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Essay and Opinion


"'Japan-US alliance' and discordance over 'the comfort women issue':"update

May 23,2013

Noriho URABE
(Adviser, Japan Institute of Constitutional Law)

  Japan Restoration Party (JRP)co-leader and Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto is under fierce criticism, domestically and internationally, for his remarks such as "comfort women were necessary (for the Imperial Japanese Army)"and "the US military (in Japan)may make a better use of nightclubs and other entertainment trades."Official comments against Hashimoto's remarks have been announced not only by Korea and China but also by the USA; as a US State Department spokesperson made an unusual comment that "Mayor Hashimoto's comments were outrageous and offensive."and that "We hope that Japan will continue to work with its neighbors to address this (comfort women issue)and other issues arising from the past and cultivate relations that will allow them to move forward."The US government seems further irritated by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's theory that "there is no clear definition of invasion"which sounds like a denial of the fact that Japan invaded its neighbors in the past.
  Hashimoto's comments are exceptionally shameless, a disgrace to our whole nation. As long as he remains to be a major political figure, Japan will have to be looked down on. He and some other right-wing politicians including the other JRP co-leader Shintaro Ishihara and Prime Minister Abe often question why Japan remains to be the sole focus of criticism. Can't they see that it is because of themselves? Only Japan has that many politicians who justify and praise their nation's past while openly scorning other nations that it once colonised. Do they still want to keep praising the "glorious past"of the Empire of Japan, even when such praises disgrace Japan today? Such nostalgists should never work for the future of Japan. Allowing them to change our constitution would bring us a total disaster.
  Domestic reaction is surprisingly weak. We do hear some criticisms against Hashimoto's comments. However, to my embarrassment, JRP and its leaders, Hashimoto and Ishihara, still remain in the political arena. They do not withdraw Hashimoto's remarks. Ishihara supports him by saying, "I don't think what he said is wrong."I think that the most sensible manner to treat them is to keep them out of the politics for ever. Few people talk that way. It is strange that no major media have argued that way. Japanese business and political leaders, including conservative ones, should be alert to their plight; the rising criticisms in China, Korea, the USA and other nations against Japan.
  They all have to learn more about the US society, which detest those who keep talking about their biased views on comfort women issue and other historical issues. I wrote about that last September in this web column. Things are developping as I anticipated. Therefore, I am having my essay uploaded again, to share what I had learned about the US society with a wider range of readers. Below is my essay "'Japan-US alliance' and discordance over 'the comfort women issue'"(http://www.jicl.jp/english/related/backnumber/20130302.html)dated September 20, 2012. (The first two paragraphs have been left out because they discussed the leadership elections within the Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan, that were in progress at that time.)

  All the candidates in DPJ and LDP elections are talking about the Japan-US alliance as the key policy that needs to be further strengthened. At the same time, many of them are again reciting their beliefs that Japan was not very guilty of "alleged war crimes" during its invasion into Asia and the World War II. Prime Minister Noda commented on the "comfort women issue" at the end of August that "There is no evidence that proves that the army or the police took them by force." Former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is now running again for the LDP leadership, also said that "We should revise the Statement (in 1993)by (then Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei)Kono, which admits forcible draft (of those women)by the army." Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto (who heads an ultra-right Restoration Party)reportedly discussed something similar. However, Osaka Mayor is not entitled to make such a public comment regarding a national policy. I can't help deriding both Mayor Hashimoto and the reporter who brought up this subject at the press conference. Those rubbish remarks, together with the familiarized term "Japan-US alliance," indicate how miserably our Constitution Article 9 was ravaged. However, I wonder how well they know that their chauvinistic talks can damage their treasured Japan-US alliance.
  In 2007, the US House of Representatives passed a resolution that the Government of Japan should formally apologize for its Imperial Armed Forces' coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known as "comfort women." When the bill was submitted, 44 Japanese politicians, scholars and journalists jointly put a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post to refute the bill, by citing some "facts" including; "No historical document has ever been found by historians or research organizations that positively demonstrates that women were forced against their will into prostitution by the Japanese army," "They were working under a system of licensed prostitution that was commonplace around the world at the time," and "Many of the women, in fact, earned incomes far in excess of what were paid to field officers and even generals." The advertisement declared that the Lower House bill was unjust by saying, "We must note that it is a gross and deliberate distortion of reality to contend that the Japanese army was guilty of 'coercing young women into sexual slavery.'" It worked against its sponsors' wish and inspired more members of Congress to support the bill, which was later passed on July 30, 2007. Americans saw this issue from the aspects of human rights and dignity of those women. It did not necessarily require evidence that "women were forced." The shameless statement that "That was commonplace around the world at the time." was least persuasive.

  Human rights and democracy are the symbols of integrity of the USA. There can be some doubts if they deserve such principles. However, the ideas of human rights and democracy are deep-rooted in American society as their proud heritage. Therefore, any threats against such morals are shunned. Instinctively, Americans burned with hatred when they learned about using women for releasing sexual desires of soldiers. They exploded with anger to read the statements that tried to justify such acts that crushed the women's dignity. Many pro-Japanese politicians including Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Lee Armitage also suggest that Japan should do what a democracy should do, and try to solve the problem by recognizing its human right aspects.

  In 2006, President George Bush and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi jointly issued a statement entitled "The Japan-U.S. Alliance of the New Century" with a subhead "The U.S.-Japan Alliance Based on Universal Values and Common Interests." Along these lines, Japan has actively supported Bush administration's "war on terrorism," because the "successes in the war on terrorism" were integral parts of "common interests" that form the basis of the alliance. Now, Japanese politicians must not forget that the alliance was to be based not only on "common interests" but also on "universal values," which embraces "freedom, human dignity and human rights, democracy, market economy, and rule of law." When they try to justify what the Imperial Army did to the "comfort women," they should realize that they are undermining "universal values," one of the two most important foundations on which the Japan-US Alliance is based.

  Unfortunately, recent territorial disputes with neighboring countries seem to start fueling some Japanese people's refutation of the international allegations of "Japan's ill-treatment of comfort women during the war." On the other hand, the US society often strongly denounces infringement of human rights. Therefore, it is quite possible that the US government starts to examine "universal values" more seriously and decides to press Japan to cope with the "comfort women issue." I get irritated when I imagine how oddly the Japanese government would react in such a phase. Would it apologize or would it refute? I'm not sure if Shinzo Abe, who denies 1993 Kono Statement, would defend his belief about the comfort woman issue even if that means to give up the Japan-US alliance that he and his party says is the most important.