Japanese historians challenge US publishers on the subject of ‘Comfort Women’

A group of historians from Japan is challenging the depiction, in US history textbooks, of women trafficked to Japanese military brothels during World War II. Their demand is to change such narratives in US textbooks, as according to them these events are highly exaggerated in the United States.

Talking to reporters in Tokyo, a representative of the group of 19 Japanese historians expressed their determination to make every effort possible to urge American publisher McGraw-Hill to make appropriate amendments to the passage referring to so-called ‘comfort women’. They have prepared a booklet containing eight points they think should be changed in history textbooks taught in the US.

The South Korean and Japanese governments are not on the best of terms, after the prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, took office in 2012. This is primarily because of the conservative and right-wing approach of Prime Minister Abe towards Japan’s role in WWII. He is determined to restore honour and respect for Japanese soldiers who died in WWII, and is asking for a reassessment of Japanese apologetic approach towards the war. South Korea, one of Japan’s former colonies, is not happy with the events unfolding in Japan, especially concerning Japanese atrocities before and during WWII.

South Korea maintains that hundreds of thousands of young women were kidnapped from South Korea and other territories occupied by Japan and were sent to Japanese military brothels. Many of them died in the prisons or at the hands of Japanese soldiers. Near the end of the war, it is believed that the Japanese Army killed many of them in order to get rid of any evidence of these brothels. This is precisely what a history book taught in the US states. The book ‘Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past’ suggests that the Japanese military had recruited more than 200,000 women from its colonies to serve in military brothels, the Stars and Stripes reports.

The Foreign Ministry of Japan has officially complained to the author and publisher of the book. Prime Minister Abe, while speaking to the parliament, said that he was ‘stunned’ to see how far from the truth the content of this particular book is.

In the mean time, a South Korean independent film-maker is planning to release his long-awaited feature, ‘Spirits’ Homecoming’, on the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in August. The film tells the story of two of the so-called ‘Comfort Women’ and also sheds light on Japanese treatment of such women. Cho Junglae faced fierce opposition while looking for funding and support for his project. Recently, more people have showed interest in his project as a result of Japan’s stance on atrocities committed during WWII.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE