Monthly Archives: March 2007

Comfort Women

The annals of the patriarchy manifested a particularly twisted conjunction today. I could not pass it up without some kind of deconstructive notice. The hook in the NYT story written with interesting diffidence by Norimitsu Onishi:

The long festering issue of Japan’s war-era sex slaves gained new prominence last week when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe denied the military’s role in coercing the women into servitude. The denial by Mr. Abe, Japan’s first prime minister born after the war, drew official protests from China, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines, some of the countries from which the sex slaves were taken.

We needn’t tarry too long to consider the amazing stupidity of this comment. Applying the Mayer Principle that almost all international politics is domestically motivated, it would appear that Abe is reacting to a proposed non-binding resolution in the US Congress that would request Japan apologize for its military’s institutional brutalization of several hundred thousand abducted women over a period of years during WW2, and playing in his politically weakened condition to his far right wing (a move familiar outside Japan).

As to any debate that it was actually the Japanese military’s direct responsibility,

Ms. Ruff was living with her family in Java, in what was then the Dutch East Indies, when Japan invaded in 1942. She spent the first two years in a prison camp, she said, but Japanese officers arrived one day in 1944. They forced single girls and women to line up and eventually picked 10 of them, including Ms. Ruff, who was 21.

“On the first night, it was a high-ranking officer,” Ms. Ruff said. “It was so well organized. A military doctor came to our house regularly to examine us against venereal diseases, and I tell you, before I was examined the doctor raped me first. That’s how well organized it was.”

Abe’s LDP cronies are trying to “soften” a 1993 statement by the government admitting some kind of military involvement in the Japanese sexual slave system—they apparently believe that 200,000 women were prostitutes who volunteered.

The occasion for the 1993 statement was the activity of

a Japanese historian, Yoshiaki Yoshimi, outraged by government denials, [who] went to the Self-Defense Agency’s library and unearthed, after two days of searching, documents revealing military involvement in establishing brothels. One was titled “Regarding the Recruitment of Women for Military Brothels.”

One point I take from this, cited from an earlier NYT story by Onishi linked below, is that the evidence was publicly accessible and easy to find.

This is a famous instance of mass, continuous rape, clearly understandable as such even if you are someone who does not want to consider prostitution a form of rape. It was visited on thousands of captive women from conquered populations by the most rigorously organized military force in the world at the time, operating from one of the greatest imperial powers of the last century.

Many in the US consider Japan as having gone to war in 1941—which of course is when they attacked Pearl Harbor. But the Japanese were at war long before even the Germans, invading Manchuria in 1931, fighting intermittently with China until full-scale war (which westerners call the Second Sino-Japanese War) starting in 1937.

In its opening phase, the Japanese army conquered the Chinese city of Nanjing (Nanking), inland from the recently conquered Shanghai, subduing the city on 13 December 1937. In what is popularly known in the west as the “Rape of Nanking”, Japanese soldiers raped, pillaged and murdered for six weeks, throughout the city and surrounding area. Some 300,000 murders are usually cited, although there is still a Japanese nationalist element that denies the Rape ever happened.

Along with military freedom to murder civilian populations goes freedom to rape. During the Rape of Nanjing,

The International Military Tribunal for the Far East [the Pacific War’s version of the Nuremburg Tribunal, for Japanese war crimes] stated that 20,000 (and perhaps up to 80,000) women were raped—their ages ranging from infants to the elderly (as old as 80). Rapes were often performed in public during the day, sometimes in front of spouses or family members. A large number of them were systematized in a process where soldiers would search door-to-door for young girls, with many women taken captive and gang raped. The women were then killed immediately after the rape, often by mutilation. According to some testimonies, other women were forced into military prostitution as comfort women.

As to the “comfort women”, of whom one might argue (if they had been unlucky enough to live in Nanjing during the Japanese occupation) that they fared better than some of their raped, mutilated and murdered sisters, we have some useful analysis from a Japanese legislator allied with Abe (quoted in Onishi’s first NYT story at the time of Abe’s statement):

“Some say it is useful to compare the brothels to college cafeterias run by private companies, who recruit their own staff, procure foodstuffs and set prices,” Nariaki Nakayama, the leader of 120 lawmakers who want to revise the declaration, said Thursday.

“Where there’s demand, business crops up,” Mr. Nakayama said, according to The Associated Press. “But to say women were forced by the Japanese military into service is off the mark. This issue must be reconsidered, based on truth, for the sake of Japanese honor.”

For anyone in their right mind, this needs no further comment.

One graf in particular in today’s NYT story seemed to me to be positively booby-trapped and ready to explode in readers’ hands, with its presentation of complex layers of painful patriarchal logic:

Japan’s deep fear of rampaging soldiers also led it to establish brothels with Japanese prostitutes across Japan for American soldiers during the first months of the postwar occupation, a fact that complicates American involvement in the current debate.

This paragraph says that Japanese in the immediate post-war period, whose army murdered, raped and pillaged its way across much of Asia, and to a dependable level of historical certitude sexually enslaved several hundred thousand women from occupied populations in order to service the Japanese armies of occupation, feared the same treatment during their own occupation. To prevent this danger, they sexually enslaved Japanese women in order to service the Allied armies of occupation.

This is not an entry intended to slam Japan or Japanese. The sexual enslavement of Japanese women in order to prevent mass rape by the Allied occupation is just another example in an endless line of evidence that for women as a sex class, there is no liberation in sight.


Norimitsu Onishi’s March 2 article; March 8 article

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