True Stories Of The Korean Comfort Women

How a Harvard professor’s dubious scholarship reignited a history of mistrust between South Korea and also Japan.

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Students in Seoul protested an post by J. Mark Ramseyer, who said that Oriental woguys taken by Japan throughout the Second World War had actually preferred to be prostitutes.Photograph by Chris Jung / NurPhoto / Shutterstock
Read in Korean | 한국어 번역 보기 | Read in Japanese | 日本語で読む

In January, I was outlining an short article I hoped to write about a recent judgment by a South Oriental court ordering Japan to pay compensation for atrocities committed during the 2nd World War versus “comfort womales,” womales and also girls who were transported to war-front “comfort stations” to administer sexual services to soldiers in the Imperial Japanese Army. The women were taken by pressure or entrapped by deception in many type of countries in and also past Asia, but a large number came from Korea, which, at the moment, was a colony of Japan. Quotes of the number of victims have actually ranged commonly, from 10s of thousands to numerous thousands. On January 23rd, Japan announced that the Oriental court’s judgment, which ordered a compensation of ninety-one thousand also and also eight hundred dollars to be paid to each of the twelve Korean comfort woguys who were plaintiffs in the case (seven of whom had actually passed away considering that it was filed, in 2013), was “exceptionally regrettable and absolutely unacceptable.” Japan shelp that it was not topic to Korea’s jurisdiction and also considered the issue to have actually been previously settled. I was ruminating on how legal decisions relating to Second World War crimes against humankind might help settle or aggravate historical traumas that seem impossible to leave in the past—in part, bereason they have been mired in waves of conflict and also denial around the fact of what happened.

On January 31st, I started to obtain messages from students and also alumni of Harvard Law School, wbelow I am a professor, around a longtime colleague of mine, J. Mark Ramseyer, a corporate-regulation specialist in Japanese legal studies. I kbrand-new him slightly, as an unassuming man in his late sixties who had actually ridden bikes via my husband and also when advised us on what Japanese knives to buy. A child and also grandboy of American Mennonite missionaries in Asia, he flourished up in Japan. I kbrand-new that his academic contributions had actually consisted of debunking traditional wisdom around the postwar Japanese economic situation.

The students and alumni wrote to tell me that Ramseyer had actually become front-web page news in South Korea, owing to 2 current articles he had composed that challenged the historical consensus on comfort women. Ramseyer had made his views clear in “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” an post publiburned online, in December, by the peer-reregarded journal Internationwide Review of Law and also Economics (and also forthcoming in print, this March), and in an op-ed published on January 12th in Japan Forward, an English-language Internet site of Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper recognized for its conservative-nationalist bent. Read together, their message was unmistakable: the comfort-women system was not one in which Oriental womales were required, coerced, and also deceived into sex-related servitude and also confined under danger of violence. Ramseyer referred to as that account “pure fiction.” Instead, he asserted that Oriental comfort women “determined prostitution” and also entered “multi-year indenture” agreements through entrepreneurs to job-related at war-front “brothels” in China and Southeast Asia. Purporting to use game concept, he sassist that the economic structure of the contracts reflected that the sex work-related was voluntarily chosen. “Prostitutes have complied with militaries everywhere, and they complied with the Japanese army in Asia,” he wrote.

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The news of Ramseyer’s short article had actually been reported favorably in Japan, and then made its means to Korea and throughout the globe. It was a conflict that was not merely scholastic however that might perhaps affect the troubled diplomatic relationships in between Japan and also Korea, and additionally the delicate role played by the United States as their mutual ally. In the U.S., two members of Congress tweeted that Ramseyer’s claims were “disgusting,” and the State Department affirmed that “the trafficking of womales for sexual purposes by the Japanese armed forces in the time of World War II was an egregious violation of human legal rights.” I interpreted that messeras about Ramseyer were being sent out to me, especially, bereason I was the initially Asian-Amerideserve to woman, and the initially and also just ethnic Korean, to receive tenure at Harvard Law School. I was born in Seoul, and also my parental fees were refugees from their ancestral residence, in North Korea, during the Korean War. At leastern one alumnus composed to say that, because of my position, ethnicity, feminism, and also creating on matters of justice, my silence was “complicity.”

After I spent time digesting my colleague’s thinking, I spoke via him to say that we were around to have actually a public disagreement, however that I would certainly not be joining or encouraging any possible calls for institutional penalty for his exercise of scholastic flexibility to connect in scholarship or express his opinion. I posted a brief critique of Ramseyer’s arguments on social media, explaining that contract analysis assumes voluntary baracquiring by complimentary agents, and that once sex is mandatory, without the choice to refuse or walk amethod, it cannot fairly be described as contractual. I was confident that he would not have actually defined it as such if he believed comfort women’s accounts of having been conscripted and confined by force, threats, deception, and also coercion. It seemed to me that his watch reflected a prior choice not to credit those accounts bereason he understood them incontinuous, or, as he composed, “self-interested” and “uncorroborated.” I noticed, yet, that he did pick to crmodify Japanese federal government denials, even wbelow they contradicted other statements by the federal government. Trying to check out my colleague’s occupational most generously, I thought his views could be a product of a skepticism of mostly accepted wisdom that had increated his academic career. I approached the issue in the vein of criticism and disagreement over facts, logic, and also interpretation, about a subject that triggered solid emotions approximately nationalism and humale civil liberties. I meant that scholars, by delving right into Ramseyer’s research study, would certainly be able to further assess the accuracy of his claims; I can not have actually imagined just how straightforward and also yet exactly how mystifying that work-related would certainly prove to be.

In spite of just how straightforward it might be to reduce the worry to a conflict in between Korea and Japan, victim and perpetrator, or woguys and also men, historians have carefully explored the features and also meanings of the comfort-woguys system, which connected several hundred comfort stations in war-torn Asia, individuals of many kind of nationalities, and also myriad experiences. Scholars have discussed the precise role that the Japanese army played, in addition to personal recruiters, in procuring the womales. In South Korea, reckoning via the duty of aboriginal recruiters in entrapping fellow-Koreans, and also with impoverimelted families in allowing their girls to be taken, has been difficult, to say the least. Tright here have been debates about whether the expression “sex slaextremely,” offered its common associations with chattel slaextremely, best captures the non-chattel instance of abusage and rape in brutal confinement. Over decades, historians have actually determined that tright here was a range of pressure or coercion used against comfort womales, however that violence and threats were endemic. By comparison, Ramseyer’s statements seemed intent on flattening the complexity down to a simple denial: Korean comfort women saw the war front as voluntary prostitutes.

The end of Japanese colonialism in Korea, Taiwan, Manchuria, and also the Western Pacific, adhering to the Empire’s surrender to the U.S. at the conclusion of the Second World War, began seven years of recrimicountry, apology, and denial over Japan’s wartime atrocities. Japan known Korea’s self-reliance in a tranquility treaty via the Allied Powers, signed in San Francisco, in 1951. In 1965, a treaty between South Korea and also Japan normalized their relationships, and the nations agreed that “the difficulties concerning residential or commercial property, civil liberties, and also interests” of each “have been settled entirely and also finally,” and that “no claims shall be made via respect to the measures relating” to them. The comfort womales were not particularly mentioned, which brought about later on dispute around whether their clintends had indeed been settled.