This statement emerged from an open forum held at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting held in Chicago during March 2015, and from subsequent discussions online among a wide range of Japan scholars. It represents the opinions only of those who have signed and not of any organization of institution.
OPEN LETTER IN SUPPORT OF HISTORIANS IN JAPAN
The undersigned scholars of Japanese studies express our unity with the many courageous historians in Japan seeking an accurate and just history of World War II in Asia. Because Japan is a second home as well as a field of research for many of us, we write with a shared concern for the way that the history of Japan and East Asia is studied and commemorated.
In this important commemorative year, we also write to celebrate seventy years of Peace between Japan and its neighbors. Postwar Japan’s history of democracy, civilian control of the military, police restraint, and political tolerance, together with contributions to science and generous aid to other countries, are all things to celebrate as well.
Yet problems of historical interpretation pose an impediment to celebrating these achievements. One of the most divisive historical issues is the so-called “comfort women” system. This issue has become so distorted by nationalist invective in Japan as well as in Korea and China that many scholars, along with journalists and politicians, have lost sight of the fundamental goal of historical inquiry, which should be to understand the human condition and aspire to improve it.
Exploitation of the suffering of former “comfort women” for nationalist ends in the countries of the victims makes an international resolution more difficult and further insults the dignity of the women themselves. Yet denying or trivializing what happened to them is equally unacceptable. Among the many instances of wartime sexual violence and military prostitution in the twentieth century, the“comfort women” system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan.
There is no easy path to a “correct history.” Much of the archive of the Japanese Imperial military was destroyed. The actions of local procurers who provided women to the military may never have been recorded. But historians have unearthed numerous documents demonstrating the military’s involvement in the transfer of women and oversight of brothels. Important evidence also comes from the testimony of victims. Although their stories are diverse and affected by the inconsistencies of memory, the aggregate record they offer is compelling and supported by official documents as well as by the accounts of soldiers and others.
Historians disagree over the precise number of “comfort women,” which will probably never be known for certain. Establishing sound estimates of victims is important. But ultimately, whether the numbers are judged to have been in the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands will not alter the fact of the exploitation carried out throughout the Japanese empire and its war zones.
Some historians also dispute how directly the Japanese military was involved, and whether women were coerced to become “comfort women.” Yet the evidence makes clear that large numbers of women were held against their will and subjected to horrific brutality. Employing legalistic arguments focused on particular terms or isolated documents to challenge the victims’ testimony both misses the fundamental issue of their brutalization and ignores the larger context of the inhumane system that exploited them.
Like our colleagues in Japan, we believe that only careful weighing and contextual evaluation of every trace of the past can produce a just history. Such work must resist nationaland gender bias, and be free from government manipulation, censorship, and private intimidation. We defend the freedom of historical inquiry, and we call upon all governments to do the same.
Many countries still struggle to acknowledge past injustices. It took over forty years for the United States government to compensate Japanese-Americans for their Internment during World War II. The promise of equality for African Americans was not realized in US law until a century after the abolition of slavery, and the reality of racism remains ingrained in American society. None of the imperial powers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the United States, the European nations, and Japan, can claim to have sufficiently reckoned with their histories of racism, colonialism, and war, or with the suffering they inflicted on countless civilians around the world.
Japan today values the life and rights of every individual, including the most vulnerable. The Japanese government would not tolerate the exploitation of women in a system Like the military “comfort stations” now, either overseas or at home. Even at the time, some officials protested on moral grounds. But the wartime regime compelled absolute sacrifice of the individual to serve the state, causing great suffering to the Japanese people themselves as well as to other Asians. No one should have to suffer such conditions again.
This year presents an opportunity for the government of Japan to show leadership. By addressing Japan’s history of colonial rule and wartime aggression in both words and action. In his April address to the US Congress, Prime Minister Abe spoke of the universal value of human rights, of the importance of human security, and of facing the suffering that Japan caused other countries. We applaud these sentiments and urge the Prime Minister to act boldly on all of them.
The process of acknowledging past wrongs strengthens a democratic society and fosters cooperation among nations. Since the equal rights and dignity of women lie at the core of the “comfort women” issue, its resolution would be a historic step toward the equality of women and men in Japan, East Asia and the world.
In our classrooms, students from Japan, Korea, China and elsewhere discuss these difficult issues with mutual respect and probity. Their generation will live with the record of the past that we bequeath them. To help them build a world free of sexual violence and human trafficking, and to promote peace and friendship in Asia, we must leave as full and unbiased an accounting of past wrongs as possible.
June 12, 2015
A Counter Response and Proposal to the “Open Letter” written by 187 Historians
By Fujioka Nobukatsu, Visiting Professor, Takushoku University
To the 187 historians who jointly signed the Open Letter,
On May 5, the “Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan” was released and rapidly circulated around the world. This Letter was signed by 187 historians and researchers mainly in the field of Japan studies from the United States and western countries. The Open Letter accused the Japan’s military comfort women system before and during World War II. The Letter was a thinly veiled demand for an apology from the Prime Minister of Japan.
Note: As of the end of May, the number of signatures had grown to around 460, but out of respect for the original signatories I will only address the first 187.
I read the letter with an open mind, and, as a Japanese citizen, I would like to express my candid opinion. Please note that I do not represent any Japanese organizations or agencies, and the following is purely the personal viewpoint of a scholar who has been keeping abreast of the comfort woman issue since 1992.
My feelings of disappointment and encouragement
I experienced mixed feelings upon reading the Open Letter. On the one hand, I was disappointed, but on the other hand I was encouraged by the positive opportunity that the open letter presented.
I will first explain my disappointment. There are many well-respected scholars among the 187 historians and researchers who signed the Open Letter, including scholars who are very well-known in Japan. Some of their works have been translated into Japanese, and they have had a profound impact and influence on both Japanese scholars and lay readers.
Books written by the signatories, such as Ezra Vogel’s “Japan as Number One”, John Dower’s “War without Mercy”, Andrew Gordon’s “A Modern History of Japan”, and Ronald Dore’s “Education in Tokugawa Japan” have been translated into Japanese, and this was just a random sampling off the top of my head. In fact some of these translated works have been more widely read in Japan than in the country in which they were written!
The signatures of such scholars, it seems to me, added weight to the Open Letter. But, if you expect, by their presence, it would lead to gaining more support from a greater number of Japanese, I am afraid that you have decidedly failed to understand the perception prevailing in Japan over the comfort women issue. The significant portion of the Japanese people will never share the basic premise of the Letter.
I say this because there are simply too many people in Japan who have already reached their own understanding about the “comfort women” and suspect the whole comfort women story might have been fabricated as a political tool to attack Japan. For example, the fact that criticism of Japan regarding the comfort women issue might be built on a very flimsy factual basis became apparent following the newspaper Asahi Shimbun’s retraction last August of its thirty-two years’ worth of bogus reporting. This now-retracted reporting is a very large part of what started the whole comfort women story.
Therefore, any Japanese person with minimal awareness of the controversy who reads this Open Letter, including even an ordinary salaryman or housewife with no special academic qualification, would feel that the Letter is based fundamentally on a misconception of historical reality.
However, I must also write about my other reaction to the Open Letter, in that I feel that its release represents a great opportunity. As I noted previously, it is my opinion that Japanese citizens on the whole are better informed about the reality of the “comfort women” problem than are American-based “Japan Specialists,” and this means that our two nations have become divided, not only by the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean, but also by an equally vast “information gap” on certain subjects.
And yet, I do not believe that all of the Open Letter’s signatories supported it out of ill will or bias towards Japan. The contents of the statement never descend into prejudice and consistently adopt an attitude of fairness. It is plain to see that its authors exercised discretion and attempted to base their statement on universal values. For instance, one portion of the Open Letter read as follows,
“Postwar Japan’s history of democracy, civilian control of the military, police restraint, and political tolerance, together with contributions to science and generous aid to other countries, are all things to celebrate.”
As a Japanese citizen, I am pleased and highly grateful to the signatories of the Letter for their recognition of the value of Japan’s contributions to world peace since the end of World War II.
As a whole, this Open Letter appealed to universal values of democracy, liberty, and human rights. I concur wholeheartedly with these principles, which, indeed, should be cherished above anything else. It is precisely because of the importance of these universal values that 3 one should fight against prejudice and bias based on historical misconceptions and attempt instead to maintain one’s fairness and objectivity.
However, the “Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan” has exposed the information gap that exists between Japan and the United States, thus presenting us with an excellent opportunity to close it. I am writing this letter in the hope of making a small contribution towards filling that information gap.
Errors in the McGraw-Hill textbook
One example of this information gap appeared in November and December of last year, when the Japanese government asked for corrections to be made in a world history textbook in use at American high schools, McGraw-Hill’s “Traditions and Encounters.” The request was made on the grounds that the book’s description of the Japanese Army comfort women was highly inappropriate. Nineteen American historians then struck back with a message published in a US academic bulletin criticizing the actions of the Japanese government.
On March 17, in response to the nineteen American historians, nineteen Japanese historians pointed out what they felt were grievous factual errors in the textbook’s description of the comfort women, and they, too, politely asked McGraw-Hill to have the errors corrected.
The Japanese historians who authored the statement, represented by Professor Hata Ikuhiko, a leading expert on the comfort women issue, summarized the textbook’s mistakes in eight areas.I will outline four of them here:
(1.) The textbook stated, “The Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted, and dragooned as many as two hundred thousand women,” but the only Japanese scholar who the nineteen American historians cited as endorsing their viewpoint was Yoshimi Yoshiaki, who stated on a Japanese TV talk show that, “There is no evidence for forced recruitment of comfort women on the Korean peninsula.” The nineteen American historians seemed not to be aware of this.
(2.) Concerning the number of comfort women, the textbook gives the figure of “as many as two hundred thousand.” However, Professor Hata estimates the true number at around 20,000, based on documentary evidence including statistics compiled by Japanese government agencies.
(3.) The textbook states that “the ‘comfort women’ catered to between twenty and thirty men each day,” despite having already declared that the total number of comfort women was 200,000. If this is the case, then Japanese soldiers received between four million and six million sexual services per day. The total overseas troop strength of the Japanese Army requiring such services was one million, at warfare peak in 1943, meaning that each soldier went to a comfort station four to six times per day, according to the textbook. At this rate, Japanese Army soldiers would have had no time to prepare for battle or even live normal lives.
(4.) The textbook claimed that, “At the end of the war, soldiers massacred large numbers of comfort women to cover up the operation.” It is doubtful that this statement is based on historical documentary evidence. If it was, then a case should have been taken up by the postwar Tokyo Trials or by one of the B/C-class war crimes trials, and yet there is no record of that having occurred. It should go without saying that one cannot write in a textbook where, when, and how many people were killed without any supporting evidence. The textbook has thus portrayed a possibly baseless accusation as being an undisputed historical fact. Teaching American students in this manner is not truth-seeking but is instead an imposition of propaganda, a practice which is contrary to both freedom of scholarship and freedom of thought.
The written request by the nineteen Japanese historians (which I also signed) to correct the textbook’s errors was immediately sent to McGraw-Hill. Though we have yet to receive a reply, the newspaper Sankei Shimbun reported on May 16 that McGraw-Hill had responded to a question from one of its correspondents, indicating that it had no intention of making any corrections. Thus, McGraw-Hill has made no effort to confront the facts presented by reputable Japanese historians, so the Japanese government has every reason to object to the teaching to American high school students of what the Japanese consider to be lies.
Even though our written request did not make McGraw-Hill change its ways, it seems that it did have some impact on the academic community after all. I say this because the message of the nineteen American historians made reference to “state-sponsored sexual slavery”, but that expression does not appear anywhere in the “Open Letter.” Nor does that Open Letter mention the textbook’s figure of 200,000 comfort women. These were significant changes from the insistence of the nineteen American historians that the numbers used in the textbook not be altered.
The actual results of the military’s “systematic management”
However, even though the open letter of May 5 does show some progress towards common sense, both of the statements by foreign scholars still view the comfort women system in fundamentally the same way. Their basic viewpoint can be summed up in the following quote from the Open Letter:
“Among the many instances of wartime sexual violence and military prostitution in the twentieth century, the ‘comfort women’ system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan.”
Before making a single country the target of such sweeping criticism, a considerable amount of careful, fact-based research and analysis of comparative data should be a prerequisite. My question to the signatories of the Open Letter is, “Did you undertake a careful investigation of this sort before producing your statement?” To shed light on this matter, I would now like to take another look at several of the claims made by the Open Letter.
First of all, concerning its scale, I already mentioned that there is a controversy over whether the number of women working within the Japanese Army’s comfort women system was closer to 200,000 or to 20,000. Here the Open Letter simply states that the number of comfort women “will probably never be known for certain” and makes no attempt to pursue the matter further. How could the Open Letter have concluded that “the ‘comfort women’ system was distinguished by its large scale” if the scale “will probably never be known for certain?”
Secondly, the phrase “systematic management under the military” is simply a misunderstanding. The comfort women were hired by brokers who ran the brothels. The working conditions of comfort women may have been harsh, but they were paid high wages. At the time, a Japanese Army private first class soldier earned 10 yen per month, while a comfort woman in Burma was making an average of 750 yen per month. Comfort women who worked for a whole year were even able to buy new houses for their parents back at home. The essence of the wartime comfort women system was the extension of peacetime brothels onto the battlefield. Their customers were Japanese soldiers.
The fact that the comfort women were paid prostitutes rather than sex slaves was fully acknowledged by an official report of the US Army. “Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report No. 49,” written by the US Office of War Information Psychological Warfare Team in Burma, states right in its opening preface that, “A ‘comfort girl’ is nothing more than a prostitute or ‘professional camp follower’ attached to the Japanese Army for the benefit of the soldiers.”
The Japanese Army’s involvement in the comfort women system extended into three areas: signing contracts with and giving permits to brokers for the establishment of comfort stations, enacting regulations at those comfort stations, and having army doctors administer regular health checkups for the comfort women. The objective of the Japanese Army’s regulation of the comfort stations was to protect the rights of comfort women by imposing safeguards on exploitative brokers. Without the Army’s involvement, the working conditions of the comfort women would probably have been a lot worse. Both the relationship between the Army and the brokers and the relationship between the brokers and the comfort women were governed by contracts, and thus it was a lawful system comparable to those of contemporary nations which regulates public prostitution.
The comfort stations were put in place with the twin goals of keeping the sexual urges of frontline soldiers in check so that they would not harm local women and preventing the spread of venereal diseases from the use of local, already established brothels.
The tendency among American historians is to view military involvement as an unprecedented and impermissible policy. In the United States, it was typical for military personnel to take advantage of established, local brothels. For example, there was a red-light district in Hawaii called “Hotel Street,” where prostitutes brought in from San Francisco took one hundred customers daily. The United States even made use of brothels that the Japanese government set up for American soldiers during the postwar US occupation. Likewise, since the start of the Korean War, American soldiers stationed in South Korea used local brothels that the Korean Government set up.
Nevertheless, this merely represents a difference in customs between our two nations, and it does not change the fact that the objective of both systems was to find a way to manage the sexual urges of soldiers near the battlefield. The Japanese comfort women system was itself based on the system created by Germany during World War I. American historians have taken the United States’ own special method of wartime sexual management and upheld it as the perfect model, criticizing all other methods used by other countries. This is actually a naive sort of national chauvinism.
By way of comparison, the American method, involving the use of local brothels, suffers from its failure to control the risk of contracting venereal diseases. For instance, US Army units stationed in Kunming, China, used local brothels in the early 1940s, and as a result almost half of their soldiers and mechanics were stricken with sexually transmitted diseases and unable to work. In situations where battlefield conditions were harsh, like during the Vietnam War, the US Army created brothels under its virtually direct control when local brothels were unavailable.
The Japanese comfort women system was generally successful at achieving its designated goals. There were almost no rapes perpetrated by Japanese soldiers in occupied areas and few children of mixed nationality were left behind by the Japanese Army.
By contrast, American soldiers who had been stationed in Japan after the war left a great number of mixed-raced children behind them through liaisons with Japanese women. In Vietnam, the children of South Korean soldiers and Vietnamese women are known as Lai Dai Han, and there are estimated to be several tens of thousands of them.
Turning our attention back to World War II, the largest incident of mass rape occurred during the capture of Berlin by the Soviet Red Army. About one million German women were raped by Soviet troops, and it is said that 200,000 of them died. Many children were produced through acts of rape by Soviet forces. The Red Army also raped and massacred Japanese women in Manchuria immediately after the surrender of Japan. As an instance of 7 wartime sexual violence in the twentieth century, why haven’t the 187 historians taken up these transgressions, given that the scale of the atrocities was far greater?
It is certainly not true that Japanese men have unusually high sex drive in comparison to other people. Comparative data have consistently ranked Japanese males as being less lustful than other people in the world.
Fake atrocity stories and the credibility of testimonies
The third point I want to bring up is the claim in the Open Letter that, “the ‘comfort women’ system was distinguished by… its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan.” This is a major misconception. Most of the Japanese Army’s comfort women were prostitutes from Japan. Hata Ikuhiko’s calculation breaks down the total number of comfort women as being forty percent from Japan, thirty percent from the local area of occupation, twenty percent from Korea, and ten percent from other places. The number of Japanese and Korean comfort women was proportional to their relative populations.
It is likely true that these women were poor and vulnerable, and, if we imagine their individual circumstances, all of them deserve sympathy. However, it would be wrong to assume that the comfort women system cruelly forced them into a fate more inhumane than the alternatives. Women working in brothels in peacetime are also poor and vulnerable, and some former comfort women have even recalled that they sought out the army for more favorable conditions, which they felt were preferable to peacetime brothels.
Fourthly and finally, I will spend some time discussing one issue which I am certain influenced the thinking of the scholars who signed the Open Letter, and that is the “testimonies” and its credibility of former comfort women, in the context of wartime sexual violence. One can see in parts of the Open Letter that its signatories accepted that unbelievably cruel acts were perpetrated in the Japanese Army’s comfort stations and that the comfort women were victims of sexual violence. The Open Letter refers to the “brutalization” of comfort women and states that they were “subjected to horrific brutality” by the Japanese Army.
In 1996 the United Nations Human Rights Council approved the Coomaraswamy Report, which included the following testimony from Jeong Ok-sun, a North Korean who claimed to be a former comfort woman:
“[The Japanese soldiers] took off her clothes, tied her legs and hands and rolled her over a board with nails until the nails were covered with blood and pieces of her flesh. In the end, they cut off her head. Another Japanese, Yamamoto, told us… ‘since those Korean girls are crying because they have not eaten, boil the human flesh and make them eat it.'”
Japanese people would find stories like this ridiculous. Japanese people do not engage in such morbid habits and, of course, have never practiced cannibalism as a custom. These sorts of tales can be found abundantly in Chinese history books, which, in turn, have had a cultural impact on the Korean Peninsula. The former comfort women are simply relating stories based on those shared in common by nations within the Chinese cultural sphere.
It was also written in a resolution passed by the US House of Representatives in 2007 that “mutilation” was one of the brutal deeds perpetrated by the Japanese military. Mutilation or dismemberment was a terrible punishment traditionally practiced in the Chinese Emperor’s harem, but it has never been practiced in Japan. Anyone who is a real expert on Japanese history and culture would surely support me in this statement.
The first former Korean comfort woman to testify about her experiences did so in 1991, more than forty years after the end of the war, and since then over fifty have come forward. Even so, not one of them has convincingly claimed that they were forcibly recruited without contradicting themselves. There are even some former comfort women who have said that, “I was taken to a comfort station in a jeep”, or “We were especially busy around Christmas time.” The Japanese Army had no jeeps, much less celebrated Christmas, so we have no choice but to conclude that the “victimizers” of these comfort women were American soldiers, not Japanese soldiers.
Therefore, using the testimony of comfort women as evidence just because they tug at our heartstrings (and they surely do tug at our heartstrings) cannot be permitted in any society governed by the rule of law. Allowing untested testimonies to prevail against Japan can only be described as discrimination against Japanese.
My proposal for academic conferences
The signatories of the Open Letter aspire to make sexual violence a thing of the past and to forge a world where human rights will be respected by all. I have no reason to question their motives, and in fact I share in this agenda and completely support it. Still, in pursuit of such aims, I do not quite understand why the signatories have chosen to deal with and condemn only the Japanese comfort women system, which ceased to exist more than seventy years ago.
To this day, we confront the existing reality that girls from poor families in Southeast Asia are sold and sent around the world, including to the United States, suffering from sexual abuse. China is engaging in large-scale ethnic persecution in Tibet and Xinjiang, which includes assaulting women. In North Korea’s concentration camps for political prisoners, some inmates are subjected to dreadful sexual torture. Following the recent earthquake in Nepal, sex traders went to work, and it was reported by British media that 15,000 Nepalese girls were sold off to places like India and South Korea.
In order to truly create a world without sexual violence, should not our work be focused on preventing the far more urgent crimes that are ongoing as I write these words? Japan would surely provide financial assistance and humanitarian aid in support of this goal. Is there any reason why the Japanese Army’s alleged mistreatment of the comfort women over seventy years ago, which may not have even occurred, is an issue that is more important than the violations of women’s rights which are happening around the world at this very moment? I sincerely hope that the “Open Letter” was not being influenced by the Korean and Chinese “nationalist invective” that it criticizes.
In conclusion, I would like to propose that a series of serious academic conferences be held between Japanese and American scholars in order to have a dialogue on issues like the nature of the Japanese Army’s comfort women system, international comparisons on how nations managed their soldiers’ sexual activity on the battlefield, and the serious human rights problems plaguing the world today. The tone of the discussion would be dispassionate and scholarly, based on evidence and logical analysis.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs could provide a forum for such a discussion, or, alternatively, it might be preferable if a private foundation took the initiative. There is no better time than now to have a mutual dialogue through which we can learn from one another. Together we can make the twenty-first century a “Century of Hope.”
Note: The most part of this letter was published in Japanese language in Seiron magazine, July 2015 issue. However, this letter in English has been further developed and refined from the Japanese version for addressing the American audience.
Like the signatories of the open letter, we concur that it was inappropriate for the Japanese government to request a revision of a history textbook in the United States. The request aroused certain activists, who recruited scholars to pen letters accusing Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Japanese government of trying to rewrite history and suppress the facts.
However, politics and emotions have deflected many of us from the actual question that we should be focusing on: Are there inaccuracies in the textbook, “Traditions & Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past,” by Bentley and Ziegler, the book that started the maelstrom of invectives?
As all historians know, interpretation of historical events is not an exact science. Sometimes the data are clear; sometimes, not. For example, in the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn, we have a very good idea of the number of US Calvarymen who died; however, the number of Native Americans who perished in this battle is not precisely known. Questions like, “What exactly happened during the battle?”, “Who were the ‘bad’ guys?”, and “Who is to blame?”, are even more difficult to answer in an unbiased, objective way.
For any history textbook, we believe that every attempt should be made to depict history as accurately as possible, and where ambiguity or subjectivity exists, this imprecision should be duly noted, especially when dealing with sensitive or contentious topics.
We have conducted research in the area of comfort women. Based on primary source documents, as well as books written by academicians, including scholars born in South Korea, we have found several unsubstantiated statements in the section on Comfort Women in the aforementioned textbook. Here, we shall point out only a small number of the many inaccuracies. First, the following sentence: “The Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted and dragooned as many as two hundred thousand women age fourteen to twenty to serve in military brothels, called ‘comfort houses’ or ‘consolation centers.’”
Let us break down this sentence and identify specific issues. (a) “The Japanese army forcibly recruited, conscripted and dragooned…” While there is firm evidence that some women were “forcibly recruited, conscripted and dragooned,” the cumulative body of evidence indicates that the Imperial Japanese Army did not directly participate in the recruitment of comfort women in most cases. Comfort women from Korea were typically recruited by private agencies or civilian recruiters (hereinafter collectively called “brokers”). During the first half of the Twentieth Century, poverty was widespread in Korea and Japan, as well as in many parts of Asia. These stark economic conditions, combined with the patriarchal nature of Korean society, created an environment where working as a comfort woman constituted a means for destitute women to subsist. As such, nearly all Korean comfort women had been sent by their families (often by the father) to pay off family debts or joined of their own accord, although some (or many) were misled about the nature of the job by the brokers. Many of the brokers were, in fact, Korean. Evidence of recruitment is demonstrated in ads appearing in major newspapers in Korea, as well as other documents. Families and women accepting advance payment essentially agreed to ‘contracts’ with specific terms, with the length of service related to the amount of debt paid off. In this sense, Korean families “forced” their daughters into service, or civilian brokers “forced” the women to comply after their families had been paid.
Although some former Korean comfort women have provided narratives that they were abducted by the Japanese military, documented evidence indicates that the stories by a number of such former Korean comfort women have changed over time: initially, nearly all stated that they were not abducted or forcibly recruited by the military. There were cases of Korean women being abducted illicitly by civilian brokers, many of whom were Korean; and, it is possible that some brokers were misidentified as Japanese military personnel, owing to their fluency in Japanese, their use of Japanese names, and that they may have worn uniforms resembling those of the Japanese Army.
There were, however, cases where local military commanders forcibly acquired women in territories occupied by Japan during the war. A well-known incident occurred in the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia). Consistent testimonies from these women demonstrate that they were released from the brothels within about two months by Japanese military authorities, when a higher ranking officer learned of their situation. The personnel responsible were later punished, and one executed. As such, women who were “forcibly recruited, conscripted, and dragooned” by the “Japanese army” constituted a small minority: their situation is not applicable to most comfort women. Thus, the textbook’s description is misleading and inaccurate.
(b) “as many as two hundred thousand women age fourteen to twenty…” The exact number of women to serve as comfort women is unknown. Quantitative analysis indicates that this large number is highly questionable. If there were 200,000 comfort women, and each catered to, as stated in the textbook, “twenty to thirty men each day,” this calculates, on average, to 200,000 x 25 = 5 million men daily. The number of Japanese troops during that time is estimated to be less than 3 million. Considering the price charged by brothels to see a comfort woman, the low wages of the common soldier, and that soldiers spent time fighting, there are clear inconsistencies in the numbers, even after considering turnover rates. Some comfort women may have had 20-30 visitors daily, but the assertion that this was typical for most comfort women is certainly apocryphal if there were 200,000 comfort women. In addition, the age of most comfort women was seventeen years-old or older, and this age range is supported by numerous documents. A United States Office of War Information (OWI) document written in 1944 by an American soldier supports this older age range: the age of the youngest woman was seventeen when joining. Additional evidence comes from recruitment ads for comfort women, where the youngest age sought was seventeen. Sadly, a very small number of younger women may have been “dragooned” by local military commanders or brokers, but the wording in the textbook portrays an image that fourteen year-old girls were systematically rounded up, which was not the case.
The number “200,000” raises the question, “How did this ‘estimate’ come about?” Scholars seriously researching comfort women history have not proposed such a high estimate. For the war effort, the Imperial Japanese government recruited Japanese and Korean female civilians to work in factories, e.g., make munitions, uniforms, etc. They were called “Teishintai” (“Volunteer [labor] Corps”), and those recruited did include school girls. The number of these recruits was reported as 200,000 by certain sources. This Volunteer Corps was distinct from the comfort women system. However, the information was conflated in newspapers and became the basis for the unsubstantiated claim that: “200,000 girls were ‘forced’.” A very small number of women who had served in the Volunteer Corps did end up as comfort women later, oftentimes due to unforeseen circumstances, e.g., after their factory was destroyed in an air raid; barring these exceptions, the vast majority of the female workers who served in the Volunteer Corps never became comfort women.
In addition, several other historical inaccuracies or unsubstantiated claims were observed in the section on comfort women. The asserted large-scale killing of comfort women at the end of the war did not occur; this misinformation apparently arose after a left-wing Japanese politician (Seijiro Arafune) made inflammatory, but completely unsubstantiated, claims, for political reasons, which were then parroted. Furthermore, salient facts were omitted from the textbook section. For instance, as the OWI document attests, the comfort women described in the report were paid well, “were allowed the prerogative of refusing a customer,” and “certain girls who had paid their debt could return home. Some of the girls were thus allowed to return to Korea.” Another point not mentioned is the fact that a significant fraction of the comfort women were, actually, from Japan. Documents clearly indicate that the treatment and work conditions of comfort women varied substantially, depending on their individual circumstances: some were treated well, others poorly; some were very well paid, others were not. Some former comfort women reported being mistreated, but who was primarily responsible (i.e., civilian brothel operators or visiting soldiers) is likely impossible to establish with certainty. Many other inaccuracies were noted in the textbook section, as well.
We, by no means, wish to downplay the hardships and suffering endured by comfort women, nor do we support those who deny that the Imperial Japanese Army had worked directly with brothel owners (e.g., transporting the women, offering medical examinations, and guarding the facilities). Still, it is the responsibility of conscientious and objective historians to present history as accurately as possible. It is through understanding of the complexities of the human condition that we can change for the better: a simplistic and inaccurate narrative that places sole blame on Imperial Japan’s military, without exposing the multifaceted nature of the socioeconomic and cultural factors that contributed to women becoming comfort women, only serve to obfuscate the underlying basis for this tragic episode in history, and hinder reconciliation and understanding, as well as ways to make the world a better, peaceful, and just place for all individuals in the future.
In conclusion, our primary goal is to provide as accurate a picture of the historical events as possible, so that all parties can better understand and resolve this complex and emotionally-charged issue.
We urge historians and scholars, who consider themselves responsible and ethical, to read the key documents and books cited in the References. It is now time to set the record straight, which should be the goal of all scholars who claim academic integrity and scholarship.
We end here by posing an uncomfortable question: Did the signatories ever consider the possibility that the people who are accusing Japan of re-writing history are, in fact, the ones who are attempting to re-write history?