On June 2, 2023, a dozen and a half or so interested people assembled online for the latest event put on by a group of free-speech academics in East Asia. The topic was "Trials of Comfort Women Scholars."
Normally, Zoom meetings are not newsworthy. In this case, however, the gathering was almost revolutionary.
For decades, self-styled scholars in the United States and East Asia have enforced a rigid dogma surrounding the history of the comfort women. Comfort women worked at military brothels in Asia in the 1930s and 40s. Those who ask questions about that history have been calumniated, ostracized, and prosecuted.
As mentioned in the introduction to June 2 event, scholars such as Sejong University professor Park Yuha and former Yonsei University professor Lew Seok-choon are facing criminal charges in South Korea for thinking out loud about the comfort women.
Ironically, even the organizer of the East Asian academic freedom event asked that his name not be used in this article. Like Professor Park and Professor Lew, he also works in academia in South Korea.
But, still, the tide has turned. Free speech is winning out against herd-mentality dogmatics.
First of three parts
Breaking Through Dead Dogmas
There were "200,000" "sex slaves" rounded up at bayonet point by the Japanese military, party-line comfort women "scholars" insisted. The women, mostly Korean, were "gifts from the Japanese Emperor," it was alleged. Some said the women were raped as many as "forty times a day." They were rolled over "beds of nails" and made to swim in "snake-filled pools." They were "executed in droves" at the end of the war, or earlier some of these "scholars" asserted.
Every one of the above assertions about the comfort women is wildly false. Until recently, however, it was absolutely verboten to say so. That the East Asia academic freedom group was able to hold, in 2023, an open debate on the comfort women. This indicates a sea change in discourse about the topic.
It also means that the enforcers of the once-unquestionable fake history about the comfort women have virtually given up the game. Only a few holdouts remain. Their political activism reinforces the fact that the comfort women dogma was never supported by documentary evidence in the first place. It wasn't history. It was sheer assertion, backed up by bravado, threats of unemployment, and worse.
The Comfort Women Scam Slowly Exposed
The beginning of the end of the comfort women scam came in 2014. That year, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper, the clearinghouse for misinformation on comfort women for decades, disavowed page after page of lies on the subject.
In 2019, yet another setback for the comfort women scammers came with the publication, in English translation, of Ikuhiko Hata's landmark book on comfort women history. (I am the translator of the volume.)
It was Hata who confronted Yoshida with irrefutable proof of the latter's mendacity. And it was Hata to whom Yoshida admitted that the comfort women tales had been just that – fiction.
The Comfort Women Scam Collapses
In 2020, the comfort women scam was finally laid to rest by an eight-page paper on economics.
In "Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War," Harvard professor J Mark Ramseyer revealed the contractual underpinnings of comfort women's sex work. The comfort women, with notable exceptions rightly punished as crimes, had not been dragooned. They seem mostly to have contracted to do their unpleasant jobs in military outposts.
The comfort women history is very real, of course. But the discourse which was concocted long after the fact is political theater.
In follow-up work, Professor Ramseyer, joined by Waseda University professor Tetsuo Arima, went deeper. Not only was the comfort women scam which establishment scholars and fake-news media curated a tissue of lies. It was, worse, a tissue of lies pushed by Pyongyang.
North Korean agitators worked with North Korean agents and sympathizers in South Korea and suitably gullible collaborators in Japan and the United States. These agents and dupes arranged for scripted "testimonials" by so-called former comfort women.
"I know this sounds conspiratorial," Professor Ramseyer told JAPAN Forward about the comfort women scam.
"It sounds like a claim about flying saucers or the latest JFK [US President John F Kennedy] assassination theory. But the now-convicted (of fraud) mastermind behind the South Korean comfort woman movement is Yoon Mee-hyang. Her husband served time for passing documents to a North Korean spy. Her husband's brother-in-law served prison time in yet another spying case. I know how bizarre all this sounds. But it's true."
Keeping the Dead Scam Going
At this point, the comfort women scam was not just dead. It was buried, too. The phrase "comfort women movement" now connotes a tawdry melange of North Korean espionage hack work, out-of-their-depth American academics, Japanese communists, and comfort women activists convicted of embezzlement in South Korea.
Some of the scam's diehard proponents continue to push it, however.
Pro-North Korea activists in high office in South Korea brought criminal cases against honest scholars, such as Park Yuha and Lew Seok-choon, for speaking the truth about the issue.
A pro-North Korea professor working at a university in Southeast Asia also helped rally a Twitter mob to get Professor Arima fired. (It didn't work.)
A Korean professor in the midwestern United States harassed publishers of Professor Ramseyer's books and articles. The same Korean professor sent — and continues to send — unhinged e-mails to him (and to me) about the comfort women.
But no matter how hard the Old Believers try, the scam will not come back to life. The honest scholars—Park, Lew, Ramseyer, Arima, and others—who speak the truth about East Asian history will not be silenced.
Continues in part 2
- Complex Truths on Korean Comfort Women
- Predictions 2023: A New Realism in the Comfort Women Issue
- How a Class Debate on Comfort Women Turned into a Big South Korean Witch Hunt
Author: Jason Morgan
Jason Morgan is an associate professor at Reitaku University in Kashiwa, Japan.