Harvard Law Professor J. Mark Ramseyer and his recent essay, “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” have been subjected to a storm of international criticism. Ramseyer’s view is that comfort women were not abducted sex slaves but were actually voluntary employees under contract.
Regrettably, Professor Ramseyer’s critics have failed to mention any credible primary source documentation that refutes his overall conclusion. It is one thing not to like a scholarly interpretation, but quite another to refute it.
Why the fixation on primary source documentation? It is because we are discussing events that are alleged to have taken place over 75 years ago.
What is very troubling to see is the number of personal attacks on the professor. Personal attacks have no place in the critique of academic scholarship. Here in the United States, we value freedom of speech and of the press as among our most cherished freedoms and rights. Such freedom exists only in democracies like ours. It should be celebrated when someone exercises his or her freedoms.
Professor Ramseyer is also accused of working for Mitsubishi of Japan because of his association with the Mitsubishi Chair at Harvard. However, that chair was established 70 years ago and has nothing to do with the comfort women issue.
Comfort Women Allegations
The allegation by many of Professor Ramseyer’s attackers is that 200,0000 or so young women, mostly from Korea, were abducted by members of the Imperial Japanese Military and used as sex slaves. One critic mentions that the contracts signed by the women were faulty. Another points out that the contracts signed by the comfort women were “very close to what would ordinarily be called debt slavery.”
We are straying from the subject matter. The contracts are not the issue. The issue is whether the Imperial Japanese Military abducted 200,000 women, mostly Korean, as sex slaves, not whether contracts signed by the women agreeing to prostitution were legitimate under current U.S. law.
Nor are we discussing the legality or morality of prostitution. One of Professor Ramseyer’s detractors mentions Germany paying reparations for its misdeeds. True, but Germany did not apologize or pay reparations for any crime it did not commit. The issue at hand here is: Were 200,000 young women abducted by the Imperial Japanese Military and used as sex slaves?
There are records of some Dutch and local women in the former Netherlands East Indies (present-day Indonesia) who were forced to work as comfort women by the Japanese military. These were crimes and were prosecuted as such. In all, there were some half a dozen war crimes trials for these and the perpetrators were punished.
Thus far, no primary source documentation of any other military abduction of local women for comfort stations has been uncovered. In the Korean comfort women cases, much of the narrative rests on oral testimonials given long after the alleged events.
Korean Men Are Not Cowards — Or Were They?
Another major obstacle in accepting the former comfort women’s allegations of abduction as factual is the total absence of any evidence of resistance by Korean men.
Korean men are honorable and value women highly. I fought in the Korean War and can attest that Korean men are emphatically not cowards. They would not go into hiding and do nothing if the Japanese military was abducting female Koreans. The outcome would be worse than the U.S. Army trying to abduct 200,000 Texas women as sex slaves. To even hint at Korean men cowering in fright as their wives and daughters were abducted as sex slaves is insulting.
One woman disappearing is believable. But the allegation that 200,000 Korean women were abducted without any Korean man noticing or lifting a finger to stop it is fiction.
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Some say the Japanese soldiers were armed so resistance was futile. Some 200,000 Koreans were serving in the Imperial Japanese Army. Many Koreans were officers in the Japanese Army, and a dozen or so were generals! The majority of the policemen in Korea were Koreans.
The Japanese may be guilty of strategic errors during World War II, but inciting rebellion in Korea was not one of them.
Primary Source Documentation
The following primary source document provides insight into what would have taken place if the Japanese military had used force to abduct Korean women for its comfort stations. The source is a “composite Report on Three Korean Navy [Imperial Japanese Navy] Civilians List No. 78, dated 25 March 1945, Re Special Questions on Koreans.” The information sought was Korean attitudes about Japan.
The questions asked about comfort women were: “Do Koreans generally know about the recruitment of Korean girls by the Japanese Army to serve as prostitutes? What is the attitude of the average Korean toward this program? Does the P/W [prisoner of war] know of any disturbance or friction which has grown out of this program?”
The response of the Koreans: “All Korean prostitutes that PoW [sic] have seen in the Pacific were volunteers or had been sold by their parents into prostitution. This is proper in the Korean way of thinking but direct conscription of women by the Japanese would be an outrage that the old and young folks alike would not tolerate. Men would rise up in rage, killing Japanese no matter what consequences they might suffer.”
Emotion Obscures the Facts
The difficulty in researching the comfort women issue in Korea was explained by Korean Professor Choe Kil-sung who in 2013 analyzed the diary of a Korean who had managed comfort stations with Korean comfort women in Burma and Singapore.
Professor Choe said: “The problem is that, in South Korea, Japanese colonialism is regarded as the root of all evil and South Koreans still will not discuss the reality and consequences of Japanese rule. By its very nature, scholarship must be free from the shackles of nationalism and patriotism.”
The comfort women issue is but one of the many misunderstandings between Korea and Japan. It is hoped that Professor Ramseyer and other scholars will continue researching this and other controversial issues.
The historical truth should be the basis of mutual understanding and friendship between Korea and Japan, two nations so close and yet so far apart and both so essential for the United States in maintaining peace and security in the world.
Author: Archie Miyamoto
Find other history articles by this author at this link.