Saturday, April 28, 2007

Japanese comfort women

A commenter to the previous post sends us interesting links regarding Japanese comfort women (a euphemism for "prostitutes") in WWII. I responded by using the last link that he provided which was to the original NY Times article I was referencing in that post. My original intent was not to discuss the issue of Japanese prostitutes during and following WWII, but rather to address the number of troops stationed in Japan following the war as compared to the number of troops stationed in Iraq following that war. A comparison of the land mass between the two countries shows that Japan is significantly smaller in area than Iraq, hence it would seem that an occupation of the latter would require at least a similar number of troops in order to maintain security. A failure to recognize this assertion is, I imagine, part arrogance that our troops are trained better (something that sunk us in Vietnam and sunk the British in our own revolution) coupled with a fetish for high tech weaponry as a savior in a real war.

I was a bit lazy in my reply to the commenter. The point s/he is attempting to make is that in current Japanese discourse the issue of the comfort women is debated. Indeed, it is probably true that it is more nuanced than our media present it to be. Still, that doesn't mean that coercion did not exist, that it did not have government financial backing, and that the current Prime Minister's denial of that isn't specious. For time purposes, I only quoted from the first page of the NY Times article in my reply. Now, I will quote from the second page of that article, emphasis my own:

By the end of 1945, about 350,000 U.S. troops were occupying Japan. At its peak, Kaburagi wrote, the RAA employed 70,000 prostitutes to serve them. Although there are suspicions, there is not clear evidence non-Japanese comfort women were imported to Japan as part of the program.

Toshiyuki Tanaka, a history professor at the Hiroshima Peace Institute, cautioned that Kaburagi's number is hard to document. But he added the RAA was also only part of the picture -- the number of private brothels outside the official system was likely even higher.

The U.S. occupation leadership provided the Japanese government with penicillin for comfort women servicing occupation troops, established prophylactic stations near the RAA brothels and, initially, condoned the troops' use of them, according to documents discovered by Tanaka.

Occupation leaders were not blind to the similarities between the comfort women procured by Japan for its own troops and those it recruited for the GIs.

A Dec. 6, 1945, memorandum from Lt. Col. Hugh McDonald, a senior officer with the Public Health and Welfare Division of the occupation's General Headquarters, shows U.S. occupation forces were aware the Japanese comfort women were often coerced.

''The girl is impressed into contracting by the desperate financial straits of her parents and their urging, occasionally supplemented by her willingness to make such a sacrifice to help her family,'' he wrote. ''It is the belief of our informants, however, that in urban districts the practice of enslaving girls, while much less prevalent than in the past, still exists.''

Amid complaints from military chaplains and concerns that disclosure of the brothels would embarrass the occupation forces back in the U.S., on March 25, 1946, MacArthur placed all brothels, comfort stations and other places of prostitution off limits. The RAA soon collapsed.

MacArthur's primary concern was not only a moral one.

By that time, Tanaka says, more than a quarter of all American GIs in the occupation forces had a sexually transmitted disease.

''The nationwide off-limits policy suddenly put more than 150,000 Japanese women out of a job,'' Tanaka wrote in a 2002 book on sexual slavery. Most continued to serve the troops illegally. Many had VD and were destitute, he wrote.

So, it is indeed nuanced. Some people were coerced by financial pressures by family and some were enslaved by one means or another. The parsing on the part of Prime Minister Abe and in the other links provided by the commenter stems from whether or not the government coerced women or agents of the government coerced women. The commenter's links indicate that the current government denies that the past Japanese government ever coerced women; merely their paid agents - the runners of the brothels - were the ones who coerced, and sometimes enslaved women. The idea being that this wasn't official policy and not systemic. That seems to me to be bending over backwards to wash their hands clean.

As I stated in my original reply, I do not think Japan should continue to suffer from these atrocious mistakes from it's past. Yes, I think that the people need to acknowledge their history. I do not think that the U.S. Congress needs to be involved in that process, even if Prime Minister Abe seems to be taking a step backwards in that regards. The U.S., after all, has not really come to terms with it's own participation in slavery, racism, and segregation. Though we've made great strides in the past 40 years, we still have a ways to go before we can lecture anyone on their denial of their financial and sexual slavery.


Anonymous said...


Korean Newspaper Ads for “Comfort Women,” 1944

Comfort woman gives contradictory testimony

Quick Summary of "Comfort women"

BACKGROUND OF 'COMFORT WOMEN' ISSUE / No hard evidence of coercion in recruitment of comfort women

BACKGROUND OF 'COMFORT WOMEN' ISSUE / Comfort station originated in govt-regulated 'civilian prostitution'

BACKGROUND OF 'COMFORT WOMEN' ISSUE / Kono's statement on 'comfort women' created misunderstanding

B.D. said...

I've looked over the links you've provided. They indicate that the government itself was not participating in coercive recruitment of "comfort women", but that it's agents ("private recruiters") often did that. They also indicate that when such cases came to light the Japanese government took measures to stop the coercion.

Still, I don't see this as entirely exonerating the government. After all, it set up the system in the first place (and just because Germany, the U.S. and South Korea did it as well at various times doesn't exonerate any of the above). They knew abuses happened and they let the system continue. I find the concept that the government was protecting the civilian population by setting up these systems is a white wash. It's bullshit.

There are many contradictions in and between the links you provide. For instance, in one link the concept of Japanese women servicing U.S. military personnel after they were originally the enemy is noted as being particularly difficult. Yet nowhere do the links mention how difficult it must have been for Korean or Chinese women to service not only their enemy, but their occupiers.

One link notes that a source of testimony regarding Korean women used in the brothels is a "biased" source. All of the articles you have brought to light are also "biased" using the same criteria (namely, they are from the country with the alleged grievance).

And, of course, there is the coercion not mentioned: even if women were not physically forced into this situation, the idea that a woman would enter into this because she was financially desperate is itself a form of coercion.

Listen, there's so much wrong with this regardless of the form of coercion you seek to exonerate the government of Japan from taking part in. As I've noted, I'm not exonerating the U.S. military's - or any government's - traditional role in using brothels. I'm also not interested in the U.S. Congress getting involved in this issue. From a historical standpoint and from the standpoint of women's human rights, however, I think it needs to be investigated and exposed. Doing so will likely bring unwanted exposure to Japan as well as many other governments. I find the attempts to exonerate this particular government (30s and 40s Japanese government) to be disingenuous at best.