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Comfort Women: Professor Mark Ramseyer Speaks Out as Truth Wins

"Now, anyone who spends thirty minutes skimming the internet will discover that there's a real debate" about the comfort women issue ー Dr J Mark Ramseyer.

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comfort women
A comfort women activist tries to rally a crowd at the Wednesday demonstration in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea (© Kyodo)

In December of 2020, Harvard Law School professor and Japanese legal history expert Dr J Mark Ramseyer published an eight-page article on the comfort women issue at the International Review of Law and Economics. It was titled, "Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War." 

The paper quickly became the target for an international anti-Japan attack mob. Thousands of enraged attackers pressured the IRLE editorial board to cancel Professor Ramseyer's paper.

In January of 2023, the International Review of Law and Economics editorial board announced that Professor Ramseyer's 2020 paper would stand.

Last of 3 parts

First part: Harvard Professor's Paper on the Comfort Women Issue Survives

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Second part: The Comfort Women: Scholars Fighting Historical Truth in East Asia

Professor J Mark Ramseyer.

Professor Ramseyer Speaks Out

In late January 2023, JAPAN Forward reached out to Professor Ramseyer. His December, 2020 International Review of Law and Economics article on the comfort women had survived the very worst that the Twitter mob could throw at it—and him.

The mob also failed to ruin Professor Ramseyer's career. He remains employed at Harvard Law School.

In an exclusive JAPAN Forward interview, Professor Ramseyer said that he was conflicted about the two-plus-year ordeal which he had endured.

"It's great that the history is out," Professor Ramseyer said. "It's all available in English now. Seiji Yoshida, the communist writer who started the narrative the North Americans are pushing, and which the Asahi Shimbun newspaper trumpeted as historical fact ー all that is openly revealed as fiction."

Takashi Uemura ー the Asahi reporter akin perhaps to the disgraced fake news-artist at the New York Times, Jayson Blair — spun Yoshida's lies into lines and lines of newsprint.

Columbia University historian Carol Gluck, a prominent promoter of the North American comfort woman narrative, fêted Uemura. This was after the Asahi had retracted all of Uemura's falsified articles about the comfort women.

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"Uemura never disclosed that his mother-in-law was a Korean activist coordinating litigation against the Japanese government," Professor Ramseyer points out. "Uemura also lied about what Kim Hak-sun, the initial plaintiff, had said, how her story had changed."

Taking Comfort in North Korea

On January 31, 2022, Professor Ramseyer issued a sixty-plus-page response to his critics.

However, Professor Ramseyer was only getting started. On August 17, 2022, he and Professor Tetsuo Arima, the Waseda University historical documents specialist, uploaded "Comfort Women: The North Korean Connection" to the Social Science Research Network.

"We now know that there is a distinct North Korea element to the comfort woman narrative," Professor Ramseyer tells.

"The paper that Professor Arima and I published has been downloaded more than 7100 times."

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The SSRN website shows the status of downloads of the Ramseyer-Arima paper. (Screenshot of February 11, 2022)

The North Korean connection is at the very heart of the comfort women hoax. In early January, 2023, South Korean prosecutors sought a five-year prison sentence for Yoon Mee Hyang, a disgraced hard-left politician in South Korea.

Yoon ran the Nanumui Jip ("House of Sharing") on the outskirts of Seoul, virtually a live-in prison for those claiming to be former comfort women. Yoon Mee Hyang and her associates restricted access to the elderly women and coordinated the stories they told to the press.

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'They Were In Over Their Heads'

Yoon Mee Hyang was indicted in 2020 on eight counts, including embezzlement and fraud. She is accused of directing donations intended for elderly comfort women into her own bank account.

Yoon Mee Hyang's husband was convicted of spying for North Korea. Her sister-in-law was convicted on the same charges. Her sister-in-law's own husband was convicted in yet another spying case.

The weekly anti-Japan comfort women Wednesday demonstrations in Seoul were staged by Yoon Mee Hyang's comfort women organization. However, they were apparently coordinated by a North Korea front group. Of course, they featured some of the comfort women in the stable Yoon Me Hyang controlled.

"Most of the people attacking me knew nothing of this," Professor Ramseyer says. "Or, at least, they gave no indication of knowing it.

"They were obviously in way over their heads."

Professor Alexis Dudden did help simplify matters, however. In October of 2017, Professor Dudden shared a stage with Yoon Mee Hyang at a symposium on the comfort women.

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Self-Appointed Roving Censors?

After the IRLE decision was announced, the anti-Ramseyer attack mob appeared to drop all pretense of interest in historical fact.

In 2015, Alexis Dudden led more than five hundred other academics in declaring the number of comfort women to be possibly as low as "tens of thousands."

Dudden is now back to appearing in articles which claim that there were "hundreds of thousands" of comfort women, some as young as eight years old.

There is no documentary evidence for the "hundreds of thousands" or "as young as eight" claims. But Dudden does not dwell on the specifics. Instead, she shifts again. Now she is comparing Mark Ramseyer's paper to the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

"It appears," Professor Ramseyer notes, "that Professors Dudden and [Amy] Stanley wish to appoint themselves roving censors of anything published which they do not like. Or perhaps they already have so appointed themselves and the rest of us just need to get used to it."

Shifting the Debate Yet Again

As for Professor David Ambaras, his attempts to conceal his ignorance have devolved into broad farce. Professor Ambaras now appears to claim that the issue all along was about whether Professor Ramseyer had properly used game theory. Eyal Winter, a game theorist working at the University of Lancaster in the UK, was brought in by the IRLE editors to comment on Professor Ramseyer's paper. Winter was not impressed. Ambaras leapt in, yet again, to an unfamiliar debate.

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"Leading game theorist Eyal Winter" Professor Ambaras wrote authoritatively on January 22, 2023 to a captive audience of several on his Mastodon account, "found Ramseyer's use of theory woefully amateurish."

Funny, Professor Ambaras never mentioned his high regard for Eyal Winter before. Perhaps, like Professor Stanley a year and a half ago, Professor Ambaras has some emergency summer reading ahead of him.

Sayaka Chatani also seemed to abandon the historical argument in favor of something unrelated. After the IRLE decision to keep Professor Ramseyer's comfort women paper was announced, Chatani dropped the historical debate. Instead she simply accused Professor Ramseyer of "white supremacy."

"And the apparent context," says Ramseyer, referring to Chatani's bizarre accusation, "seems to be that she was asked to write an article on racism in Japan. Chatani had a passage about me in that, but it didn't make it into print. Perhaps the editor told her it was over the top. In any case, it got dropped from her article, so she posted it on her Substack to make sure that people could see it.

"In it," Professor Ramseyer continues, "she writes that my work in Japanese history amounts to a 'proxy war of [my] racist agenda in the United States'. What is she smoking …. ?"

One Accusation After Another

Another of the anti-Ramseyer attack mob is a youngish Yale academic named Hannah Shepherd. She also claimed "white supremacy." On May 17, 2022, Professor Shepherd tied Professor Ramseyer to a hate crime by a white supremacist in Buffalo. As with Professor Shepherd's various musings on the comfort women, however, there is no evidence whatsoever for her Buffalo-Ramseyer claims. It is sheer make-believe.

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"So what else is new," added Ramseyer. "The Korean Studies committee of the Association for Asian Studies tied me to the 2021 murders of Korean women at the Atlanta spa. And in an August 19, 2021 e-mail message, another scholar tied me to the violence against women in Afghanistan.

"They're desperately trying to control what appears in the English language press. They call me racist — and try to censor me on that ground. They call me a fraud — and try to censor me on that ground. Then they claim that my articles are hate speech — and try to censor me for that reason.

"They're frantically trying to stop the history behind the comfort women dispute from appearing in the English language press. For that purpose they make every accusation in the book."

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The Japanese Embassy in Seoul is located behind this comfort women statue. (December 8, 2021 © Sankei by Tatsuya Tokiyoshi)

Calling Out Professor Amy Stanley

"I'll confess, though," said Professor Ramseyer, "that I'm most bothered by Professor Stanley. And I'm bothered because her response to the journal's decision captures the way that she and her quintet have behaved for the entire last two years.

"On January 19, 2023, Professor Stanley wrote that the 'journal used a very high bar for retraction, which amounted to "clear data falsification or fabrication." 

"Some editorial board members believed the article met this bar, but the board was divided on retraction because of the high standard," she said. She then continues: 'I think this is a reasonable outcome given the very high standard for retraction ..., because it makes clear that even some members of the IRLE board, who had every reason to support the article they published, thought it was fraudulent.' 

"I take this personally," Professor Ramseyer says. "I know I probably shouldn't, but I do. The IRLE editors obtained reviews of my article from four historians in the field. None of them were convinced by my analysis of the contracts. That frustrates me, but so be it. Professor Arima and I have now written a much longer article. In it we lay out the historical evidence in vastly greater detail. Maybe we'll eventually be able to convince them. 

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"But in order for you to understand what Professor Stanley did, let me explain the letter from the IRLE. To begin with, the editors are extremely clear and logical about what they're doing. There's no ambiguity.

What the IRLE Really Said

"They first laid out the standard they used. The standard comes from the 'Committee on Publication Ethics' (COPE). It gives as a reason for retraction: when the editors: 

have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. fabrication/falsification) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)

"So the editors first asked whether there was misconduct. And then they found that there was not: 'we have no evidence in any of the comments or subsequent external reviews that Professor Ramseyer is guilty of misconduct under the strict terms of the COPE guidelines.' 

In other words, they say, in reliance on their solicited comments, they can find nothing that rises to the level of clear data fabrication or falsification and the COPE description of honest error appears orthogonal to the current situation.

"The editors then asked whether there was evidence of 'honest error' analogous to 'miscalculation or experimental error' that caused 'the findings [to be] unreliable.' They were split on this question. They wrote: 'The question before us is whether Ramseyer's interpretation and judgment regarding the way he used sources constitutes [sic] qualitative error akin to a miscalculation or an experimental flaw. In the end the editors are divided on whether the paper should be retracted based on these guidelines.' 

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"The four editors were divided," Ramseyer continued. "So they did not retract it. Again, I'm frustrated that the editors were divided, but perhaps eventually I'll be able to convince them.

"Given the relentless attacks that the Stanley quintet made on my integrity, though," Professor Ramseyer continued, "it's important to me that the editors explained that they were divided on:

whether I made an "honest error"ー a 'qualitative error akin to a miscalculation or an experimental flaw.

Narrative-Curators Further Falsify the Record

"Remember that the Stanley crew entitled their original 2021 attack 'The Case for Retraction on Grounds of Academic Misconduct'," Professor Ramseyer continues.

"In their letter, the IRLE editors explicitly found that there was no misconduct. There is nothing confusing or ambiguous about their letter: '

[W]e, in reliance on our solicited comments, can find nothing that rises to the level of clear data fabrication or falsification.'

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"They then asked whether there was any 'honest mistake' that made 'the findings ... unreliable.' And they and split on that question. 

"Summarizing this very document, however, Stanley writes that the 'journal used a very high bar for retraction, which amounted to "clear data falsification or fabrication." Some editorial members believed the article met this bar ....' For emphasis, she repeats the point: 'even some members of the IRLE board, who had every reason to support the article they published, thought it was fraudulent.'" 

"In fact, the IRLE editors made it crystal clear that they did not believe that there was 'falsification or fabrication.' This is really, really basic stuff ー what Stanley is doing here isn't tolerated in kindergarten, and it certainly isn't tolerated in legal scholarship. Do historians think this kind of behavior is acceptable? 

"I'm sorry," said Ramseyer. "These clowns have behaved like this for two full years. And they're still behaving like this. Doesn't anybody in the field care?"

comfort women
(Screenshot of February 11, 2023)

The End of the Affair?

As our interview concludes, I ask Professor Ramseyer whether he will be doing any more research into the history of the comfort women.

"Well, as I said, I'm really tired.

"I'm inclined to say that I had not planned to do anything more," he answers after a thoughtful pause. "I wrote an eight-page article. And by early 2021 had moved on to other projects. It was, as Professor Arima noted, an article that six specialists and my mother would read. I wrote it, and turned my attention elsewhere.

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"But the attackers gave the article world-wide publicity," Professor Ramseyer continues. "This brought me back to write more.

"The result of their attacks was that I wrote a sixty-plus-page response to their attacks. And then I wrote a separate sixty-page article with Professor Arima on the connection between the comfort women dispute and North Korea.

"Before the attacks, the only sustained discussion of the real history of the comfort women in English was Professor Hata's masterful book. Now the real history is all over the internet. And there are two long articles in addition to Professor Hata's book. That's thanks to my attackers.

"Now, anyone who spends thirty minutes skimming the internet will discover that there's a real debate about this subject. Anyone who spends ninety minutes will realize that the 'sex slave' story is a total hoax.

"And the attackers – like Chatani – are going nuts, and making themselves look completely unhinged."

Perhaps the decision by the editorial board of the International Review of Law and Economics to stand up to the cancel mob and preserve solid scholarship will be the end of the Ramseyer-comfort women saga.

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But perhaps it is not the end of the affair after all. Time will tell whether Professor Ramseyer has just begun to fight.

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Author: Jason Morgan, PhD

Jason Morgan is associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan

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