Listen to conscientious voices

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Listen to conscientious voices

Sixteen Japanese historical research groups with more than 6,900 members issued a public statement demanding that the Japanese government face up to the fact that its military sexually enslaved thousands of young women during World War II.

The existence of the “comfort women” system has been effectively proven by a multitude of historical documents, the historians said, and the fact that they were mobilized under dubious circumstances constitutes forced recruitment.

The declaration was a direct rebuttal to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s repeated argument that the Japanese military was not responsible for what he described on a recent visit to the United States as “human trafficking.”

The historians also attacked Abe’s cabinet and Japanese media for their chauvinistic perspectives on history. If the government adheres to irresponsible, nationalistic attitudes to divert attention away from the issue, they said, then it is essentially sending the international community the message that Japan does not respect human rights.

Their statement carries great significance, as it was drawn up by four out of five outstanding historical societies, including the prestigious Historical Science Society of Japan. It also follows an earlier one by 187 world-renowned historians that criticized Abe’s arbitrary distortion of history.

The Japanese prime minister has repeatedly emphasized that historical issues like the one in question should be left in the hands of academics. So we have to wonder how he will react to Japanese historians’ denunciation of his historical views. If Abe is a trustworthy politician who will take responsibility for his words, then he must accept his wrongdoings and apologize for all the pain Imperial Japan brought to hundreds of thousands of young women from its colonies on the battlefields.

Furthermore, the attitude adopted in the Japanese media is reprehensible. Despite the gravity of the issue - which has gone so far as to hamper communication between Seoul and Tokyo - only the liberal Asahi Shimbun ran the latest announcement by Japan’s major historical research groups. Other major dailies, like the Yomiuri, the Mainichi and the Nikkei, simply ignored it.

Such an intransigent approach dissuades readers from having balanced perspectives on myriads of sensitive issues. That’s a suicidal act of journalism if anything. Under such skewed circumstances, the pleas by these Japanese historians for justice and fairness can’t even be disseminated across their own society. Japanese politicians and the press must confront the truth behind this tragedy and deliver it in honest terms.

JoongAng Ilbo, May 27, Page 34

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