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  Global Views
Open Letter in Support of Historians in Japan
187 World Famous Scholars Urge Japan Not to Distort "Confort Women" Issue
"Denying Comfort Women ls Unacceptable," They Argue
By Joseph Joh
Staff Writer
Ms. Park Young-Shim (center) poses with her comfort woman friends in North Korean region during the Pacific War. A man with the rifle appears to be Japanese soldier. An estimated number of between 80,000 and 200,000 Korean women fell victim to the Japanes sex slavery during the Pacific War.

A total of 187 world-renowned scholars of Japan studies teamed up to condem Japan for its WWII history and to urge it not distort "comfort women" issu in a statement signed by the individual scholrs.

The university professors and other intellectuals, mostly Western scholars, signed the statement emerged from an open forum held at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting held in Chicago during March 2015. Other scholars of Japan study signed after subsequent discussions on line.

The statement will be directly carried out to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe through the diplomatic channel, according to a source.

The 187 scholars include Prof. Theodore C. Bestor of Harvard University and 11 other Harvard University professors.

A number of other US scholars are from such famous universities as Yale University, Cornell University, University of Chicago, MIT, Stanford University, Princeton University, and University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Many British scholars from such universities as University of London-SOAS, and University of Cambridge are the signatories.

Prof. Takashi Fujitani of University of Toronto and several other scholars from Canada also joined hands in signing the statement.

Prof. Gavan McCormack of Australian National University and some German university professors and one scholar from University of Vienna also signed the statement.

Prof. Katarzyna Cwiertka of Universiteit Leiden and Prof. Prasenjit Duara of National University of Singapore also took part in the statement.

Six scholars are teaching at such Japanese universities as Kyoto Seika University, Temple University Japan, Sophia University, University of Tsukuba, Toyo Eiwa University.

An American scholar, who is professor emeritus of Yale University and teaches at South Korea's Ewha Womans University also joined the movement to comdemn Japan for its distortion of history.

The follwing is the full text of the statement.

The undersigned scholars of Japanese studies express our unity with the many courageous historians in Japan seeking an accurate and just history of World War II in Asia. Because Japan is a second home as well as a field of research for many of us, we write with a shared concern for the way that the history of Japan and East Asia is studied and commemorated.

In this important commemorative year, we also write to celebrate seventy years of peace between Japan and its neighbors. Postwar Japan’s history of democracy, civilian control of the military, police restraint, and political tolerance, together with contributions to science and generous aid to other countries, are all things to celebrate as well.

Yet problems of historical interpretation pose an impediment to celebrating these achievements. One of the most divisive historical issues is the so-called “comfort women” system.

This issue has become so distorted by nationalist invective in Japan as well as in Korea and China that many scholars, along with journalists and politicians, have lost sight of the fundamental goal of historical inquiry, which should be to understand the human condition and aspire to improve it.

Exploitation of the suffering of former “comfort women” for nationalist ends in the countries of the victims makes an international resolution more difficult and further insults the dignity of the women themselves. Yet denying or trivializing what happened to them is equally unacceptable. Among the many instances of wartime sexual violence and military prostitution in the twentieth century, the “comfort
women” system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor, and vulnerable women in
areas colonized or occupied by Japan.

There is no easy path to a “correct history.” Much of the archive of the Japanese imperial military was destroyed. The actions of local procurers who provided women
to the military may never have been recorded. But historians have unearthed numerous documents demonstrating the military’s involvement in the transfer of women and oversight of brothels. Important evidence also comes from the testimony
of victims. Although their stories are diverse and affected by the inconsistencies of memory, the aggregate record they offer is compelling and supported by official documents as well as by the accounts of soldiers and others.

Historians disagree over the precise number of “comfort women,” which will probably never be known for certain. Establishing sound estimates of victims is important. But ultimately, whether the numbers are judged to have been in the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands will not alter the fact of the exploitation carried out throughout the Japanese empire and its war zones.

Some historians also dispute how directly the Japanese military was involved, and whether women were coerced to become “comfort women.” Yet the evidence makes clear that large numbers of women were held against their will and subjected to horrific brutality. Employing legalistic arguments focused on particular terms or isolated documents to challenge the victims’ testimony both misses the fundamental issue of their brutalization and ignores the larger context of the inhumane system that exploited them.

Like our colleagues in Japan, we believe that only careful weighing and contextual evaluation of every trace of the past can produce a just history. Such work must resist national and gender bias, and be free from government manipulation, censorship, and private intimidation. We defend the freedom of historical inquiry, and we call upon all governments to do the same.

Many countries still struggle to acknowledge past injustices. It took over forty years for the United States government to compensate Japanese-Americans for their internment during World War II. The promise of equality for African Americans was not realized in US law until a century after the abolition of slavery, and the reality of racism remains ingrained in American society. None of the imperial powers of the
nineteenth and twentieth centuries, including the United States, the European nations, and Japan, can claim to have sufficiently reckoned with their histories of racism, colonialism, and war, or with the suffering they inflicted on countless civilians around the world.

Japan today values the life and rights of every individual, including the most vulnerable. The Japanese government would not tolerate the exploitation of women in a system like the military “comfort stations” now, either overseas or at home. Even at the time, some officials protested on moral grounds. But the wartime regime compelled absolute sacrifice of the individual to serve the state, causing great suffering to the Japanese people themselves as well as to other Asians. No one should have to suffer such conditions again.

This year presents an opportunity for the government of Japan to show leadership by addressing Japan’s history of colonial rule and wartime aggression in both words and action. In his April address to the US Congress, Prime Minister Abe spoke of the universal value of human rights, of the importance of human security, and of facing the suffering that Japan caused other countries. We applaud these sentiments and urge the Prime Minister to act boldly on all of them.

The process of acknowledging past wrongs strengthens a democratic society and fosters cooperation among nations. Since the equal rights and dignity of women lie at the core of the “comfort women” issue, its resolution would be a historic step toward the equality of women and men in Japan, East Asia and the world.

In our classrooms, students from Japan, Korea, China and elsewhere discuss these difficult issues with mutual respect and probity. Their generation will live with the record of the past that we bequeath them. To help them build a world free of sexual violence and human trafficking, and to promote peace and friendship in Asia, we must leave as full and unbiased an accounting of past wrongs as possible.


Daniel Aldrich, Professor of Political Science, Purdue University.

Jeffrey Alexander, Associate Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

Anne Allison, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Duke University.

Marnie Anderson, Associate Professor of History, Smith College.

E. Taylor Atkins, Presidential Teaching Professor of History, Northern Illinois University.

Paul D. Barclay, Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies Program Chair, Lafayette College.

Jan Bardsley, Associate Professor of Asian Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

James R. Bartholomew, Professor, Department of History, The Ohio State University.

Brett de Bary, Professor, Asian Studies and Comparative Literature, Cornell University.

Michael Baskett, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Film and Media Studies, University of Kansas

Alan Baumler, Professor of History, Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

Alexander R. Bay, Associate Professor, History Department, Chapman University.

Theodore C. Bestor, Professor of Social Anthropology, Harvard University.

Victoria Bestor, Director of the North American Coordinating Council on Japanese Library Resources.

Davinder Bhowmik, Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Literature, University of Washington.

Herbert Bix, Professor Emeritus of History and Sociology, Binghamton University.

Daniel Botsman, Professor of History, Yale University.

Michael Bourdaghs, Professor of Japanese Literature, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago.

Thomas Burkman, Research Professor of Asian Studies Emeritus, SUNY Buffalo.

Susan L. Burns, Associate Professor of History, East Asian Languages and Civilizations, University of Chicago.

Eric Cazdyn, Distinguished Professor of Aesthetics and Politics, Department of East Asian Studies & Centre for Comparative Literature, University of Toronto.

Parks M. Coble, Professor of History, University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Haruko Taya Cook, Instructor of Languages and Cultures, William Paterson University.

Theodore F. Cook, Professor of History, William Paterson University

Bruce Cumings, Professor of History, University of Chicago.

Katarzyna Cwiertka, Professor of Modern Japanese Studies, Universiteit Leiden

Charo D'Etcheverry, Associate Professor of Japanese Literature, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Eric Dinmore, Associate Professor of History, Hampden-Sydney College

Lucia Dolce, Chair, Centre for the Study of Japanese Religions, University of London, SOAS

Ronald P. Dore, Honorary Fellow, London School of Economics

John W. Dower, Professor Emeritus of History, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Mark Driscoll, Professor of East Asian Studies, UNC, Chapel Hill

Prasenjit Duara, Raffles Professor of Humanities, National University of Singapore

Alexis Dudden, Professor of History, University of Connecticut.
! Martin Dusinberre, Professor of Global History, University of Zürich

Peter Duus, Professor of History (Emeritus), Stanford University

Steve Ericson, Associate Professor of History, Dartmouth College

Elyssa Faison, Associate Professor, University of Oklahoma.
! Norma Field, Professor Emerita of East Asian Studies, University of Chicago

W. Miles Fletcher, Professor of History, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Petrice R. Flowers, Associate Professor Political Science, University of Hawaii

Joshua A. Fogel, Professor of History, York University, Toronto.

Sarah Frederick, Associate Professor of Japanese and Comparative Literature, Boston University

Dennis J. Frost, Wen Chao Chen Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, Kalamazoo College

Sabine Fruhstuck, Professor of Modern Japanese Cultural Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

James Fujii, Associate Professor, East Asian Languages and Literatures, University of California, Irvine

Takashi Fujitani, Professor of History, University of Toronto.
! Sheldon M. Garon, Professor of History and East Asian Studies, Princeton University

Timothy S. George, Professor of History, University of Rhode Island

Christopher Gerteis, Chair, Japan Research Centre, SOAS, University of London

Carol Gluck, Professor of History, Columbia University

Andrew Gordon, Professor of History, Harvard University

Helen Hardacre, Professor of Religions and Society, Harvard University

Harry Harootunian, Emeritus Professor of History, New York University; Adjunct Professor of Japanese History, Columbia University

Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Professor of History, University of California at Santa Barbara

Akiko Hashimoto, Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Pittsburgh

Sally A. Hastings, Associate Professor of History, Purdue University

Tom Havens, Professor of History, Northeastern University.
! Kenji Hayao, Associate Professor, Political Science Department, Boston College

Laura Hein, Professor of History, Northwestern University.
! Robert Hellyer, Associate Professor of History, Wake Forest College

Manfred Henningsen, Professor of Political Science, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Christopher L. Hill, Assistant Professor of Japanese Literature, University of Michigan

Katsuya Hirano, Associate Professor of History, UCLA

David L. Howell, Professor of Japanese History, Harvard University

Douglas Howland, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

James L. Huffman, H. Orth Hirt Professor of History Emeritus, Wittenberg University

Janet Hunter, Saji Professor of Economic History, London School of Economics and Political Science

Akira Iriye, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

Rebecca Jennison, Professor, Department of Humanities, Kyoto Seika University

William Johnston, Professor of History, Wesleyan University.

John Junkerman, Documentary Filmmaker

Ikumi Kaminishi, Associate Professor of Art and Art History, Tufts University

Ken Kawashima, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto

William W. Kelly, Professor of Anthropology, Yale University

James Ketelaar, Professor of History, University of Chicago

R. Keller Kimbrough, Associate Professor, University of Colorado at Boulder

Miriam Kingsberg, Assistant Professor of History, University of Colorado

Jeff Kingston, Director of Asian Studies and Professor of History, Temple University Japan

Victor Koschmann, Professor of History, Cornell University

Emi Koyama, Independent Scholar, Japan-U.S. Feminist Network for Decolonization (FeND)

Ellis S. Krauss, Professor Emeritus, University of California, San Diego

Josef Kreiner, Professor Emeritus, Rheinische Freidrich-Wilhelms Universität Bonn

! Shigehisa Kuriyama, Reischauer Institute Professor of Cultural History, Harvard University

Peter Kuznick, Professor of History and Director, Nuclear Studies Institute, American University

Thomas Lamarre, James McGill Professor, East Asian Studies , Art History and Communications Studies, McGill University

Andrew Levidis, Fellow, Reischauer Institute, Harvard University

Ilse Lenz, Professor Emeritus of Sociology, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany

Mark Lincicome, Associate Professor, Department of History, College of the Holy Cross

Sepp Linhart, Professor Emeritus of Japanese Studies and Sociology, University of Vienna

Yukio Lippit, Professor of History of Art and Architecture, Harvard University

Dr. Angus Lockyer, Lecturer in the History of Japan, Department of History, SOAS, University of London

Susan Orpett Long, Professor of Anthropology, John Carroll University

David B. Lurie, Associate Professor of Japanese History and Literature, Columbia University

Vera Mackie, Professor of Asian Studies, University of Wollongong

Wolfram Manzenreiter, Professor of Japanese Studies, University of Vienna

William Marotti, Associate Professor of History, UCLA

Y. Tak Matsusaka, Professor of History, Wellesley College

Trent Maxey, Associate Professor of Asian Languages and Civilizations and History, Amherst College

James L. McClain Professor of History, Brown University

Gavan McCormack, Professor Emeritus of History, Australian National University

Melissa McCormick, Professor, Harvard University

David McNeill, Journalist and Professor, Sophia University

Mark Metzler, Professor of History, University of Texas at Austin

Ian J. Miller, Professor of History, Harvard University

Laura Miller, Ei’ichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Endowed Professor of Japanese Studies, University of Missouri-St. Louis

Janis Mimura, Associate Professor, State University of New York, Stony Brook

Richard H. Minear, Professor of History (Emeritus), University of Massachusetts Amherst

Yuki Miyamoto, Associate Professor of Religious Studies, DePaul University

Barbara Molony, Professor of History, Santa Clara University

Yumi Moon, Associate Professor of History, Stanford University

Aaron Moore, Lecturer in East Asian History, The University of Manchester

Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Professor of Japanese History, Australian National University

Aurelia George Mulgan, Professor of Japanese Politics, University of New South Wales

R. Taggart Murphy, Professor, International Political Economy, University of Tsukuba, Tokyo Campus

Tetsuo Najita, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Chicago

Miri Nakamura, Associate Professor of Japanese Literature, College of East Asian Studies, Wesleyan University

John Nathan, Takashima Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies, University of California, Santa Barbara

Christopher Nelson, Associate Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Satoko Oka Norimatsu, Editor, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus

Markus Nornes, Professor of Asian Cinema, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

David Tobaru Obermiller, Associate Professor, Department of History & Japanese Studies Program, Gustavus Adolphus College

Eiko Otake, Visiting artist, Wesleyan University

Simon Partner, Professor of History, Duke University

T.J. Pempel, Jack M. Forcey Professor of Political Science for Study of East Asian Politics, University of California, Berkeley.

Matthew Penney, Associate Professor, Concordia University.
! Samuel E. Perry, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, Brown University.

Catherine Phipps, Associate Professor, University of Memphis
! Leslie Pincus, Associate Professor of History, University of Michigan

Morgan Pitelka, Associate Professor and Director of the Carolina Asia Center, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Janet Poole, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto.

Roger Pulvers, Author and Translator, Sydney, Australia.

Steve Rabson, Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies, Brown University

Fabio Rambelli, Chair, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultural Studies and Professor of Japanese Religions and Cultural History, University of California, Santa Barbara

Mark Ravina, Professor of History, Emory University

Steffi Richter, Professor of East Asian Studies, Universität Leipzig

Luke Roberts, Professor of History, University of California Santa Barbara

Jennifer Robertson, Professor of Anthropology and History of Art, University of Michigan

Jay Rubin, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

Ken Ruoff, Professor of History and Director of the Center for Japanese Studies, Portland State University

Jordan Sand, Professor of History, Georgetown University

Wesley Sasaki-Uemura, Associate Professor of Japanese History, University of Utah

Ellen Schattschneider, Associate Professor of Anthropology and Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, Brandeis University

Andre Schmid, Associate Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto

Amanda C. Seaman, Associate Professor of Japanese and Director of Comparative Literature, University of Massachusetts Amherst

Ethan Segal, Associate Professor of History, Michigan State University

Wolfgang Seifert, Professor Emeritus of Japanese Studies, University of Heidelberg

Mark Selden, Senior Research Associate, Cornell University; Editor, Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus

Franziska Seraphim, Associate Professor of History, Boston College

Sayuri Guthrie Shimizu, Professor of History, Rice University.
! Eiko Maruko Siniawer, Associate Professor of History, Williams College

Patricia Sippel, Professor, Toyo Eiwa University

Richard Smethurst, Professor Emeritus of History, University of Pittsburgh

Kerry Smith, Associate Professor of History, Brown University.
! Daniel Sneider, Associate Director for Research, Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, Stanford University

M. William Steele, Professor of History, International Christian University

Brigitte Steger, Senior Lecturer in Modern Japanese Studies, University of Cambridge

Stefan Tanaka, Professor of Communication, University of California, San Diego

Alan Tansman, Professor of Japanese Literature, University of California Berkeley

Sarah Thal, Associate Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Michael F. Thies, Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, UCLA

Mark Tilton, Associate Professor of Political Science, Purdue University

Julia Adeney Thomas, Associate Professor of History, University of Notre Dame

John Whittier Treat, Emeritus Professor, Yale University; Professor, Ewha Womans University

Hitomi Tonomura, Professor of History, University of Michigan

Jun Uchida, Associate Professor of History, Stanford University

J. Keith Vincent, Associate Professor of Japanese and Comparative Literature, Boston University

Stephen Vlastos, Professor of History, University of Iowa

Ezra F. Vogel, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

Klaus Vollmer, Professor of Japanese Studies, LMU Munich University

Anne Walthall, Professor Emerita of History, University of California, Irvine

Max Ward, Assistant Professor of History, Middlebury College

Lori Watt, Associate Professor of History, Washington University in St. Louis

Gennifer Weisenfeld, Professor, Duke University

Michael Wert, Associate Professor, Marquette University

Kären Wigen, Professor of History, Stanford University

Tomomi Yamaguchi, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Montana State University

Samuel H. Yamashita, Henry E. Sheffield Professor of History, Pomona College

Daqing Yang, Associate Professor, George Washington University

Christine Yano, Professor of Anthropology, University of Hawaii at Manoa

Marcia Yonemoto, Associate Professor of History, University of Colorado Boulder

Lisa Yoneyama, Professor of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto

Theodore Jun Yoo, Associate Professor of History, University of Hawaii

Takashi Yoshida, Professor, Western Michigan University.

Louise Young, Professor of History, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Eve Zimmerman, Barbara Morris Caspersen Associate Professor of Humanities & Associate Professor of Japanese, Wellesley University

Reinhard Zöllner, Professor of Japanese and Korean Studies, University of Bonn

Editor's Note:

This statement emerged from an open forum held at the Association for Asian Studies annual meeting held in Chicago during March 2015, and from subsequent discussions on line among a wide range of Japan scholars. It represents the opinions only of those who have signed it and not of any organization or institution.

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