More than a slip of the tongue

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More than a slip of the tongue

The new chairman of the Japan Broadcasting Corporation has become the latest in a number of nationalists under right-wing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe who have angered his country’s Asian neighbors with comments condoning Japan’s past aggressions and wartime crimes. In his first news conference after being appointed to head the NHK, Katsuto Momii criticized South Korea for singling out Japan for running military brothels during World War II, saying the practice had been common in other nations during times of war. He claimed South Korea, which had been compensated for colonization through a peace treaty, complicated the matter by insisting that the Japanese government forcibly recruited and ran the brothels.

Coercion is what differentiates comfort women - referring to women forced to provide sex to Japanese soldiers - from wartime prostitution. Documents and historians attest that Asian women - largely from Korea, which was under colonial rule at the time - had been coaxed or coerced with the endorsement and encouragement of the state and the military. The captured women lived in misery as sex slaves. In 1993, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono made an official statement acknowledging that the Imperial Japanese Army established “comfort stations” and had been directly and indirectly involved in running the facilities.

The state and the military were behind the conscription of women, and victims testified they were treated horrifically in the camps. Records of coercion and slavery have never been found in wartime brothels in Germany and France. In the 1993 statement, the Tokyo government formally apologized for violating the honor and dignity of many women and for causing immeasurable physical and psychological pain. Now, the head of a public broadcaster is flatly rejecting his government’s statement.

A public broadcaster represents the intelligence and ethical standards of a nation. It has a duty to deliver facts. The head of a German public broadcaster wouldn’t last long in his job if he defended the Nazi slaughter of Jews by saying other countries were also doing it. Even if the news department remains independent from the chairman, his views could influence reporting and programs.

Abe angered neighbors by posing with a smile in a training jet with the number 731, resurrecting painful memories of the Japanese biological and chemical warfare unit notorious for conducting experiments on prisoners. The new NHK head also made inexcusably painful comments with no regard for the victims whose lives were ruthlessly violated by brutal force.


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