BACKGROUND OF ‘COMFORT WOMEN’ ISSUE / No hard evidence of coercion in recruitment of comfort women
The Yomiuri Shimbun(Yomiuri News Paper, Japan)
This is the second installment on the so-called “comfort women” controversy. The U.S. House of Representatives has been deliberating a draft resolution calling for the Japanese government to apologize over the matter by spurning the practice as slavery and human trafficking. Why has such a biased view of the issue prevailed?
The issue of the so-called comfort women has been brought up repeatedly because misunderstandings that the Japanese government and the Imperial Japanese Army forced women into sexual servitude have not been completely dispelled.
The government has admitted the Imperial Japanese Army’s involvement in brothels, saying that “the then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women.” The “involvement” refers to giving the green light to opening a brothel, building facilities, setting regulations regarding brothels, such as fees and opening hours, and conducting inspections by army doctors.
However, the government has denied that the Japanese military forcibly recruited women. On March 18, 1997, a Cabinet Secretariat official said in the Diet, “There is no evidence in public documents that clearly shows there were any forcible actions [in recruiting comfort women].” No further evidence that could disprove this statement has been found.
The belief that comfort women were forcibly recruited started to spread when Seiji Yoshida, who claimed to be a former head of the mobilization department of the Shimonoseki branch of an organization in charge of recruiting laborers, published a book titled “Watashi no Senso Hanzai” (My War Crime) in 1983. Yoshida said in the book that he had been involved in looking for suitable women to force them into sexual slavery in Jeju, South Korea. “We surrounded wailing women, took them by the arms and dragged them out into the street one by one,” he said in the book.
But researchers concluded in the mid-1990s that the stories in the book are not authentic. On March 5 this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at the House of Councillors Budget Committee that Yoshida’s story does not prove that women were forcibly recruited. He said: “I think it was The Asahi Shimbun [that reported the story] that a man named Seiji Yoshida testified about his having searched for comfort women. But later [Yoshida’s testimony] was found to have been made up.”
As the comfort women issue started to take on political and diplomatic dimensions, some people in South Korea and also in Japan confused comfort women with female volunteer corps, strengthening the misbelief that there was coercion.
Female volunteer corps were, according to a historian Ikuhiko Hata’s book “Ianfu to Senjo no Sei” (Comfort Women and Sex in the Battlefield), single women aged between 12 and 40 who were mobilized to work in factories, starting in August 1944, primarily to secure necessary labor.
There were cases in which malicious brokers sweet-talked women with promises of easy money or intentionally concealed from them what life was going to be like in brothels.
The War Ministry wrote a letter, dated March 4, 1938, to the troops dispatched to China. The letter, titled “Regarding the recruiting of women at the army’s comfort stations,” said there were malicious brokers who were recruiting women in a way “similar to kidnapping.”
It said, “Nothing should be overlooked so that the military’s prestige and social orders are maintained.” The letter indicates how the Imperial Japanese Army tried to make sure that women were not forcibly recruited.
However, in the confusion of war, elite Imperial Japanese Army soldiers who were on the fast track for officer status sent detained Dutch women to a brothel in Indonesia. The incident came to be known as the Semarang incident.
The Imperial Japanese Army Headquarters closed down the brothel immediately after learning of the incident, and soldiers involved received severe punishment–some were sentenced to death–at a war crimes court convened by the Dutch Army after the war.
(Mar. 31, 2007)