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Sunday, September 7, 2014

'Comfort Women': No Resolution Without Resoluteness. From Everyone, Please.

Time for an update on the 'Comfort Women' issue (the last mention was in my focus on "Abductors talking abductions - Revisionists talking revisions" - 20140618). Today, I'm using the euphemism instead of 'sexual slavery system for the Japanese Imperial Military' for a good reason.

What you should remember:
1) more than ever, justice must win, not nationalism
2) undeterred by an evasive US, Shinzo Abe's pushing his revisionist agenda harder than ever
3) South Korea at long last forced to give up its own inaction


1) More than ever, Justice must win, not nationalism:

To avoid any confusion, let's start with a reminder of where I stand. I wrote the following lines in December 2011, after attending the 1,000th "Wednesday demonstration" in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul (see "One Thousand Wednesdays"):

"This is not about nationalism, and this is certainly not about Korea vs Japan, but about Japan vs Justice, and about Japan vs its own future. Crimes were committed and victims simply expect justice. Japan must face history in order to face the future, and its leaders cannot hide the truth to Japanese citizens any longer.

I've said the same thing about other issues: this is also about saving Japan. And if I joined the protesters, it's also because I love Japan and because I can't accept to see a minority of die hard ultra-conservatives setting a corrupt agenda and betraying the Japanese people.

And to Korean ultra-nationalists who try to hijack this case for their own corrupt agenda, I say: clean your own mess first, and restore the Truth and Reconciliation Commission."

More than ever, Justice must win, not nationalism. And if Korea plays the nationalist card on Imperial Japan sexual slavery issues, Justice will never prevail for the victims.

2) Undeterred by an evasive US, Shinzo Abe's pushing his revisionist agenda harder than ever:

We've already seen how short-lived were the hopes of seeing the USA, at long last, act as a leader true to its ideals. If at the local level the multiplication across the US of memorials for the victims of sexual slavery under Japanese rule keeps building pressure, it will take much more to make the Japanese people demand change from their political leaders.

Now confident that the US administration won't pose any problem, Shinzo Abe has shifted gears to go even faster and further. The time was ripe for more changes: as expected, the Abenomics illusion is showing its limits, and he needs a boost to remain in power and push his main agenda, ABEIGNomics. The smokescreen, this time? "Womenomics": a sure bet for Japan, where enabling more women would immediately fuel economic growth.

Abe's recent cabinet reshuffle speaks volumes about his priorities: a record number of women for show (5/18), and a record number of Nippon Kaigi members for action (15/18).

80% of Shinzo Abe's cabinet belong to right wing Japan Conference (advocate history revisionism)
Nippon Kaigi supports Yasukuni visits, opposes Japan's human rights protection law...
see also "Abe's reshuffle promotes right-wingers" (Korea JoongAng Daily 20140905)

If you don't know Nippon Kaigi, also known as 'Japan Conference', that's the official vehicle of Imperial Japan revival and history revisionism*. Joining Nippon Kaigi is pledging allegiance to the worst of the worst: rewriting history, glorifying war crimes, promoting ultra-nationalism at school, repudiating Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal, peace treaties, and apologies, restoring militarism in and removing pacifism from the Constitution, abolishing the human rights law... and of course finishing with democracy by restoring the Emperor as the supreme Shinto leader.

Becoming a Nippon Kaigi member also means securing a career in an overwhelmingly peaceful country where the political system remains controlled by a tiny but unassailable fascist minority.

Nippon Kaigi claims 30,000 members, mainly from Abe's conservative LDP, but also from opposition parties. Of course, they control the key Ministry of Education, held by none other than the Secretary General of the Nippon Kaigi discussion group at the Diet, Hakubun Shimomura. This outspoken revisionist never hid his agenda. Florilege:
  • "the 67 years since the end of World War II have been a history of Japan’s destruction", 
  • "the “departure from the postwar regime” slogan that the previous Abe administration put forward means revising all aspects of Japan’s modern history, including the Tokyo War Tribunal view of history, the Kono Statement, and the Murayama Statement"...
Again, for these guys, the 'Comfort Women' issue is the most damning one, the one they're spending the most energy on when it comes to rewriting history. And they love to see their messages carried by women. Abenomics served as a smokescreen to push ABEIGNomics? Womenomics will help cover up one of the most outrageous attacks on women's rights (WomenIGNomics, then).

Significantly, the two main women promoted during the cabinet reshuffle happen to be among the most vocal Japanese women denying Imperial Japan sexual slavery. As if Nippon Kaigi was not 'right' enough, both the new Internal Affairs Minister Sanae Takaichi and the new LDP policy chief** Tomomi Inada pal around with the head of Japan's neo-nazi party, Kazunari Yamada:

"Neo-Nazi photos pose headache for Shinzo Abe" (The Guardian - 20140909)

I don't know how to make it clearer: there is simply no difference between the neo-Nazi Kazunari Yamada, who denies the Holocaust and regrets that Germany made illegal the Nazi salute, and Shinzo Abe, who not only denies Imperial Japan war crimes but openly supports war criminals (and who, by the way, also happens to be the Secretary General of the Diet Members' Caucus for the "Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership", the Imperialist (hard)core of the right-wing movement including Nippon Kaigi***).
If you had any doubt regarding Shinzo Abe's support for Imperial Japan war crimes, read this: "Abe praised Class-A war criminals for being 'foundation' of Japan's prosperity" (The Asahi Shimbun 20140827)

Again, this unapologetic and indefensible fascist is Japan's worst enemy, and voting for Shinzo Abe and his friends is voting in favor of war criminals and Imperial Japan, and against peaceful, postwar Japan.

The choice is simple for the Japanese people: if you don't subscribe to the Nippon Kaigi agenda, vote for people who are not members. And if you want Japan to declare its long overdue independence from Imperial Japan, demand every politician to denounce it.

Needless to say, neither the US nor the rest of the international community can support Abe's agenda and let Japan sink.

Just like it's time for Japan to declare its independence from Imperial Japan, it's time for the US to declare its independence from Japanese hardliners.

That's possible. It's happening right now with Israel, where hawks have pushed so far that they are losing key supports in D.C.: Americans are starting to understand that there's a J Street alternative to the AIPAC, and that the only way of truly supporting Israel is to denounce its government when it's wrong (see "Thank you, Bibi, for shooting yourself in the foot").
Meet the New Russia: same as the old USSR.
Meet the New Japan: same as the old Imperial Japan.
#Novorossiya - #ABEIGNomics

I understand that the US is willing to share military costs in Asia with Japan, but as I wrote in the Asia Pacific Bulletin, "the United States must reassure Asia that it will not condone Japanese historical revisionism, nor will it support an expanded Japanese military without providing wider safeguards to the region".

More than ever, the surest and quickest way of saving Japan is to stand for a universal cause that reaches beyond borders and nationalism, to stand for human rights and women's rights, and to demand Japan to resolve the issue of sexual slavery for the Imperial Japan military.

3) South Korea at long last forced to give up its own inaction:

Park Geun-hye and her government are often criticized for not engaging with Shinzo Abe, but that wouldn't change Japan's most radical PM since WWII. Regardless of its relations with Japan, what South Korea must do is show the right example by better facing its own troubled past.

For the moment, Park Geun-hye isn't in a position to give history lessons to Shinzo Abe. I often said that she has the potential and the historical duty to change things across East Asia. If she, of all people, showcases a willingness to set the record straight on the troubled decades that followed the Japanese colonial rule, including the ones when her father Park Chung-hee was in charge, she can not only spur national reconciliation, but also send very powerful messages to the Japanese people and to other nations.

What does she risk? She's already a lame duck not running for any mandate, and losing popular support. Such a courageous move would also make more credible her claims to see the Sewol mess fully and fairly investigated.

Furthermore, current events provide the most perfect alibi to dig into Korea's darkest moments.

And guess what: it has something to do with 'Comfort Women'.

Important reminders:

  • 'Comfort Women' (Wianbu in Korean) is the euphemism used to refer to Imperial Japan's international sexual slavery system for the military.
  • In the years that followed the occupation, the term was also often used to refer to the Camp Town prostitutes for the American and U.N. military in Korea, including by Korean media and officials:

Registration campaign of 'Wianbu' for U.N. forces
  • In dirt poor, post-war Korea, many women living near U.S. bases would turn to prostitution as last resort, a phenomenon well depicted through Myung-suk's character in Yu Hyun-mok's Obaltan (and well discussed the other day at Barry's Seoul Film Society, following the screening of the 1961 movie adaptation of Yi Beom-seon's short story).
  • The Korean government played an active role, providing structures, registering women, monitoring the spread of STDs... Park Chung-hee even institutionalized the system, sex trade representing a very important source of foreign currencies, and generating directly and indirectly up to a quarter of Korea's GNP (in very deed, a Gross National Product).

In this scene of Obaltan (1961), two men mock at a 'Western Princess' while Cheol-ho (Kim Jin-kyu) observes. His own sister sells her body to U.S. servicemen.
  • The need to distinguish actual 'Comfort Women' (sex slaves for the Imperial Japan military) and Camp Town prostitutes (more and more often called 'Yanggongju' or 'Yankee Princess') became even more evident in the early 1990s, when surviving sex slaves came out and brought international attention to this side of Imperial Japan war crimes. That's also when the two women's rights associations split: former 'Comfort Women' on one side, former prostitutes on the other.
  • If sex slavery survivors have become national hero 'Halmoni' waiting for a resolution from Japan, the former sex laborers face their own struggles (e.g. "At US base, S. Korean ex-prostitutes face eviction" - AP 20140906), and are still seeking from the Korean government some recognition, and in certain cases reparation for mistreatment, forced labor, or other human rights violations (even teaming with actual 'Comfort Women' for the occasion - e.g. "Former Korean 'comfort women' for U.S. troops sue own government" - Reuters 20140711).
  • In ever the politically divided Korea, right-wing factions keep trying to hijack 'Comfort Women' issues, tainting it with anti-Japanism, and undermining the cause by bringing the Japanese population behind its revisionist leaders, while left-wing factions try to use 'American Comfort Women' (Miguk Wianbu) to promote their anti-American crusades.
  • In a disturbing contrast, as South Korea started to embrace the cause of its 'Halmoni' in the early 90s, it also opened its gates to immigration, and the cases of sex trafficking and slavery multiplied, particularly those involving victims from the Philippines. 
  • By not facing reality and by sweeping problems under the rug, the nation keeps blurring the lines and courting criticism from Japanese revisionists, who love to paint 'Comfort Women' as willing prostitutes, and to say that what Imperial Japan did happen everywhere else. As if Germans said that the Holocaust didn't exist, or that 'Holocaust' should be a generic term referring to common abuses that are inherent to war times.
  • Even if the epithet has been used to refer to 'prostitutes for the U.S. / U.N. military', 'Comfort Women' should remain the euphemism referring to sex slaves for the Imperial Japan military. And if cases of forced labor or sex slavery happened after that, they should be resolved immediately and completely, become national causes if needed, just like abuses in the army (a recurring tragedy that's only nowadays starting to be considered a priority).

If you want Justice, you cannot hide inconvenient truths. Yes, you may face critics, like the Asahi Shimbun: they recently apologized for the publication in 1992 of the questionable testimony of Seiji Yoshida regarding the 'Comfort Women' issue, and of course conservative newspapers seized the opportunity to slam their progressive competitor and renew their revisionist mantras (e.g. " EDITORIAL / Asahi Shimbun makes long-overdue corrections over ‘comfort women’" - The Yomiuri Shimbun 20140908). But you can't take a stand without a minimum of consistency.

South Korea will much better defend the victims of Imperial Japan sex slavery if at home, it truly stand for human rights, for women's rights, and against history revisionism.

---ADDENDUM 20140912---
If you still give Shinzo Abe and Nippon Kagai the benefit of the doubt, and if still you believe that Sanae Takaichi didn't know what she was doing when she posed with a neo-Nazi leader, know that she also praised Adolf Hitler in her book: "Japan: Adolf Hitler Book Haunts Interior Minister Sanae Takaichi" (IB Times 20140911

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* see for instance "What's the 'Japan Conference (Nippon Kaigi)'?" (Akahata Sunday edition, July 9, 2006 via Japan Press Weekly
** NB: Inada is not part of the cabinet (my mistake on these tweets):

When Shinzo Abe picks a woman in government...: the ultra-nationalist Tomomi Inada, a negationist of Imperial Japan sex slavery.
And that outrageous Tomomi Inada is supposed to promote "Cool Japan"!! Who said Shinzo Abe had no sense of humor?
Japan's new ministers Tomomi Inada and Sanae Takaichi: 2 women negating Imperial Japan sex slaver! ("Japan's Abe reshuffle cabinet: WSJ live blog" 20140903)
Tomomi Inada and Sanae Takaichi also posed with neo-nazi chief Kazunari Yamada ("Abe Cabinet Members in Neo-Nazi Photo-Op Fail" The Diplomat 20140909)
*** e.g. "News Analysis: Abe unifies far-right ideology in upper echelons of Japanese politics" (Xinhua 20140908), "Abe Shinzo, a Far-Right Denier of History" (Narusawa Mune, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol 11, Issue 1, No. 1, January 14, 2013)

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