Connect with us


Harvard Professor's Paper on the Comfort Women Issue Survives

Facts and painstaking scholarly work helped Professor J Mark Ramseyer overcome ignorance and hate to overturn a popular fiction on the comfort women debate.



Comfort women
This comfort women statue was erected in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. (© Kyodo)

In late 2020, Harvard Law School professor and Japanese legal history scholar J Mark Ramseyer published a short paper discussing the economic history of the comfort women at the International Review of Law and Economics (IRLE).

First of 3 parts

"Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War" is about economic history. In it, Professor Ramseyer uses the heuristic of "credible commitments." On this view, economic activity depends on there being some degree of trust among transactors, in addition to contractual agreements.

Professor Ramseyer argued that most of the women who worked at military brothels during World War II were paid prostitutes, and that the arrangements into which they entered with the brothels were contractual.

There are no known surviving comfort woman contracts. However, there is a wide variety of sources that detail the terms of those contracts. It is on those sources that Professor Ramseyer relied. Those sources, Professor Ramseyer argues, make it clear that Korean and Japanese comfort women worked under contracts with their brothels during the Pacific War.

Contrary to this, many in the American academy have long assumed, and insisted, that there were several hundred thousand sex slaves (most of them Korean, some as young as eight years old) abducted by the Japanese military. There is no documentary evidence for the abduction of either Korean or Japanese women, however. The testimonials by those claiming to be surviving comfort women, on which many rely as evidence, are often demonstrably fabricated.

In a follow-up summary of his IRLE paper for JAPAN Forward, Professor Ramseyer argued that the prevailing narrative in the American academy about the comfort women was untenable.

comort women
Historian and author Ikuhiko Hata's book on the comfort women is in Japanese, Korean, and English from left to right. (© MediaWatch)

Comfort Women: Fact Beats Fiction

"Fiction," is how Professor Ramseyer described the prevailing North American narrative about Korean comfort women in his January, 2021 JAPAN Forward essay.

Much of that narrative, Professor Ramseyer finds, came from the pages of a 1980s pulp-fiction novel written by one Seiji Yoshida. He was a Japanese communist and ex-con. Yoshida spun elaborate yarns about having press-ganged women on Jeju Island into sex slavery. Claimed to have raped them along the way. Yoshida later admitted to renowned historian Ikuhiko Hata that he had made the whole thing up. It was a lie.

In his eight-page essay for the International Review of Law and Economics, Professor Ramseyer provides an argumentative framework supporting, from a law-and-economics angle, his conclusion. That is, the comfort women narrative of hundreds of thousands of dragooned sex slaves is baseless. 

Not only is Yoshida a liar, but the North American narrative based on it is also false. Rather, the historical and economic evidence make clear that the Japanese and Korean comfort women were contracted, paid prostitutes.

The vast majority of academic papers disappear into the library stacks. Professor Ramseyer's IRLE paper got mentioned in the Sankei Shimbun newspaper, equivalent to the Wall Street Journal in Japan. It was also reviewed in a summary at JAPAN Forward.

Not a bad showing for an eight-page law-and-economics paper in a minor journal. As with Professor Hata's own scholarship, facts and painstaking scholarly work helped Professor Ramseyer overturn a popular fiction.

Osaka City ended its Sister City Tie with San Francisco City over San Francisco's biased ‘Comfort Women’ Statue. (© Sankei by Kyosuke Sumi)

Death Threats to Preserve the North American Narrative

The South Korean media picked up the Japanese-language coverage of Professor Ramseyer's paper shortly after it was mentioned in the Sankei. Soon, all hell broke loose.

An international attack mob precipitated death threats against Professor Ramseyer and his family. The mob called for Professor Ramseyer to be fired. They called for his eight-page paper to be retracted.

An unstable Korean professor at a small university in the central area of the United States led a campaign of harassment against the IRLE editorial board.

South Korean media trucks stalked him at his home. In addition, Korean groups in the United States mounted kyudan (denunciation) campaigns against him.


Connecticut professor Alexis Dudden, a notorious anti-Japan crusader with a large following on the Korean peninsula, went on South Korean media to gin up outrage against Professor Ramseyer. "Fraud," she dogwhistled.

Aoyama Gakuin University associate professor Chelsea Szendi Schieder called Professor Ramseyer a "white supremacist."

The Hate Campaign Fails

On January 18, 2023, after an unconscionable two-year delay, the editorial board of the International Review of Law and Economics finally announced that Professor Ramseyer's article would stand. The international hate campaign which the defenders of the North American comfort woman narrative mounted had failed.

In one sense, however, the campaign also succeeded. Brilliantly, in fact, as the Anglophone Twitter mob's hate-fueled rampage revealed the emotional hysterics that drive much of so-called "scholarship" among many Japan specialists at universities in the United States.

The hate campaign also succeeded in revealing the ignorance underpinning many of the attacks.

North Carolina professor David Ambaras, for instance, complained loudly on Twitter that there was no documentary evidence to support Professor Ramseyer's IRLE conclusions.

This is manifestly false. There is plenty of evidence showing that comfort women were not dragooned sex slaves. I translated Professor Hata's book on the comfort women, for example. Comfort Women and Sex in the Battle Zone (Hamilton Books/Rowman, 2018). Perhaps Professor Ambaras was unable to find it at his local library.

Tetsuo Arima comfort women
JAPAN Forward interviews Dr Testuo Arima of Waseda University (©Kenji Yoshida)

Exploring the Documentary Records on the Comfort Women

Professor Tetsuo Arima, an historical documents specialist at Waseda University in Tokyo, wrote a long article in Japanese countering Professor Ambaras' ignorant outbursts. Arima patiently explained that there is abundant documentary evidence backing up what Professor Ramseyer argues.

Professor Ambaras, apparently still unaware of the existence of documentary evidence in Japanese, continued to harangue his modest Twitter audience with repetitions of his original complaints.


Subsequently, JAPAN Forward translated Professor Arima's article into English. That is because most of Professor Ramseyer's attackers evince limited to no facility in the Japanese language.

Professor Ambaras still declined to engage on the documentary level. Instead, he took the much easier route of piling on ad hominem insults against Professor Arima and Professor Ramseyer. "Denialist" perhaps tops the list of Professor Ambaras' most-repeated slurs.

On January 23, 2023, after the IRLE decision had been revealed, Professor Ambaras took to his Mastodon account to accuse Professor Arima of "pimp[ing]" books. Curious language from someone grandstanding as a champion of prostitutes.

Mistaking epithets for arguments is a feature among defenders of the North American narrative. Unfortunately for Professor Ambaras and Professor Ramseyer's other attackers, however, epithets proved unconvincing to the IRLE editorial board. Professor Ramseyer's 2020 paper, "Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War" prevailed.

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

and in last part: Comfort Women: Professor Mark Ramseyer Speaks Out as Truth Wins


Author: Jason Morgan, PhD

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