim that Hashimoto was misquoted without comparing the misquote to his exact quote, or c) they claim historical inaccuracy without providing credible historical sources. In sum, commenters who seek to justify Hashimoto’s ahistorical stances will have to do more homework to be heard on Debito.org. Conversely, comments will more likely be approved if they a) stick to the accuracy or logic of Hashimoto’s statements, b) talk about the debate milieu within Japan regarding this topic, c) take up specific claims and address them with credible sources. Go to it. But make sure in the course of arguing that you don’t sound like Hashimoto and his ilk yourself.