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

The critics’ aim is to intimidate public intellectuals through Nazi-like mob-attack tactics.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in walks with a former comfort woman in August 14, 2018. The comfort women issue has been a major billboard issue in South Korean politics.

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(First of 3 parts)

This is the first 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.

(Read Part 2 and Part 3)

Interview with Professor Tetsuo Arima of Waseda University

Knives Out for Professor Arima

The Zoom screen flickers to life and I can see the cherubic face of a late-middle-aged man. He looks serene, especially considering the circumstances. It is late at night, but he has agreed to an interview on short notice because over the past few dozen hours he has become the latest target of the bullying tactics roiling the American and South Korean academies.

The man on the Zoom screen is Tetsuo Arima. He is a full professor in the School of Social Sciences at the prestigious Waseda University in Tokyo. Professor Arima’s life as a scholar was upended on October 5, 2021, when a group of students in Japan calling themselves “Moving Beyond Hate” launched a change.org petition denouncing him.

Curiously, overseas professors who have been harassing Professor J. Mark Ramseyer quickly chimed in, calling Professor Arima “the shame of Waseda” and intimidating Professor Arima’s students and his employer. 

Professor Arima is an expert in historical documents, especially the kinds of prewar documents in archaic and difficult Japanese which provide details about, for example, the comfort women. In July 2021, Professor Arima published All Comfort Women Made Contracts (WAC), in which he studies primary sources and other historical documentation. He concludes that the women working at comfort stations in Asia in World War II were almost all there on the basis of contractual agreement.

After Professor Arima’s book was published, a group of non-Japanese academics began complaining on Twitter about what Professor Arima wrote on the cover of his book — that, in trying to shut down free speech and academic inquiry, academics had been behaving “like modern-day Nazis.” 

Now the online mob has their knives out for yet another historical researcher. As of this writing, the student group’s change.org petition has garnered more than 8,000 signatures. The petition calls for Professor Arima to be fired for “inciting discrimination” and “making repeated historical-denialist statements.” 

The group is also demanding that Waseda “prevent a recurrence” of the crimes they charge Professor Arima with.

Placed to encourage emotional responses to the issue rather than fact-based consideration, comfort Woman statues were placed on buses in Seoul.

Attacks Targeting Emotion, Not Fact

During our interview, Professor Arima tells me that he has no idea who is behind the attacks on him. One thing seems certain, though, he says: the student group is being used as a front for a planned, systematic, methodical campaign designed to silence academic inquiry.

“First, someone claiming to be [Singapore-based researcher] Sayaka Chatani and others began sending me provocative messages,” Professor Arima says. “The goal was obviously to get me to say something out of frustration or exasperation which could be used against me. 

“When that didn’t work, someone inflamed the Twitter crowd to pile on. Someone mobilized organizations inside of South Korea and ramped up the attack to include calling for me to be dismissed from my teaching position at Waseda University.”

Professor Arima notes that he does not blame the self-styled student group for fronting this attack. “The students are clearly being used as a front,” Professor Arima tells me. “They seem otherwise to be doing admirable work. And at any rate students in Japan simply don’t go after their professors on Twitter. There are other groups behind this. The shadow groups obviously learned from the Ramseyer case and are deploying the same tactics against me,” he says.

“The goal is the same, though,” he continues, “to throw things into confusion and try to prevent anyone from making clear arguments. This was what they did to Mark Ramseyer. 

“Like him, I have done nothing wrong. I have made no discriminatory statements, and never would. Neither has, or would, Professor Ramseyer.

“The pretense of ‘moving beyond hate’ is just that — a pretense,” Professor Arima says. 

“The real aim is to keep others from speaking in public, to intimidate researchers and public intellectuals using the kinds of mob-attack tactics which, yes, are very much like those used by the Nazis to squelch free speech in Germany, and also like the Stalinist assault on free speech in the Soviet Union.”

Harvard Law Professor Mark Ramseyer

The Anti-Ramseyer Struggle Session

Professor Arima’s references to Mark Ramseyer point to the international struggle session, led by academics mainly in the United States, against the Harvard Law professor beginning early in 2021. Professor Ramseyer published a short, scholarly paper titled “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War” in 2020 in the International Review of Law and Economics (IRLE). In the paper, Professor Ramseyer argues that the “credible commitments” theory can be used to explain the contractual relationship between comfort women and comfort station operators during World War II in Asia.

While in many cases the actual paper contracts have been lost, Professor Ramseyer notes in his essay, the fact that the comfort women entered into employment for fixed periods of time and fixed wage rates (all agreed upon in advance), and were often able to earn enough money to be able to wire funds home to their families, indicates that “credible commitments” — in other words, contractual understandings — underpinned the employment market for sex work.

There was no “forced recruitment” of comfort women, except for a small number of war crimes involving POWs who were forced to work as camp prostitutes, and which were prosecuted as crimes by the Japanese military itself. Because of this, the only way for the labor market to recruit workers — in this case, prostitutes — was through “credible commitments,” or contractual relationships in which both sides could reasonably expect the other side to fulfill the terms of employment.

After Professor Ramseyer published a short essay on JAPAN Forward  outlining his arguments in “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” the JAPAN Forward article was picked up by the South Korean press and translated into Korean. Members of the South Korean entertainment industry then began making profane and vile statements about Mark Ramseyer. Hate messages and death threats from people using Korean email addresses began flooding Professor Ramseyer’s Harvard inbox. The South Korean media industry went into attack mode.

The American academy quickly got into gear, too. A core group of activist academics coordinated what they soon ginned up into a nationwide attack against one of the most respected scholars of Japanese legal history in North America. (It didn’t hurt that at least one of the attackers had a new book to sell.)

The professors were thorough. They hounded the International Review of Law and Economics editors to try to get Professor Ramseyer’s paper retracted. The overseas attack squad spent seemingly every waking hour on Twitter, attempting to intimidate others who might wish to read for themselves the evidence for or against Professor Ramseyer’s claims.

They hastily compiled a tendentious cite-check which failed to touch on the core claims of Professor Ramseyer’s argument — although this has not kept the overseas attackers from using their cite-check as “proof” that Professor Ramseyer had committed “academic fraud.”

Older American academics kept to the traditional propaganda routes, eschewing Twitter but going on South Korean television, for instance, to read from the prepared script about “academic fraud.” A dumpster-fire expert named Richard Painter also lent his considerable gravitas to the American and South Korean witch hunt

One embittered American academic, reduced to writing books about the history of sewing machines, read the anti-Ramseyer script, too. The sewing machine expert’s documentation for his contribution to the struggle session amounted to a Ph.D. dissertation, two newspaper articles, and two books which Professor Ramseyer has also cited. No new documents, nothing to show research in original sources.

Continues in part 2

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Author: Jason Morgan