Japan should resist right-wingers who discount the country's war crimes

Shinzo Abe’s revisionist government would like to take back an apology over "comfort women"

 

Share

From the invasion of China up to the end of the Pacific War, the Japanese government systematically forced tens of thousands of women into prostitution to serve the Empire’s soldiers at the front. Most of these so-called ‘comfort women’ came from Korea, which was at the time a Japanese colony, though others were recruited from Japan and the Dutch East Indies. The women were trucked out to brothels at the frontline throughout the Pacific war zone, where they were obliged to service hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers.

This is old news. Like many other crimes committed by Japan’s fascist wartime government, it was hastily covered up with the complicity of the occupying post-war American authorities so that life could return to normal with minimal disruption and with many of the wartime politicians and bureaucrats back in charge, enabling Japan to grow rich as the US’s most compliant and obedient ally. An American report on the issue claimed that the women were “camp followers” who “lived well…they had plenty of money with which to purchase desired articles…they amused themselves by participating in sports events with both officers and men, and attended picnics, entertainments and social dinners.”

These grotesque lies were peddled to American authorities all too ready to accept them and let other people’s bygones be bygones.

That might have remained the state of affairs but for a left-wing Japanese journalist who had lived through the war and who began writing books on the horrors of the Pacific war and the pathological behaviour of the Japanese wartime authorities. His name was Kakou Senda. He wrote his books day after day in a Tokyo café, and it was there I used to meet him and listen to his appalling tales. In 1973 he was the first to put the horrors endured by the comfort women – three-quarters of whom died before the war’s end – into print. 

Some 20 years later surviving Korean women began to emerge with their own ghastly memories, and the horrors they described in 1993 induced the Japanese government to acknowledge that the women had been recruited by force, and to issue an apology for the “immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds” they had suffered.

But Shinzo Abe’s revisionist government would like to eat those words: last month they announced that the apology would be re-examined. This and the decision by Mr Abe and another cabinet minister to pay their respects at Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo, where the Japanese war dead are honoured, convicted war criminals among them, have enraged opinion in both Korea and China, where the scars of war have never properly healed. Relations between theoretical allies Japan and South Korea are now worse than for many years, with Mr Abe second only to Kim Jong-Un on the nation’s hate list. On his recent tour of Asia, President Obama was obliged to take up cudgels against Japan on the women’s behalf, describing their treatment as “a terrible, egregious violation of human rights.” This week China tried to polarise its two neighbours further, claiming to have found “ironclad” proof of the abuse.

Japan is today a very different nation. It has learned many of the right lessons from the war: it invests in South East Asia with far more awareness of local sensitivities than China, for example.

Japan’s right-wingers, with Mr Abe at the head, clearly believe that the economic doldrums in which the nation wallowed for two decades were somehow connected to its willingness to apologise for its war crimes. Ergo, bouncing back economically requires rewriting the history books. The logic is infantile, and it is driving Japan into an ugly, truth-denying corner.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The first Christmas card: in 1843 the inventor Sir Henry Cole commissioned the artist John Callcott Horsley to draw a card for him to send to family and friends  

Hold your temperance: New life for the first Christmas card

Simmy Richman
Members of the House of Lords gather for the state opening of Parliament  

Peer pressure: The nobles in the Lords should know when to go

Jane Merrick
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick