Tomoko Tsujimura

First of all, Fred Varcoe’s recent article (“My question to comfort women deniers”) is a reflection of biases, formed by his personal historical perspective. These same biases prompt him to characterize Assemblywoman Matsuura and me as “right-wing politicians.” As a committed centrist whose only agenda is the quest for truth and justice, I deeply resent having labels attached to me by someone with such skewed perceptions.

In 2007 the first Abe Cabinet issued a resolution stating that there is no evidence that the Japanese military coerced women into serving as prostitutes (or “comfort women,” to use the common parlance). Perhaps Mr. Varcoe is not aware that a Cabinet resolution is a ruling made by the Japanese government, and thus carries more weight than comments made by a Chief Cabinet Secretary.

At one time there were lawful houses of prostitution in red-light districts in all of the world’s nations. In war zones brothels were established to service military personnel. Most of the comfort women were Japanese, but their number included Koreans and women of other nationalities as well. Professor Hata Ikuhiko estimates the ratio as 4 (Japanese): 3 (local women): 2 (Koreans): 1 (others). Mr. Varcoe condemns the manner in which the prostitutes were recruited. However, we know from newspaper articles written during the war that Japanese military authorities issued warnings to and prosecuted unscrupulous brokers. During the postwar period, Korea was critical of the Japanese, but there was no criticism focusing on military prostitution — the term “comfort women” never arose.

According to “Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report No. 49” issued by the US Office of War Information, and based on interviews with 20 Korean prostitutes, “a ‘comfort girl’ is nothing more than a prostitute or ‘professional camp follower.’” The same report tells us that the women received an average monthly salary of 750 yen. This was a huge amount — 75 times the pay of a private first-class, which was 10 yen per month.

Nevertheless, I empathize with the many women who, for whatever reason, had no choice but to serve as military prostitutes, as I stated at the press conference. Furthermore, please note that the case of Jan Ruff O’Herne was taken very seriously by Japanese military authorities. The perpetrators (Japanese soldiers and civilian employees) were charged with war crimes and harshly punished. This was a special case, unlike any that arose in other countries or regions. Since such behavior was prohibited, military authorities responded with severity.

In the war years there was no compulsory recruitment for military service in Korea. But the fact that seven times the number of Korean men solicited responded to a 1938 appeal for volunteer soldiers demonstrates how eager Koreans were for a Japanese victory. In subsequent years there were even more volunteers. For instance, in 1942 an appeal was issued for 4,077 volunteers; 62 times that number, or 254,273 Koreans, responded. Mr. Varcoe disparages the notion of Koreans and Japanese working together, and writes that he thought at first that we were joking. But I assure him that we were not. These numbers do not lie — they are historical fact. It is easy to find ample evidence of the respect and admiration the Japanese enjoyed in the eyes of Koreans at that time.

We have already responded to Mr. Varcoe’s question about work in the mines in Oita during the war. To reiterate, Japanese and Korean conscripts (including Mr. Varcoe’s father-in-law) conscripts worked together in those mines. Workers were conscripted in accordance with the National Requisition Ordinance, issued in 1939 and based on the National Mobilization Law, which called for the mobilization of workers needed in wartime. The ordinance was applied in September 1944, by which time the majority of Japanese men had gone to war, resulting in a shortage of workers. Koreans were conscripted along with Japanese, because the former were also citizens of Japan. This was lawful conscription. By implying that his father-in-law was a slave laborer, Mr. Varcoe has egregiously distorted the facts.

Mr. Varcoe seems to view Koreans during the war years as inhabitants of a Japanese colony. However, Koreans were afforded essentially the same rights as Japanese. Koreans residing in Japan enjoyed the right to vote and the right to run for office. In fact, a Korean named Bak Chun-geum ran for the Diet from the Tokyo 4th District in 1932 and won, garnering a seat in the Lower House.

Mr. Varcoe writes that I “claimed that Japanese schoolchildren were being bullied by Korean kids in California,” seeking to “turn the issue into a Korean attack on Japanese.” In fact, I traveled to Los Angeles in January 2014 on a mission of protest. While there I interviewed Japanese parents and learned that the “comfort women” issue is turning into a human rights issue for the Japanese. Bringing a problem that concerns only the Japanese and Korean governments before the legislature of a third country, and erecting a statue on which groundless accusations and absurdly inaccurate statistics are inscribed are unforgivable acts, which clearly constitute discrimination against a particular nationality. It is unconscionable to embroil the lives of innocent children in this controversy. Is this the behavior of people truly seeking world peace? Or is it the behavior of people intent on imposing their own hatred on future generations? As a mother, I find it both incomprehensible and intolerable.

As far as the “painful memories” of former prisoners of war are concerned, plenty of Japanese prisoners of war had equally horrendous experiences. Perhaps Mr. Varcoe has never heard the story of Sir Samuel Falle, the Royal Navy officer who was serving on a British destroyer when it was sunk by the Japanese off the coast of Java in 1942. A Japanese destroyer came upon Falle and 375 other officers and sailors, and rescued them. Falle had no complaints about the way the men were treated while prisoners of war.

War can bring out the best in humans, and sometimes the worst, depending on a wide variety of circumstances. However, I protest in the strongest possible terms the condemnation of the people of an entire nation on the basis of inaccurate, unproven accusations relating to events that occurred more than a half-century ago. As a result of postwar “trials” conducted in various war theaters, more than 1,000 Japanese military personnel were convicted of war crimes and executed; in the majority of cases, no evidence was presented, nor were the defendants provided with legal representation. I could cite many more injustices. But I believe that they were resolved, for better or for worse, by the Peace Treaty of San Francisco.

As a member of a newer generation, I long for the creation of monuments that gladden our hearts and bring us hope. I believe they, and only they, will help us achieve everlasting world peace.


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