Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Japanese mayor says second world war 'comfort women' were necessary

The Guardian (UK)
Associated Press
May 14, 2013.
Nationalist Toru Hashimoto provokes anger in neighbouring countries with defence of wartime regime of sex slavery

The mayor of Osaka, Toru Hashimoto, said Japan’s second world war 
‘comfort women’ system was necessary to maintain discipline 
in the armed forces (Photograph: AP).

An outspoken nationalist mayor has said the Japanese military's "comfort women" regime of forced prostitution of Asian women before and during the second world war was necessary to maintain discipline in the ranks and provide rest for soldiers who risked their lives in battle.

The comments raised ire in neighbouring countries that bore the brunt of Japan's wartime aggression and have long complained that Japan has failed to fully atone for wartime atrocities.

Toru Hashimoto, the young, brash mayor of Osaka who is also co-leader of an emerging conservative political party, said on Monday there was no clear evidence that the Japanese military coerced women to become what are euphemistically called "comfort women".

"To maintain discipline in the military it must have been necessary at that time," said Hashimoto. "For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest a comfort women system was necessary. That's clear to anyone."

Historians say up to 200,000 women, mainly from the Korean peninsula and China, were forced to provide sex for Japanese soldiers in military brothels. By some estimates 75% died in captivity.

An unidentified South Korean government official told the Yonhap news agency it was disappointing that a senior Japanese official had "made comments supportive of crimes against humanity and revealed a serious lack of a historical understanding and respect for women's rights".
Read the rest here.
Comment: Mix conservative politics with heightened nationalism and this kind of brutish ignorance will raise its head almost without fail.

I think it would be a mistake not to recognize - as the article above points out - that this political posturing is comfortably seated within the positions that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is taking on war-time apologies.  The prime minister is in effect looking to revise Japan's position on the 1993 apology offered to the so called  "comfort women".

So Mayor Hashimoto is hardly sticking his head out in the cold.  See also my post (March 4) on far-right Japanese rock band "Scramble" and their references to comfort women as "prostitutes" and advocacy of violence against them in a song entitled "Slashing Koreans".

A related strand of analysis is perhaps the most telling indicator of what this all means.  In general it is an advocacy of lesser status to women - and the comfort women in particular.  The nonsense that comfort women were not coerced into sex slavery is a historical distortion that in large part rests on the patriarchal assumption that women serve men.  And that service extends to sex even where it is a forced transaction in wartime: the soldiers had needs and the women offered the service for payment.

A third strand of analysis relates to the historical animosity that continues to describe relations between Japan and China and South Korea (though comfort women came from Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines too and Hashimoto's comments apply to all).

The rise of China and South Korea in international politics and trade must worry Japan as it continues to struggle with a wobbly economy.  The conservative nationalists under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe are likely weary of not being seen as humbled or more importantly, weak.

So, even an apology to the comfort women may be construed as a sign of weakness or complicity in the global condemnation of what Japan did to the comfort women.

This posturing is all very troubling.

Japan should be bending over backwards to reconcile its horrific treatment of the comfort women and assuring the global community that it recognizes the inhumanity that it represents.

There simply is no place for the movement toward historical revisionism and political buffoonery captured by Mayor Hashimoto's comments. 


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