Continuing the Comfort Women Controversy

by Duncan Hollis

So, last month I questioned why the United States has done so little to remedy the plight of the comfort women—the thousands of women from countries such as China, Korea, and the Philippines who were sexually enslaved to service Japanese forces during World War II. Why did the United States send in Stu Eizenstat to press for new deals for forced labor victims in Germany and Austria, but has repeatedly rejected any similar role for the comfort women?

I certainly hope that recent news reports detailing how U.S. forces actually utilized comfort stations set up by the Japanese from 1945-1946 have nothing to do with the U.S. position. Indeed, the State Department seemed taken off-guard by the revelations, which suggest Executive Branch efforts to evade the issue likely have other sources.

Still, the great irony of Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s earlier attempt to distance his government’s involvement in the comfort women atrocities is that it probably garnered the issue far more international attention than if he’d stayed silent. Today, he was forced to address the issue yet again in his press conference with President Bush, and appeared to be moving in a more conciliatory direction:

PRIME MINSTER ABE: . . . . I do have deep-hearted sympathies that my people had to serve as comfort women, were placed in extreme hardships, and had to suffer that sacrifice; and that I, as Prime Minister of Japan, expressed my apologizes, and also expressed my apologizes for the fact that they were placed in that sort of circumstance.
The 20th century was a century that human rights were violated in many parts of the world. So we have to make the 21st century a century — a wonderful century in which no human rights are violated. And I, myself, and Japan wish to make significant contributions to that end. And so I explained these thoughts to the President.

PRESIDENT BUSH: The comfort women issue is a regrettable chapter in the history of the world, and I accept the Prime Minister’s apology. I thought it was very — I thought his statements — Kono’s statement, as well as statements here in the United States were very straightforward and from his heart. And I’m looking forward to working with this man to lead our nations forward. And that’s what we spent time discussing today.

I’m not really sure what Abe’s reference to “my people” means – I’d hope it was a misstatement; otherwise it looks like his apology is limited to only those Japanese women that served as comfort women, and not the vast majority of comfort women who came from other countries. In any event, Abe’s most recent statements appear designed to head off any further efforts, particularly in the U.S. Congress, to press for further apologies, investigations, or remedial measures for the comfort women. Based on Abe’s appearance on Capital Hill yesterday, however, it appears that even as he has some support, Japan may not be out of the woods yet. I’d expect this may actually turn into a bit of a separation of powers fight as the Executive takes Japan’s side and tries to move beyond the issue, while the Congress, especially the House, tries to move its resolution forward in the face of Executive Branch accusations of interference with its foreign affairs power.

2 Responses

  1. That American GIs utilized comfort women in Japan is a “revelation” today is baffling to me. Historians have documented this fact for quite a long time. What annoys me greatly about the debate on comfort women is hypocrisy. Americans were complicit in this massive human rights violation, and have no right to demand an apology from the Japanese if they aren’t willing to offer one themselves.


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