Friday, March 02, 2007

Japan and the "Comfort Women"

Remember how I mentioned that Asia is a really tricky part of the world right now? Part of that is due to American mishandling of North Korea. Part of it is because of China and North Korea being, um, China and North Korea.

Part of it, though, is due to Japan's issues with its past. Things are improving, but every so often, you get something like this:

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said there is no evidence that women were forced to become sex slaves by the Japanese army during World War II.

He told reporters there was "no evidence to prove there was coercion", adding "we have to take it from there"...

..."There has been debate over the question of whether there was coercion," Mr Abe told journalists on Thursday.

"But the fact is, there was no evidence to prove there was coercion as initially suggested."

"That largely changes what constitutes the definition of coercion, and we have to take it from there," he said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiitake later said the Japanese government did not agree with the US congressional resolution, but still honoured the 1993 statement.

The resolution before the US Congress seeks to reject the revisionists' moves by calling on the Japanese prime minister to "formally acknowledge, apologise and accept historical responsibility" for the comfort women.
Needless to say, Korea and China aren't happy, and neither is Congress. The annoying thing is that if you split hairs enough, Japan has a point. Girls were coerced, and the Imperial Army definitely procured these women, but many of them were forcibly coerced by locals or were "volunteers" (that didn't want to starve, but they weren't forcibly coerced.) It's difficult to prove that the Imperial army directly and forcibly coerced these women. That's why Japan can plausibly deny it.

That said, it barely matters, and Japan shouldn't be splitting hairs on this. There is the possibility that they'll have to pay compensation, but the regional problems that this engenders are far worse than the costs of compensation. It's more about the conflict within Japan over their wartime record, and over what that means for Japanese identity itself. It's sort of like the continuing open wound that is America's history of slavery- people would prefer to move on and pretend it didn't happen and that it doesn't have effects to this day, but it does, and you really have to face it and accept it.

I have confidence that both Japan and the United States will face their history square-on. Many within both countries already do, and after all, if the Germans could face up to the Holocaust, then Japan and the US (and everybody else) can face up to their pasts too.

In the meantime, though, this inadvisable move on Abe's part is likely to spark outrage in the region. More of THAT, they don't need.

No comments:

Post a Comment