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Why I Defend the Ramseyer Paper ‘Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War’

Waseda University Professor Tetsuo Arima hopes his essays will start fair academic discussions and help restore the proper way of seeking the truth about our past.

Tetsuo Arima

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All comfort women had consensual contracts. Whether it was through a verbal agreement or a written contract, a woman would not have been able to work as a comfort woman without a consensual contract.

In his article “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War” published in The International Review of Law and Economics, Harvard Law School Professor J. Mark Ramseyer clarifies the workings of the contractual relationship between the comfort women and the brothel owners, fundamentally overturning theories that the comfort women were subjected to “forced abduction” or “sexual slavery.”

An electronic version of his article was distributed by Elsevier in January 2021 and was featured in the article “Recovering the Truth About the Comfort Women” (January 12, 2021) on JAPAN Forward

In February, Harvard professors Andrew Gordon and Carter Eckert launched a bitter attack. In the “Statement by Andrew Gordon, Professor, Department of History, Carter Eckert, Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University,” which Gordon and Eckert issued on February 17, the they criticized Ramseyer for failing to present an actual sex-work contract despite claiming their existence, and demanded that the journal retract the article.

But their argument completely misses the point: the contracts in question are private documents that contain the women’s personal information and cannot be made public like other official documents. There is no doubt, however, that a template of the contracts or consent forms between the Korean women or their parents and the Korean recruiters or brothel owners exists and is available in several of the official Japanese documents that Ramseyer mentions in his notes.

Gordon and Eckert also misinterpret the word shakufu (barmaid) by taking its literal meaning instead of correctly interpreting the term as a euphemism for “prostitute,” which indicates a flaw in their understanding of the Japanese language.

Ramseyer’s article was further attacked by Professor Jeannie Suk Gersen of Harvard Law School in an article in The New Yorker that references criticisms by Gordon and Eckert and other feminist scholars of Japan.

Like other critics of Ramseyer, her accusations are highly problematic. For example, Suk Gersen fails to address the sources in Ramseyer’s footnotes, especially Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report No. 49 (1944) produced by the United States Office of War Information, which shows the content of the contracts with the Korean comfort women. An even graver problem was that she went on to spread one-sided, unjustified criticism of Ramseyer on social media, knowing full well how the Korean people would react.

Unsurprisingly, this was followed by an avalanche of violent condemnation by the Korean media, which is not an unfamiliar sight for the Japanese people. The fact that the article was written by a professor from the highly prestigious Harvard is no warrant for all the major Korean newspapers to devote entire pages to condemn a single academic paper.

TV stations followed suit. SBS TV, for example, continued to assail Professor Ramseyer’s article for a week or so, calling it sophistry and delusional without ever mentioning the content of his article in the slightest.

Among the disparaging reports, false accusations that were akin to character assassination of Ramseyer were particularly striking. Some alleged that Mitsubishi had paid Ramseyer to write the article because his professorship was endowed by Mitsubishi, while others made assertions that Ramseyer was on the “board of directors of a right-wing research organization in Japan.” He was further accused of discriminating against burakumin (a former Japanese social class) and Zainichi Koreans in previous papers. None of these accusations has any bearing on the article in question.

Then came the straw man arguments, or arguments that misrepresent someone’s opinion in order to criticize it. For example, nowhere in the article does Ramseyer insult comfort women or advocate child prostitution, as some of his critics have claimed.

In late February, Michael Chwe, chair of the Department of Political Science at UCLA, also issued a statement calling for the retraction of Ramseyer’s article. Chwe claimed to have collected over 3,000 signatures as of March 5.

A question I would like to ask Professor Chwe is whether he or any of the other 3,000-plus economists actually read the Japanese documents which Ramseyer cites in his notes. If they cannot prove that they could read these archaic, jargon-filled Japanese texts on which Ramseyer’s article is based, then they are the ones violating research ethics, not Ramseyer.

On March 17, I began writing a series of articles for the Daily Shincho defending Ramseyer. Across seven articles, I explain how critics of Ramseyer ignore or misinterpret the Japanese documents referenced in his article, especially official Japanese documents such as those of the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Japanese Army. I also condemn the critics for acting like the sole gatekeepers of justice and degrading Ramseyer by defaming him on social media, and for further demanding his resignation and attempting to take away Ramseyer’s freedom of speech and academic freedom.

After building on this series of articles and adding a few more chapters, my book All Comfort Women Had Consensual Contracts: The Impact of the Ramseyer Paper was published on July 30 by WAC Publishing. It includes a Japanese translation of “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War.”

It is manifestly wrong for “comfort women” researchers around the world to send hate mail or intimidate using mass mobilization in an attack on those who do not agree with them. It is my hope that my book will serve as a catalyst for fair academic discussions and help restore the proper academic way of seeking the truth about our past.

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Author: Professor Tetsuo Arima

(Click here to read the article in Japanese.)

Tetsuo Arima is a Professor at Waseda University’s Graduate School of Social Sciences. He has been visiting the National Archives II in the United States, the National Archives in the UK, and other historical document repositories for about 30 years and written 20 books, mainly on Modern Japanese History focused on the Occupation Era and World War II. His books include "The Nuclear Power Station", 'Shoriki', "CIA", "The Atomic Bombs", and "All Comfort Women had Sex Contracts". Follow him on Twitter at @TetsuoArima