By Joshua Blakeney
One reason I’m drawn to study the work of Japanese revisionists is that they are actually afforded enough discursive space for there to be a somewhat rational debate on whether or not the different aspects of the history of WWII in Asia they address have been interpreted accurately.
This press conference held at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan reveals the gulf that exists between Japan and the West when it comes to freedom of speech on the subject of WWII.
Many European historical revisionists have been imprisoned and fined since 1945 simply for attempting to have the kind of civilized discussion displayed in the above video.
Yumiko Yamamoto appears in the video and explains why the group she represents, the Alliance for Truth About Comfort Women, intended to visit the United Nations in Geneva to present the latest research on the subject of Comfort Women and insist that the term “sex slaves” stop being employed to describe those workers who provided paid sexual services to Japanese military personnel during the War.
The UN’s Coomaraswamy Report, published in 1996, caused consternation among Japanese researchers because of its reliance on sources such as George Hicks’s book The Comfort Women which Yamamoto and her colleagues say based its conclusions on now discredited sources such as a book by Seiji Yoshida, published in 1983, entitled My War Crimes. Rebuttals of the 1996 report can be read here and here.
Yoshida was partially responsible for causing the whole Comfort Women issue to flare up in the 1980s and 90s after he published the aforementioned book My War Crimes in which he claimed he had been involved in the kidnapping of females on Cheju island during the War. Korean journalists and academics brought his testimony into question after visiting Cheju island and interviewing local residents who said they had no recollection of the events described by Yoshida.
It was the unreliability of Yoshida’s testimony which forced the left-leaning Asahi Shumbun to do a volte face in 2014 and retract many of articles they had published in the 1990s on this subject.
In August 2014 the Asahi Shumbun stated:
The Asahi Shimbun admitted Tuesday to serious errors in many articles on the “comfort women” issue, retracting all stories going back decades that quoted a Japanese man who claimed he kidnapped about 200 Korean women and forced them to work at wartime Japanese military brothels.
The correction came more than 20 years after the Sankei Shimbun based on studies by noted historian Ikuhiko Hata first pointed out apparent errors in the man’s account in April 1992.
The main disagreement on the subject of Comfort Women boils down to whether the Japanese military kidnapped women en mass and forced them into sexual slavery or whether the Japanese authorities just encouraged private brothel owners, many of whom were non-Japanese, to open bordellos in areas where Japanese troops were stationed in which often well-paid prostitutes serviced men, many of whom were Japanese.
Many Japanese intellectuals and some Korean researchers contend that with a handful of exceptions the sex workers were sent to such brothels either by their needy relatives or that they responded to job advertisements on their own volition and therefore cannot be characterized as having been “slaves” as defined by International Law.
Those who address the subject of Comfort Women bifurcate into two main factions; those who adhere to the “narrow coercion” thesis and those of the “broad coercion” school. The Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe is demonized in the Western media when it comes to this subject because he has dared to deviate from the Western narrative which presumes narrowly defined coercion (i.e. kidnapping and sexual slavery) took place. He has actually bothered to study some of the historical research on this subject which has led him to lend credence to the “broad coercion” thesis (i.e. all brothels, including those in Western countries today, create coercive environments for those who work in them. The brothels which existed in territories controlled by Imperial Japan were coercive in this sense).
Obviously WWII Comfort Women is a multifaceted subject which I have only scratched the surface of in this post.
I hope to elaborate on this subject in more detail in future posts. The question of why Japanese people care about whether or not the Japanese State was responsible for overseeing a system of sexual slavery, compels me even more than the mere facts, which themselves are quite fascinating.
It seems to me that the centrality of ancestor worship in Japanese culture helps explain the fact that thousands of Japanese people are compelled to revisit the history of WWII to distinguish between verifiable acts committed by their parents and grandparents and the Western and Communist propaganda which has been disseminated in spades to undermine the Japanese nation. I intend to explore this revisionism as ancestor worship theme in future writings.