Statement by historians urges Japan to apologize

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Statement by historians urges Japan to apologize

A group of 187 renowned historians that included a Pulitzer prize winner urged Japan in a joint statement to face up to its wartime past and apologize for its forced mobilization of thousands of young women and girls into military brothels during World War II.

In a 975-word statement issued on Wednesday titled “Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan,” the group said in a rare display of collective action that “denying or trivializing what happened” to the victims of the “comfort women system” is “unacceptable.”

Their statement also went so far as to characterize the comfort women system as “distinguished by its large-scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan.”

“The process of acknowledging past wrongs strengthens a democratic society and fosters cooperation among nations,” the statement read, in reference to Japan’s reluctance to accept the fact that sexual slavery was perpetuated by its imperial army.

While acknowledging that many of the archives concerning the comfort women system were destroyed and that actions of “local procurers who provided women to the military may never have been recorded,” the statement, however, noted that “historians have unearthed numerous documents demonstrating the military’s involvement in the transfer of women and oversight of brothels.”

It added that though there has been disagreement over the precise number of comfort women, as the victims are euphemistically known - whether they numbered in the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands - it “will not alter the fact that the exploitation was carried out throughout the Japanese empire and its war zones.”

The 187 historians who joined the cause include Herbert Bix of Binghamton University, who won a Pulitzer for his book “Hirohito and the Making of Modern Japan;” Bruce Cummings of the University of Chicago, who authored “Origins of the Korean War;” Massachusetts Institute of Technology Prof. John Dower; and Harvard University Prof. Ezra Vogel.

The joint statement came a week after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe neglected to mention the issue during his speech before a joint session of Congress in Washington, let alone acknowledge or express regret for what has been referred to as a wartime atrocity.

While expressing his “eternal condolences” for the American soldiers killed in World War II and acknowledging the “suffering” of Asian nations at the hands of the Imperial Japanese Army, Abe chose not to address how Japan mobilized thousands of young women from its former colonies to serve in military brothels, a decision that prompted Seoul to express its deep “regret.”

During another address at Harvard University, two days before his appearance in Congress, Abe expressed remorse for the comfort women, yet again failed to convey a clear apology or acknowledge that the system was run by the Japanese Imperial Army, instead referring to the women as victims of “human trafficking.”

Abe’s unequivocal stance on the issue and his government’s revisionist posture on its wartime history during the early 20th century - during which a number of Asian countries fell victim to Japan’s imperialism - has long been considered a missed opportunity to mend the tense relationship between Seoul and Tokyo.

Many South Koreans lament that Japan should learn from Germany, which worked to directly and clearly atone for the suffering the Nazis inflicted upon Europe and its Jewish population.

President Park Geun-hye has refused to hold talks with her Japanese counterpart in an apparent sign of her dissatisfaction toward Abe’s actions. She is now in her third year in office.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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