by Brian Zhang
hardboiled staff writer – fall 2014
Since the end of World War II, the Japanese government has largely dodged questions regarding its coercion of Korean and Chinese women into sexual slavery. Dubbed “comfort women” by most, estimates on the number enslaved range from 20,000 to 400,000. Today, less than 100 victims are still living.
In 1993, Japanese politician Yōhei Kōno, serving as Chief Cabinet Secretary, acknowledged in what came to be known as the Kōno Statement that the Japanese Imperial Army had forced civilian women into prostitution at “comfort” facilities during WWII. Up to this point, the Japanese government had denied that the women were coerced into prostitution.
The surviving victims petitioned for an official apology from the government in 2007. Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, however, denied the existence of any evidence suggesting the government had kept sex slaves, despite Kōno’s report from over a decade prior.
For the Japanese government, skirting the issue does not seem to be enough. Radhika Coomaraswamy, a lawyer and UN investigator from Sri Lanka, published a report in 1996 condemning Japan’s wartime use of sex slaves and demanding an immediate apology by the government. Last week, the Japanese government asked Coomaraswamy to redact the portions of the report denied by Tokyo. In fact, in June current Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga announced that a full review of the Kōno Statement is underway to verify its claims.
Almost four generations have passed since the end of WWII. For the few surviving victims, an official apology from the Japanese government is long overdue. Further denial of such crimes – the existence of which is undeniable – can only serve to further anger the victims and their respective governments.
So why does Tokyo insist on maintaining this ridiculous charade? Political analysts believe that politicians such as Prime Minister Abe are acting to curry favor with the populace, or to avoid losing face. Maybe Japan does not see the need to apologize for crimes during its imperialist era when countries such as the United States appear free from such pressure.
Historical negationism, especially by a sovereign government, is a dangerous practice. East Asian ethnic tension is especially complex and deeply rooted in past military conflict. Negationism only serves to widen the gap between these ancient nations, when in fact they have so much in common. Such firmly ingrained prejudices will take generations to die, but Tokyo is in a position to truly offer an olive branch. So, for the sake of future common peace, fess up already.