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INTERVIEW | On the 'The Comfort Women Hoax' with Mark Ramseyer and Jason Morgan

The authors offered a glimpse into their new book on the deeper problems behind the comfort women issue and the somber realities of American higher education.



Professor J Mark Ramseyer (upper left) and Professor Jason Morgan (upper right) in an online interview with JAPAN Forward reporter Kenji Yoshida (lower frame).

American universities are increasingly estranging from liberal values, cherishing conformity over heterodoxy. Suppression of ideas occurs on a range of topics, not just domestic political issues but even on the historical discourse surrounding Asian history, like the comfort women issue. 

The consequence of such suppression jeopardizes two foundations of academia: open debate and academic freedom. Those who dare challenge the norm have repeatedly fallen victim to wokeism. 

Two academics, however, have refused to bend to such institutional pressures from the ivory tower. They are J Mark Ramseyer of Harvard Law School and Jason Morgan of Reitaku University.

Their pursuit of truth in the face of fierce resistance is penned in the freshly printed book, The Comfort Women Hoax: A Fake Memoir, North Korean Spies, and Hit Squads in the Academic Swamp (Encounter Books, 2024). 

In an interview with JAPAN Forward, the authors offered a glimpse into their new book and the somber realities of American higher education. 

Excerpts follow. 

The McGraw-Hill Textbook Controversy

This controversy is about a passage on comfort women in a McGraw-Hill textbook published in 2015. The textbook authors Herbert Ziegler and Jerry Bentley wrote that 200,000 women were forcibly recruited as comfort women by the Japanese imperial army. Then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe publicly contested the claim, adding to the textbook's notoriety.


Allow me to start by asking how you first met each other. 

Morgan: Everyone studying Japanese Law knew or at least had an idea of who Mark was. I also knew Mark to be a realist scholar who works from facts on the ground. [And] I always admired him because he viewed the Japanese as regular people without invoking any cultural theories or biases. 

I don't know if you remember, but when the controversy over the 2015 McGraw-Hill textbook broke out, I wrote a letter to the American Historical Association pointing out its errors. The letter was then released on their online bulletin. Mark read it and sent me a warm email of support. That was the first time I ever communicated with him. 

Ramseyer:  As I recall, the Japanese Consul General in Hawaii visited Ziegler during his "office hours" to inquire about the passage. Western specialists on Japanese history attacked the visit as an assault on academic freedom. Then, 19 historians in Japan wrote to point out that the passage in the textbook was preposterous and that serious academics in Japan knew so. The historians further argued that Western scholars could pretend that they were "standing with Japanese historians" if they wished, but they were actually standing alone. 

That's when I heard about Jason. Some of my colleagues in Japan told me about a petition that was going around among academics in support of the McGraw-Hill textbook. I remember reading Jason's letter to the AHA and discussing it with my Japanese colleagues. They told me Jason was a graduate student studying legal history in Tokyo.

What was your impression of the controversy at the time?

The petition itself was a real embarrassment to the American academy. That textbook passage was just plain silly, and yet here were all these famous senior American historians – nominally specialists in Japanese history – defending it. It was so encouraging that a graduate student in the field stood up to them. Incredible courage was needed for someone like Jason to stand up to these historians.

The Uncomfortable Comfort Women Contracts

For those who are unfamiliar, Professor Ramseyer's 2021 paper contested conventional comfort women narratives. He argued that comfort women were not wartime sex slaves but women who entered into contractual relationships with comfort station owners.

A new book on comfort women was published on January 23. What led to writing this new book? 

Ramseyer: The disaster surrounding my "Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War" hit in February of 2021. It was a long year for me. Actually, three long years. But somehow I survived. During that time, I wrote a rebuttal to my critics and was preparing another paper dealing with the comfort women issue and its connection to North Korea

Friends here in the United States suggested I write an article about the whole controversy. But explaining the comfort women history and the evidence debunking conventional narratives was a book-length project. So, authoring a book seemed like the only option. 

Cover image of Ramseyer and Morgan's new book. (Published by Encounter Books)

How did you end up co authoring the book with Dr Morgan? 

Ramseyer: I'm a senior academic, and Jason is a very new academic. For our readership, we hope it includes young people considering entering the teaching profession. And I thought they would find hearing about Jason's experience extremely interesting. So that led me to contact Jason to collaborate on this project in early 2022. 

While reading the book, I couldn't but be taken aback at the degree to which established academics will go to destroy another academic's career. Dr Morgan, your episode with your graduate school advisors was quite surprising. 

Morgan: Yes. Right around the time I began publicly contesting comfort women's abducted-at-bayonet-point and sexual enslavement theories, Louise Young, my graduate school advisor at the University of Wisconsin, informed me that she was dropping me as a student. By then, I was already working on a letter to the American Historical Association noting the flaws in Ziegler and Bentley's textbook. 

She had passed me off to her junior colleague, Sarah Thal, without giving any serious reason. Later, through filing a Freedom of Information Act request, I discovered that Louise, Thal, and other academics were very displeased about my views on comfort women. 

I was on a Fulbright at the time. Louise even got my home university to contact Matthew Sussman, the director of the Fulbright program in Japan, who duly brought me in and gave me a dressing down for speaking in public about the comfort women.

For Louise, I was increasingly becoming a loose cannon. When I went to study at Waseda University in Japan and began speaking out in defiance of the sex-slave narrative that she and her thousands of colleagues had spent their careers curating, it was the final straw for her. She knew that I could not be tamed to become the kind of tailormade, conformist academic she wished me to be. She stepped aside and had me blacklisted, all while smiling to my face and pretending to value academic freedom.

Dr Ramseyer, you also faced a fair share of injustice yourself. Some academics labeled you racist, while others called you a white supremacist and Holocaust denier. Were you surprised by the barrage of attacks? 

Ramseyer: Surprised? I was shocked. What did any of this have to do with "white supremacy"? And what did it have to do with the Holocaust? Besides, I'm an old guy. I've been around for a long time. And I thought people knew who I was. It was just inconceivable that anybody who knew me thought I would back down when I was obviously just telling the truth. 

I can't be sure, but I think Andrew Gordon initiated the whole movement to have my 2021 comfort women paper retracted. And the Quintet (five leading critics of Ramseyer) carried on. Two of them, Amy Stanley and Hannah Shepherd, were former students of his.

But these critics obviously had no clue what kind of person I was. I have a reputation for being something of a pitbull of a scholar. If I think I'm right, I don't back down. In print, I'm a nasty guy. Did they really think I was going to let them get away with this? I was flummoxed.

Morgan: Listening to what you just said, maybe Gordon saw it as an opportunity to get rid of a pest, someone who had been debunking his nonsense for decades. Gordon might have thought he had a decent chance if he could rile up enough people. After all, the comfort women issue is a perfect "intersectional" narrative.


Where are the Intellectuals?

Yoshida: In fact, I also had an encounter with three of your main critics, Gordon, Amy Stanley, and Jin-hee Lee. In the summer of 2021, I drafted a petition calling for the acquittal of Lew Seok-choon the former Yonsei University professor indicted for denying abducted-at-bayonet-point theory in his lecture. ) I wanted to recruit signatures from academics in the US. 

Unsurprisingly, the three professors refused to sign. Stanley claimed the petition was "terrible" and seemed offended that I even asked. Lee went on to contact other signatories of the petition, persuading them to rescind their support for Lew.  

Morgan: To raise a little larger point, there are very few intellectuals in academia nowadays. Very few people know what an idea is and how to deal with it. Instead of discussing things, they get "offended" and then go on harassment campaigns. But this was the whole point of Aristotle's work. To entertain ideas in the mind without having a fistfight over it. Go to graduate school nowadays: nobody reads Aristotle. Instead, they read intersectional feminist-Marxist agitprop and call it "rigorous scholarship."

STEM Studies Versus Humanities

Morgan: What do you think, Mark? Do you think people just lost the ability to live and let live? 

Ramseyer: It probably varies by field. American STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math) are still solid. There are a lot of independent scholars in the law schools. But there aren't many in the humanities departments. If you want to read a wide variety of scholarships, then you're not going to want to pursue a PhD in the humanities. [And] if you want to think broadly about social issues, you don't want to be in the humanities.  

The result is that students self-select. Students interested in a classic liberal arts education stay away from the humanities. It wasn't always like this, and it wasn't like this when I went to college in the 1970s. But after the 1980s, the humanities in the West spiraled down the drain really fast.


What do you hope readers take away from your new book?

Jason: History is messy! And there are almost no intellectuals left in American universities to study it. People who want to learn Asian history should read books by real scholars in Korea and Japan.

Ramseyer: If you're wrong, admit it and move on. But if you're right, don't back down. Don't ever back down. Ever. And if you see a colleague being attacked, help him out. Help her out. We've got to stand together. Jason's the one who knows Latin. Ask him. But I think the phrase is "illegitimis non carborundum." 



Interview by: Kenji Yoshida

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