Abe must confront history

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Abe must confront history

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who persistently denies the Japanese Imperial Army’s systematic involvement in recruiting sex slaves for soldiers during World War II, has been sent a straight-forward warning from 187 prestigious historians around the world. In a written statement, the group of scholars, who include University of Connecticut professor Alexis Dudden, Harvard University emeritus professor Ezra Vogel and University of Chicago professor Bruce Cummings, said, “Denying or trivializing what happened” is an insult to the victims and that “the evidence makes it clear that large numbers of women were held against their will and subjected to horrific brutality.”

They stated that historians have unearthed numerous documents demonstrating the military’s involvement in the transfer of women and oversight of brothels. Noting that “Abe spoke of the universal value of human rights and the importance of human security” at a joint session of U.S. Congress last week, the scholars urged him to act boldly once and for all.

In the visit to America, Abe described the sex slaves as “victims of human trafficking.” But his remarks are meaningless if the sentence does not have a subject. If Abe really feels a modicum of moral or legal responsibility, he should have said he was sorry for the human trafficking by the Japanese Army. No matter how close Washington-Tokyo ties become, Japan cannot change history. The fact that hundreds of thousands of “comfort women” were coerced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army throughout its war zones simply does not change.

Abe is engaged in a reckless bet. Though he took the position that the question of the forcible mobilization of sex slaves by the military should be left in the hands of historians, a prestigious academic group on history in Japan countered his claim by saying the existence of women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army is an undeniable fact. The latest joint statement by world-renowned historians must be understood in the same context.

However, Abe is blatantly backpedaling on unalterable facts of history by turning a blind eye to stern warnings from conscientious scholars in Japan and other parts of the world. We wonder if - and for how long - he can maintain a twisted view on history after arbitrarily denying the truth without apology. If he adheres to such a lopsided distortion of history, he must confront a war with the conscience of the world that he can never win.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 7, Page 34

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