1000th Wednesday Protest, and Lies about Comfort Women by Imperial Japan Apologists

As the Korean discussed previously, there was the 1000th Wednesday Protest in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul this past Wednesday. At the protest, there was an unveiling of a statue, commemorating the Comfort Women.

The statue is a statue of a girl sitting down. There is an empty chair next to the girl,
so that visitors may sit next to her and look toward the Japanese Embassy. There is
also a plaque, in Korean, English and Japanese, that describe the significance of the statue
True to form, the Japanese Embassy protested the statue, stating that the statue was "extremely regrettable," and asked it to be removed. Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs replied: "Rather than insisting on the removal of the statue, the Japanese government should seriously ask itself why these victims have held their weekly rallies for 20 years, never missing a week, and whether it really cannot find a way to restore the honor these woman so earnestly want.”

On this occasion, the Korean will address some of the lies and half-truths that Japan apologists propagate, commonly found in prominent sites like Japan Probe and picked up by careless observers like the BBC. In particular, this post will focus on the apologies and reparations aspect, rather than the facts about Comfort Women themselves.

[Addendum, 12/16/2011:  There are additional arguments commonly made by Japan apologists other than the ones listed below, but those arguments are so intellectually worthless that they do not merit a lengthy discussion. Such arguments include:  outright denial of established facts ("There is no evidence that Japanese government coerced these women"); tu quoque ("Korea committed atrocities in Vietnam"); false moral equivalence ("Allied forces also committed atrocities during World War II"); distraction with tenuously related items ("Prostitutes in Korea are treated badly also."). If you want to argue against this piece, please stay away from those types of arguments. It is one thing to be morally depraved by arguing for Japan's position; it is quite another to be morally depraved and stupid.]

1.  Japan already apologized for Comfort Women.

This statement is only technically true, in a sense that the Japanese government mouthed the words of apology. For example, in 1993, in Kono Statement, Japanese government acknowledged that Imperial Japanese military was directly and indirectly involved in recruiting Comfort Women through coercion and trickery. There are several other cases in which Japanese Prime Ministers issued an apology regarding Comfort Women.

However, the point of an apology is to show a genuine change of heart and contrition. An apology is not a license for one to turn around and spit in the face of the person to whom the apology was just issued. An apology is not a credit in the moral bank account, so that one can later make a withdrawal and commit more immoral deeds. Simply mouthing the words and going through the motions are clearly inadequate for anyone with a functional moral compass. In that sense, there are several of reasons to consider the Japanese apologies to be inadequate:

a.  Each apology was carefully worded to avoid any legal liability

If you did something bad, you should be ready to accept all consequences, moral and legal. You have to say the right thing and do the right thing also. If you say the right things but fail to do the right things, the words are meaningless and hollow. That is how each one of Japan's apologies on Comfort Women has been structured. Reading carefully, most of the apologies usually say:  "We are sorry this bad thing happened to you," without discussing that it was the Imperial Japan that caused that bad thing. Each one of Japan's apologies regarding Comfort Women was designed for Japan to evade legal responsibility while attempting to absolve its moral responsibility. But morality does not work that way. Even a child would know this.

b.  Subsequent Japanese administrations sought to whitewash the Comfort Women issue

Japan's apologies -- particularly those made in the 1990s, which had greater specificity about its direct responsibility -- was not a result of a nationwide reflection and contrition by Japan. It was issued by an unusually liberal Japanese government, which had a tenuous hold on power. When the conservative block of the Liberal Democratic Party came back in power, the Japanese government quickly displayed the insincerity of its stance on the Comfort Women issue.

In 2007, a group of 120 LDP members sought to water down Kono Statement. Nakayama Nariaki, the leader of that group, said: "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."

Also in 2007, LDP Prime Minister Abe Shinzo (a grandson of a man suspected to be a class-A war criminal, Kishi Nobusuke,) denied that the Imperial Japanese military recruited Comfort Women. Abe only backed off after a stern warning from the U.S. ambassador. Another former Prime Minister, Nakasone Yasuhiro, also denied that the Comfort Women were forcibly recruited. Further, former education minister Nariaki Nakayama declared he was proud that the LDP had succeeded in getting references to "wartime sex slaves" struck from most authorized history texts for junior high schools. Nakayama further said: "It could be said that the occupation was something they could have pride in, given their existence soothed distraught feelings of men in the battlefield and provided a certain respite and order."

(Take a break here, let that last statement sink in for a bit, and appreciate the level of depravity required to make that statement.)

Again, back to the overriding point:  an apology is meaningless when it is mere words mouthed as a formality. Because the subsequent leaders of the Japanese government were ready to go back on its stance on Comfort Women just as soon as the administration changed, there are real reasons to doubt the sincerity of Japan's contrition over Comfort Women.

(More after the jump.)

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2.  Japan offered reparation for Comfort Women in 1995, but Comfort Women are refusing to accept it.

Two years after Kono Statement, Japanese government established "Asia Women's Fund" to provide compensation for Comfort Women. However, AWF was funded by private donations rather than governmental funding, again in an attempt to shield the Japanese government from legal liability.

Like Kono Statement and other apologies by the Japanese government, the offer from AWF was morally deficient. Accordingly, most Comfort Women refused the payment.

3.  Japan already paid reparation for Comfort Women in 1965, but Korean government diverted the funds.

In 1965, Korea and Japan entered into Treaty on Basic Relations between Japan and the Republic of Korea, under which Korean government relinquished individual claims of reparation in exchange of a lump sum payment of $800 million in grants and soft loans. Korean government used the money to fund infrastructure projects, such as a highway between Seoul and Busan. Based on this treaty, Japan apologists argue that the fault lies with Korean government for compensating the Comfort Women. This argument is incorrect, both morally and legally, for the following reasons:

a.  Japan knowingly dealt with a dictator who clearly did not represent the interest of Korean people

Park Chung-Hee was the president who entered into the Basic Treaty with Japan, which makes the legitimacy of the Basic Treaty doubtful in a number of ways. First, Park Chung-Hee was not a democratically elected leader, but a dictator who came to power through a military coup d'etat. Although Park went through the formality of elections, those elections were clearly and heavily rigged. Second, previous to Korea's independence, Park was an officer of the Imperial Japanese military. (Gee, I wonder what he felt about Imperial Japan's war?) Third, when the news of the Basic Treaty broke, there was so much protest against the treaty that the Park dictatorship had to declare a martial law to suppress the opposition. Under the martial law, all schools were closed, citizens were banned from holding meetings, arrests were made without warrants and the government pre-screened newspapers.

Every one of these facts were known to the Japanese government, but the Japanese government dealt with the Park Chung-Hee dictatorship anyway and entered into a treaty that was clearly inadequate to address the injuries suffered at the hands of Japanese Imperialism. (More on this below.)

b.  The reparation amount paid by Japan was grossly inadequate

The amount of $800 million was calculated by paying $200 per survivors of the Japanese conscription and $2000 per those who were injured. In 2011 dollars, that's less than $1,500 and $15,000 per person. A dead dog is worth more than $1,500 in either Japanese or Korean legal system. By the way, Germany pays Holocaust survivors a lifetime pension.

c.  Korean government, in fact, paid out the reparation paid by Japan

It is ridiculous to argue that the fault lies with Korean government, given that the Japanese government could not have possibly expected that the money would go to the hands of the people who suffered under its rule by negotiating a dictator who came to power illegitimately.

But be that as it may, Korean government did pay out the reparation money and then some. In 1975, a decade after the Basic Treaty, Park Chung-Hee dictatorship paid out KRW 300,000 (= around $300) to those eligible for reparation. (At this time, however, Comfort Women were not paid reparation because their existence was not widely known.) After Korea democratized, Korean government paid out KRW 20 million (= around $20,000) to those eligible for reparation in 2006. The amount of reparation, by the way, is much more than what Japan paid as reparation (which, again, was around $1,500 in 2011 dollars.) Former Comfort Women also receive a separate pension from Korean government, far above and beyond anything that Japan has ever provided.

d.  Basic Treaty did not eliminate Comfort Women's claims

Even if we brush aside the monstrously amoral aspect to Japan's position and only concerned ourselves with its legality, Japan's position is on thin ice.

First, internal Japanese documents around the time of the negotiations of the Basic Treaty show that Japan did not intend to extinguish individual claims by entering into the Basic Treaty. Referring to the provision that allegedly waived Korean individuals' right of claim, an internal memorandum from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs states:
"By Art. 2 [of the Basic Treaty], parties agree that they will not exercise the right of diplomatic protection, which is a unique right belonging to the state under the international law; it is not the case that individual’s property [which includes claims] was used to satisfy the obligations of the state."
Second, even if the Basic Treaty did attempt to eliminate Comfort Women's claim for reparation, well-established principles of international law say that such attempt is invalid. Article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law." Article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights likewise states: "Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes . . . [t]o ensure that any person whose rights or freedoms as herein recognized are violated shall have an effective remedy." Because Japan's reparation has been grossly inadequate under the Basic Treaty, Comfort Women were denied of an "effective remedy" guaranteed by established principles of international law.

Another established principle of international law is even more directly on point.  Sub-Commission resolution 1999/16 from UN Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, titled “Systematic rape, sexual slavery and slavery-like practices”, states at Paragraph 13:
The Sub-Commission . . . [n]otes that the rights and obligations of States and individuals with respect to the violations referred to in the present resolution cannot, as a matter of international law, be extinguished by peace treaty, peace agreement, amnesty or by any other means.
Therefore, even speaking legally, Japanese government cannot argue that the Basic Treaty absolves them from all liabilities to the Comfort Women.

4.  There is nothing Japan can do to satisfy Koreans about Imperial Japan's legacy.

This is simply not true. There are only 63 surviving Comfort Women left. Logistically, it is not difficult at all for the Japanese Prime Minister to pay each one of them a visit, hand-deliver a sincere letter of apology, and vow to provide them with a lifetime pension, identify and punish any surviving Japanese who was responsible, fund a museum and a scholarship dedicated to chronicling the ordeals that they went through, and ensure that Japan's history textbooks accurately depict what happened. The cost of doing this for Japan is minimal. The only thing holding back Japan is the lack of political will. Once these things are done, there is no possible way in which any Korean can protest about the way Japan treats former Comfort Women.

(For a broad action plan with which Japan could finally deal with its colonial legacy once and for all, please refer to this post.)

The Korean would emphasize that this is not "punishing the child for the sins of the parents," as Japan apologists mistakenly argue. No one -- not even the most nationalistic Korean -- is saying that the current generation of Japanese people should be punished as if they themselves committed this horrendous crime. (If there were the case, Koreans would be calling for every Japanese people to be put in jail for life. Obviously, such movement does not exist in Korea.) All Koreans want is for (1) Japanese government to unequivocally admit what its country did in the past; (2) former Comfort Women to be adequately compensated in their short remaining lives, and; (3) Japanese people to fully understand the crimes of its predecessors. None of the above is a punishment. Rather, it is a normal course of action that any decent human would take. In fact, it is the least Japan can do. The battle here is not Japan versus Korea -- it is Japan versus justice, Japan versus human decency.

That Japan is obstinately refusing to take this course is deeply troubling, because I love Japan. The greatest influences of my life include Japanese movies and cartoons. I love visiting Japan. I love Japanese food. The Japanese people I know are wonderful, kind, artistic, gritty and civic-minded people, worthy of deep admiration. But the longer this takes, I cannot draw myself away from this appalling conclusion:  Japan, as a whole, does not think it did anything wrong to these women. I desperately want to believe that the Japanese people are not amoral monsters, who would rather play the cynical waiting game until all of the former Comfort Women die away. But each time the Wednesday protesters are turned away, each time the Japanese Embassy protests a statue commemorating the Comfort women, my faith in human decency, common among all people of all places and times, gets chipped away little by little.

Got a question or a comment for the Korean? Email away at askakorean@gmail.com.