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History

The Comfort Women Issue: Bashing the Factfinders and Policing the Party Line

There are a growing number of researchers looking at original documents on the comfort women issue and coming to the same conclusion. They are not the ones throwing stones.

Jason Morgan, Reitaku University

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(Second of 3 parts)

Part 1: Waseda Professor Offers Evidence of Comfort Women Working Under Contract. Now Come the Attacks

This is the second in a three-part series examining the significance of academic freedom and open debate. Readers may not interpret the facts or the arguments in the same way, but stifling debate leads to intense misunderstandings and explosive relations. This series is printed in the hope of promoting freedom of expression among our readers, in the academic environment, and beyond.

Former comfort woman Lee Yong-soo

Warning Off Fence-Sitters

Once the Twitter and heritage media mobs had attacked Professor J. Mark  Ramseyer, it was time for the next round: the inevitable petition. A political science professor named Michael Chwe, who writes about “Jane Austen and game theory” and “jury decision making and television advertising,” launched a petition continuing the initial assault. While leading an international attack against a colleague, Chwe claims to be “firmly committed to academic freedom.” This is a curious claim given the other language in the petition:

[W]e firmly believe that any scholar who understands the falsity of its claims would condemn the [IRLE comfort women] article and call for its retraction. To this end, we demand the editors of the International Review of Law and Economics take all necessary corrective measures to address these concerns, and explain their decision-making process and their scholarly standards. We do not consider simply issuing an Expression of Concern and publishing oppositional views as sufficient. 

Chwe also writes:

We are writing this letter to the community of economists and beyond, rather than following the usual practice of writing a rebuttal to the journal, because we believe that this article [i.e., the IRLE comfort women article] goes well beyond mere academic failure or malpractice in its breach of academic standards, integrity, and ethics. The author is using economics —more specifically game theory and law and economics— as a cover to legitimize horrific atrocities. We believe that educating ourselves and our colleagues is first and most important, and that any responsible scholar, after understanding the facts, would condemn the article and also call for its retraction.

It is unclear on what basis the Jane Austen game theorist is making these charges. Professor Chwe would appear to be innocent of any knowledge about wartime documents written in Japanese. He seems to lack the competence to discover for himself whether Professor Ramseyer’s claims are true. 

This same apparent lack of ability to read wartime documents in Japanese or to conduct historical research in original East Asian sources did not prevent more than three thousand people, mainly economists, from signing Chwe’s petition.

This has nothing to do with history, however. The targeting is Alinskyian: isolate and neutralize. The objective of the petition is obvious from the text: “We believe that […] any responsible scholar, after understanding the facts, would condemn the article and also call for its retraction.” Policing the party line is the entire point of the anti-Ramseyer Struggle Session. Chwe’s petition was a sign hung round Mark Ramseyer’s neck, a scarlet letter tacked to his tweed jacket. “Agree with this outcast and face the same— or worse.”

Fence-sitters and bystanders be warned, in other words. Theirs is a policed line— do not cross.

Former “comfort woman” Lee Yong-soo, left, shouts slogans during a rally to mark the March First Independence Movement Day against Japanese colonial rule. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

Songs of Innocence from the Herd

Astoundingly, the ringleader of the overseas attack squad which mobilized a Twitter mob against Professor Ramseyer also confesses her ignorance of comfort women history. She posted a photograph to her Twitter feed, months after she had helped instigate the denunciation campaign, of a stack of Japanese-language books about… the history of the comfort women. The photo caption indicated that the professor would be reading the books over her summer vacation.

In other words, she had not read any of those foundational Japanese-language texts before lashing out. She attacked Professor Ramseyer out of some motivation other than scholarly integrity. (Incidentally, this professor happened to be kicking off a book-selling campaign just as she gained national prominence via the anti-Ramseyer struggle session she orchestrated.)

If only the professor had taken Michael Chwe’s words to heart that “educating ourselves and our colleagues is first and most important”. Imagine if she had read about the history of the comfort women before coordinating a multi-time-zone crusade against someone who had written a scholarly paper for a journal which she surely had never heard of before the embittered sewing machine expert began needling Mark Ramseyer. 

Alas, our professor seems to have had no time for study. After calling for Professor Ramseyer’s head on a platter, she revved up against her school’s athletic director, and this time finally succeeded in getting a male removed from a university post.

Not to be outdone, another member of the overseas attack squad confessed that she had never even heard of Mark Ramseyer. When she learned of the fracas on Twitter, she sought advice from online oracles, asking whether “we” should “ignore” the frightful professor saying things with which she did not agree.

Vindication of Ramseyer’s Argument

Why all of this sweat and spittle-flecking to keep academics from investigating the truth for themselves? To ask the question is to answer it.

Recall that Professor Ramseyer’s argument in “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War” hinges on “credible commitments,” or the minimum level of trust in a given employment market, for that market to function in sorting out laborers and available wages. Without “credible commitments,” or a contractual environment wherein contracting parties can arrive at agreed terms, the labor market breaks down and the workers do not reach places of work.

As Professor Ramseyer notes in his paper, he does not use paper contracts as evidence in his essay. He does not claim to have written contracts. In fact, he explicitly says in his paper that he does not have them. 

This is precisely why he deploys the “credible commitments” theoretical framework, to help him understand contractual interactions in the absence of paper evidence. He has repeated this at length, perhaps most notably in a script-matching hit piece in the New Yorker by fellow Harvard Law professor Jeannie Suk Gersen. (Mark Ramseyer provided Gersen with background information on the comfort women for her essay—she ignored it.)

Beginning in March, 2021, Professor Tetsuo Arima of Waseda University began a serial essay in the Daily Shincho in Japanese pointing out the many flaws and distortions in Ramseyer’s critics’ claims. In his July, 2021 book, Professor Arima describes in even greater detail the reasons that Professor Ramseyer’s assailants are wrong.

Bottom line, there were contracts. Professor Ramseyer’s theoretical argument about “credible commitments” still stands, but is now, thanks to Professor Arima, greatly reinforced by a welter of documentary evidence. 

The comfort women, with rare exceptions, agreed to do the work that they were contracting to do. The “credible commitments” were buttressed by an entire social and political network of institutions and laws which made those commitments reliable enough for women to agree to travel to work at comfort stations. There are documents supporting Mark Ramseyer’s theoretical arguments.

Interview with Waseda University Professor Tetsuo Arima

The Details: Contracts, Commitments, and Checkpoints

“Those criticizing Professor Ramseyer’s work are making fundamental mistakes in understanding,” Professor Arima says in our interview.

“The comfort women recruited to work in comfort stations went through several layers of bureaucracy before reaching their places of employment,” Professor Arima continues. “The clauses in their contracts were checked at many places along the way.”

“First,” Professor Arima explains, “comfort women brought their contracts to the local police. Japan had a highly developed system for regulating prostitution, which at the time was considered very progressive in that it protected women from being trafficked against their will. The police checked to be sure that the women contracting to work in comfort stations had not been tricked.”

There was more, even at that early stage.

“In almost all cases,” Professor Arima points out, “the women came to the police station with their contracts and with their fathers, who would have had to sign the contract authorizing work at the comfort station. The police would have checked to be sure the person claiming to be the woman’s father really was her parent.

“If the contract and the family situation did not check out,” Professor Arima continues, “then the woman would not have been issued a ‘comfort woman authorization form’ (ianfu kyokashō) by the police station. Without that authorization form, the woman would not have been allowed to move on to the comfort station.”

There were other bureaucratic hurdles, too. At each one, the comfort woman’s contract was re-examined for authenticity. Confirmation was also made as to whether she was traveling to work as a comfort woman against her will or not.

“There was no moving past the police station stage without a comfort woman authorization form,” Professor Arima reiterates. “And then, as the woman traveled to the comfort station, there would have been checks. 

Finally, the comfort station (ianjo) would also have checked the authorization form, the contract, and other paperwork. 

There were contracts. There was documentation. Without these, as the historical record attests, there would have been no one to work at the comfort stations.”

Other scholars in South Korea, for example Naksungdae Institute of Economic Research specialist Lee Wooyoun, Ph.D., Seoul National University professor emeritus and author Lee Young-hoon, and Joseph Yi, have debunked the same charges that attackers make time and again in, variously, English, Korean and Japanese. And they have pleaded for academic freedom to be respected. 

Hiroshima University professor emeritus Choe Kilsung has written several books rooted in primary sources documenting the realities of the comfort women and the (mainly Korean) recruiters used to secure prostitutes from the Korean peninsula. 

Continues in part 3

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Author: Jason Morgan