JPRI Critique Vol. IX, Number 2  (March 2002)
Japan’s Comfort Women, Theirs and Ours
by Murray Sayle

Reflections on the POW Lawsuits
by Steven C. Clemons
 


Japan’s Comfort Women, Theirs and Ours
by Murray Sayle
 
Late in August 1944, Australian troops securing the island of Timor after Japan’s surrender came across a group of 40 young Javanese women wearing Red Cross armbands, although they had no discernible nursing skills and there was no hospital nearby. They turned out to be the staff of a Japanese-run ianjo (comfort station), or front-line brothel, brought to Timor  by force or trickery and hastily decked out as nurses to disguise their real occupation. Earlier, Americans in Burma had found a party of Korean women transported even further from home in Japanese naval ships. As more of Asia was liberated, a grim picture emerged of history’s biggest officially sponsored trade in women. Some 200,000, mostly Koreans but including Chinese, Indonesians, Vietnamese and Dutch women, recruited from internment camps—but few Japanese women—had been forced to provide “comfort” for Japanese troops defending Japan's enormous, short-lived Asian empire.
 
Japan’s generals believed they had sound military reasons for their sordid enterprise. Licensed prostitution had since Edo times been widespread in Japan itself, with girls sold into brothels by poor, desperate parents. As Japanese business communities settled in Asia after Japan’s opening to the world in the 19th century, Japanese entrepreneurs began catering to their needs by opening brothels, usually disguised as bars, restaurants or cabarets, and staffed by karayuki-san, literally “persons going to China,” a euphemism for Japanese prostitutes forced or enticed to go abroad.              
 
As Japan’s military involvement in Asian grew during the 20th century, the generals reasoned that troops serving abroad were entitled to similar “comforts,” with the added advantage of controlling VD and avoiding the molesting of local women by drunk Japanese servicemen. After fighting broke out between Japanese and Chinese troops in Shanghai in 1932, called by Japanese historians the “first Shanghai Incident,” the Japanese Navy saw to it that “comfort stations” staffed by Japanese women transported from home in Navy ships, were established in the city to provide segregated recreation for off-duty sailors. The  Navy’s example was soon followed by the Japanese army occupying Japan’s quasi-colony in Manchuria. When the demand grew, the comfort women, originally all Japanese, were joined by Korean and Chinese women resident in Japan.
 
As Japan’s losses grew after full-scale fighting broke out in 1937, Japan’s girls were needed at home to bear future soldiers for the Emperor, while local Chinese women, the generals feared, might act as spies. But Korea and Taiwan were then parts of the Japanese empire, the Philippines were occupied after 1942, and hunger drove many gullible girls to accept the jobs promised by glib Japanese labor contractors as waitresses or entertainers—the word ian, “comfort” in Japanese, covers these occupations, as well as forced prostitution. The Japanese military did not officially recruit ianfu, “comfort women,” (this was done by the labor contractors), but it provided weekly medical inspections, transport to the battle zones, and army-issue condoms branded “Attack No 1.” The women were paid small sums in Japanese occupation scrip, soon to be worthless.
 
New Book Expands Discussion

It would be hard to imagine a worse violation of human rights than this heartless sexual slavery, and Professor Yuki Tanaka of Hiroshima City University (Japan’s Comfort Women: Sexual Slavery and Prostitution During World War II and the U.S. Occupation, London: Routledge, 2002) gives us a clear, unsparing account of it. He then asks a logical question, buried under official shame for 50 years—why were these blatant war crimes never mentioned at the Tokyo War Crimes Trials of the 1940’s? His answer is a striking case of stained pots not calling kettles black: because the Occupation troops—U.S., British and Australian—were themselves exploiting comfort women, for almost exactly the same reasons the Japanese generals had. The Occupation’s comfort women were all Japanese, and by grim coincidence, there were also something like 200,000 of them. The big difference was that they were at home in Japan, and were mostly paid in American dollars, which often saved their families from starvation in the hungry years after Japan’s defeat—and incidentally, Tanaka reports, brought in the earliest hard currency that financed bomb-devastated Japan in its long road back to an unheard-of prosperity.
 
Tanaka’s book goes far beyond a recital of Japanese war crimes and is a ground-breaking study of the never-solved problem of men and women in war, for which the American feminist Susan Brownmiller rightly commends him in her foreword. All armies, he says, have used comfort women at some time or another, with the significant exceptions of Oliver Cromwell's Puritan troopers, the Vietcong and the Chinese communists, all driven by austere ideologies. Tanaka begins his survey with a little-known example: British troops occupying Eritria in 1940 took over the Italian military brothels, liberated five million condoms for distribution to their own troops in North Africa, and later invited American GI’s, but not Italian civilians, to share their conscripted comforts.
 
Only days after World War II ended, the Japanese government took the lead in finding comfort women for American, British and Australian troops sent to occupy Japan. Something called the Tokushu Ian Shisetsu Kyokai, “Special Comfort Facilities Association” was set up with government funds and advertised for “Special Female Workers” to “protect the purity of all [other] Japanese women.” Yakuza groups, then as now closely connected with far right nationalists, joined in the work of recruitment, for a rake-off.
 
General Douglas MacArthur and his staff were assigned 40 Japanese comfort women, an offer he righteously refused. But free-lances went with soldiers of lower rank who offered money and food in a country on the verge of starvation. One woman in Tokyo comforted 60 Americans in one night, according to a secret U.S. Army report. By March 1946, the US occupation had 274 VD cases for every thousand soldiers, while the Australian 34th Infantry Brigade in occupation in Hiroshima reported 550 per thousand. Japan, an Aussie wrote home, was “one big brothel.” The Occupation brought the VD epidemic under control by medically inspecting comfort women, issuing condoms, and barring unsupervised “fraternization,” just as the Japanese military occupying Asia had done before them.
 
Fifty years on, gullible girls, now called Japayuki, are still being lured from the Philippines by promises of big money, and American troops are still using Japanese comfort women. In September 1995, three drunk U.S. servicemen kidnapped and raped a twelve-year-old schoolgirl in Okinawa. “They were stupid” Admiral Richard C. Macke blurted out. “For the price they paid to rent a car they could have had a girl.” The admiral lost his job over this remark, even though it reveals all too clearly how little the universal military mind has changed in half a century.
 
MURRAY SAYLE is a journalist who has lived in Japan for more than 25 years. A slightly shorter version of this article was published in the Daily Mail, London, February 1, 2002.


 
Reflections on the POW Lawsuits
by Steven C. Clemons
 
Why should Goldman Sachs and U.S. President George W. Bush expect Japan to reconcile its financial accounts and non-performing loans when it is clear that Japan's political architecture inhibits accountability on any front, particularly in matters of Japan's historical memory?
 
Official Japan cannot bring itself to apologize to the "comfort women" forced to act as sex slaves for Japan's soldiers; it cannot overcome by leadership or regulation the fundamental involvement of the yakuza and corruption-ridden political machines that have devastated the health of Japan's economy; and it cannot apologize to the American prisoners of war that Mitsui and Mitsubishi used as slave labor.
 
One key reason why Japan does not reconcile its past with the present, either in finance or in historical matters, is that the United States has at various times turned a blind eye to, permitted, encouraged and even designed this system of structural fraud and unaccountability.
 
In many ways, Japan is Enron, and Bush is Arthur Andersen. When Bush, during his recent trip to Tokyo, stated that he had looked Koizumi in the eye and saw a bold reformer, and that the U.S. government had full faith and confidence in Koizumi to pull off a set of Herculean and probably impossible economic and financial reforms, Bush was merely furthering the fraud.
 
Similarly, the U.S. State Department has for years blocked the release of certain papers related to deals cut among nations on the eve of the 1951 San Francisco Treaty. Because of pending lawsuits in both the California and federal court system brought by POWs seeking damages and apologies from Japanese firms that enslaved them, these old materials -- some of which remain classified -- have a fundamental bearing on contemporary issues. Using as an excuse a "fear of biasing pending legal cases," the State Department has refused to comply with the U.S. government's own instructions, through the so-called Nazi War Crimes and Japanese Imperial Government Records Interagency Working Group, to fully disclose American archives on the San Francisco Treaty.
The law requires the State Department to declassify this material, yet it is failing to do so. The evidence should be the evidence, and courts should be the arena where challenger and defender come to a legally binding solution.
 
In September 2001, Congress, by votes of 395-33 in the House and 58-34 in the Senate, ordered the State Department to stop interfering in the POWs' efforts to obtain relief through the judicial process. But the White House intervened to subvert this congressional action at the level of the joint House-Senate conference to reconcile the different versions of the spending bill to which these instructions were amended. Only five times in U.S. congressional history since 1789 has a provision that was debated, voted on and passed in both house of Congress disappeared in the conference process of reconciling House and Senate versions of a bill.
 
The Bush administration engineered an insertion into the conference report that reads this "provision would be an impediment to America's effort to build a broad coalition against terror." The staffers of the Commerce-Justice-State Appropriations Committee, who worry about funding and not U.S.-Japan affairs, were unwilling to argue with White House and State Department emissaries. They were led to believe that Japan would not cooperate with America in the war against terror if the provision was not dropped. One staffer stated that they were told by high-level authorities that there was a "quid pro quo" involved and that Japan had threatened to withhold cooperation in the anti-terror effort if the POW provision was not dropped.
 
The problem is that Japan could never have made such a threat because it is ludicrous. The Japanese government and public understand that Japan's contributions to the anti-terror war are politically important but substantively trivial. It is worth recalling that Japan actually contributed $13 billion to help pay for the Persian Gulf War. It was the only nation on the planet to tax its public to support that effort. But the current U.S. administration regards this as a less significant contribution than passage of Japan's proposed anti-terror legislation, which is mostly cosmetic in substance.
 
It seems clear that the State Department and White House National Security Council staff actually invented the quid pro quo excuse in order to prevent exposure of the long-term manipulation by the U.S. of the historical record. Even though I would have disagreed with the result, simply stating in the conference report that "this provision is not in the American national interest" would have been more honorable and accurate.
 
Regrettably, the POWs and those struggling to get Japan to face its past and to adopt some mechanism by which it can be more mature and honest about these historical issues have no choice but to take on their own government. U.S. policies are the root cause of Japan's intransigence over issues of war memory and just compensation. Economic and historical reform in Japan must start in America.
 
STEVEN C. CLEMONS is executive vice president of the New America Foundation, a centrist public policy institution in Washington, D.C. and is director of the Japan Policy Research Institute.

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