Saturday, March 17, 2007


The Problem with Apologies

So, why is it that the West is so rankled over the concept of Japan apologizing or not apologizing for comfort women?

Well, here's one for you, in question form. Why is there a movement in Japan to remove any reference to sexual slavery from textbooks?

Former education minister Nariaki Nakayama takes pride in an achievement he and about 130 fellow members of the Liberal Democratic Party took the past decade to accomplish: getting references to Japan's wartime sex slaves struck from most authorized history texts for junior high schools.

"Our campaign worked, and people outside the government also started raising their voices, creating a national trend," said the 63-year-old Lower House member from Miyazaki Prefecture, who also openly claims the 1937 Nanjing Massacre was a "pure fabrication."

The debate in Japan seems to center around the difficulty of defining who exactly these comfort women were. One the one hand is the perception (widely held outside of Japan) that the women were forcibly taken from their homes and forced into sexual slavery. On the other hand is the belief that most women were prostitutes to begin with and therefore not doing anything they wouldn't have been doing otherwise. Add to this a dearth of documents ordering the abduction and forcible sexual servitude of women versus the oral accounts given by victims and some say we have a "he said she said" type of situation . . . except that we now have hundreds of first hand accounts from women claiming to have been abducted and forcibly raped.

Nakayama claims the women were professional prostitutes at frontline brothels run by private agencies, and neither the state nor the army forcibly took the women there.

Some historians estimate the sex slaves numbered up to 200,000, including those in their teens, while others say the figure was much lower.

"(Working at the brothels) was their commercial business. They were never sex slaves," Nakayama reckoned, challenging the public testimony of scores of aging Asian and Dutch women who recalled being forcibly taken, some in their teens, to the frontline brothels and being gang-raped by Japanese troops for little or no reward.

Why does any of this matter? I think it paints a picture of a segment of the population and/or the government that hasn't fully accepted the now infamous 1993 "apology." In fact, the 1993 apology makes no sense, if taken in the context of all these history books; future generations won't know why the apology exists at all, if they aren't taught its reason.

This Nakayama also seems intent on overturning the 1993 apology. So far, however, Abe seems to be holding firm. Although Nakayama asked Abe to investigate the apology--ie, determine whether or not it should be jettisoned--Abe is so for not indicating that he will do so.

"I have already said that I will stand by the 1993 Kono statement," Abe said.

He also said he will no longer discuss his position with reporters, because his words "have not been correctly reported."

I think this is unfortunate. Abe has a chance to elaborate, to reiterate the apology, to help make the apology part of the Japan's history and policy--not to mention its educational goals--and I think he's sadly failing to capitalize on the strides the Koizumi administration made. As for why the west in "picking on" Japan in this way; a poster suggested it may be to help drive a wedge between two allies committed to the war in Iraq. I say that the ramifications of the "apology" are greater than the Iraq war. East Asia is catching up with Japan in terms of prosperity and technology. All these countries (Korea, Japan, China, etc.) will need to reconcile their pasts and I suspect the West and the US is under pressure to try to help this along.

I am curious to hear your thoughts.

First posted on Japundit where you can read the comments.

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