Not a Textbook Case: The True Nature of the Ongoing History Wars

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Researcher of JFSS Jason Morgan

Journalist, Michael Yon

In January of 2015, a group of professors met during the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) conference to plan a response to a textbook controversy. 

Herbert Ziegler and the late Jerry Bentley had written a Howard Zinn-type world history textbook. But when members of the Japanese consulate staff contacted the publisher, McGraw-Hill, to ask about a few paragraphs on the comfort women‒paragraphs that managed to contain eight factual errors in just a couple of pages‒Ziegler and colleagues girded for battle. 

Instead of making corrections, Ziegler and a group of nineteen academics went on the offensive, accusing Prime Minister Abe Shinzō of encroaching on academic freedom. The ensuing folderol made international news. 

Taking advantage of this global publicity, Prof. Alexis Dudden of the University of Connecticut and Prof. Jordan Sand of Georgetown University ratcheted up the attack, garnering 187 additional signatures by early May, 2015 to a protest letter designed to influence Japanese politics and slander a democratically-elected leader of one of the United States’ most trusted allies. The number of signatures eventually topped five hundred. 

The American academy’s reactionary intolerance was disappointing. The AAS pleaded political neutrality, but the overt and sustained politicking by hundreds of its members, including Jordan Sand‒who is an editor at the AASʼ flagship publication, the Journal of Japan Studies‒made this a dubious plea. 

In the wake of the American academics’ initial broadside and subsequent anti-Japan attacks, the response of many fair-minded Japanese and American scholars was to turn to the historical record in order to demonstrate that the Ziegler/Bentley textbook is stained by propaganda. 

The textbook’s many errors are easy to refute. Even a passing familiarity with the historical record is enough to persuade a candid mind that there is no evidence‒none‒for such outrageous falsehoods as “there were 200,000 comfort women,” “who were all sex slaves,” “mainly Korean,” and “provided as gifts from the Japanese Emperor to his troops in the field.” These are fictions. 

These fictions notwithstanding, ongoing research into the status of the comfort women and the Japanese military’s role in that arrangement has yielded a firm set of facts which scholars in Japan, South Korea, and the United States hold largely in common. Apart from isolated incidents, the comfort women‒many of whom were Japanese, and not Korean‒were not sex slaves. Nor were they forcibly conscripted. They were mainly poor, uneducated young women who either willingly chose or were deceived by civilian recruiters and proprietors to work at military brothels. Compensation often included advance payment to their families. 

Their plight differed little from that of camptown prostitutes the world over. The comfort women who serviced Japan’s imperial troops were, if anything, remarkable only due to how well they were treated in comparison with other wartime prostitutes throughout history. 

As research has progressed in the past year, more evidence has come to light documenting, for example, the extensive system of camptown prostitutes that the American military oversaw‒whether actively or passively ‒in Occupation Japan and throughout the base network in South Korea. 

Gruesome photographic evidence was uncovered in the spring of 2015 showing a massacre of Vietnamese women at Phong Nhị and Phong Nht on February 12th, 1968, carried out by South Korean soldiers fighting alongside their American allies in the Vietnam War. Some six-dozen women were brutally killed and then butchered, their hacked-up remains soon found by U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese troops, who provided medical care to survivors. 

More damning for the South Koreans, a Seiron article by Prof. Hata Ikuhiko, based in part on the research of Kim Ki-ok, Catherine Moon, and Choi Sok-yong, showed conclusively that Park Chung-hee, the father of current president Park Geun-hye, personally authorized the provision of South Korean women to American servicemen based in South Korea. (“Camptown Clean-Up Measures,” dated May 2nd, 1977.) 

The aim of President Park’s 1977 act was to use state-sanctioned prostitutes to raise foreign capital. In effect, President Park Geunhyeʼs father was perhaps the biggest pimp in modern South Korean history. This is ironic given his daughter’s public condemnation of Japan on the issue of state-sponsored prostitution. 

For those who have been approaching the comfort women controversy from an exclusively historical perspective, such overwhelming evidence demonstrating not only the universality of camptown prostitution but also the relatively benign nature of Japan’s comfort woman system in comparison with the atrocities carried out by other nations would seem enough to end the debate and allow the academy to move on to more pressing topics. 

But this has not happened. The more evidence that emerges revealing that nation-states or empires commonly ameliorate troops’ sexual desires through local pimps and enterprising brothel-owners, the more the American professoriate has insisted that Japan apologize endlessly for its “war crimes.” 

This disconnect between fact and insistence is the essence of ideological politics. At its most intense, a comfort woman cult has formed, complete with shrines and pilgrimage sites in the form of comfort women statues, "holy literature" in the form of false testimonies made into books, and "saints" in the form of the dwindling supply of living comfort women who are used as props. Each time one dies, international press follows. 

Many American professors, some of whom are priests and priestesses in this cult, are engaging in a campaign of misdirection. Whereas those interested in historical truth would naturally ask the South Korean anti-Japan activists to take stock of their own country’s actions before accusing Japan of similar practices, some politically-biased American academics are working at a different level. 

Indeed, fomenting discord between Japan and South Korea‒and thereby undermining the strong alliance among Japan, South Korea, and the United States‒is precisely what those American professors most vocal about the comfort women are achieving. 

As Dudden, Sand, and the myriad of anti-Japan academic activists whom they have spent the past year organizing, have demonstrated by their refusal to discuss even the most basic points of historical contention, their ultimate aim is not to advance a particular theory about the past but, rather, to isolate and undermine Japan and thus weaken‒and, if possible, ruin‒the Japan-American alliance. Damage to the Japan-Korea alliance already is acute. 

On a strictly academic level, the comfort women issue might seem to be between Japan and South Korea. 

China is the major player in this international psychological operation. American academics, wittingly or not, are frequently tools for the PRC, as are the comfort women themselves, all of whom have been co-opted into an aggressive form of rans-Pacific informational warfare. 

Many people in the United States are wary of China’s overt operations to destabilize the Pacific and the East and South China Sea. China is building manmade islands and then installing military bases on those islands. Recent satellite photos show missile installations on those islands. This a clear provocation, not only to China’s increasingly nervous neighbors‒Vietnam, the Philippines, and of course, Japan and Taiwan‒but also to the United States. 

Fewer Americans seem aware of China’s other lawless actions in the maritime region off her shoreline. Major US media outlets carry little news of China’s belligerence in the waters off the Senkaku Islands, for example. There is even less coverage of Chinese vessels poaching valuable coral and other marine products from Japanese waters. 

These persistent harassments are significant. Even the seemingly low-level or non-state actions ‒ such as fishing boats trawling in Japanese waters ‒ are orchestrated by the central government in Beijing. 

In a one-party Communist dictatorship, personal freedom is virtually non-existent. It is nearly unthinkable that fishing vessels flying the PRC flag would be allowed to stray deep into Japanese territorial waters on a nearly daily basis without the permission of Beijing. 

If the Communist government wanted to demonstrate its respect for Japanese sovereignty, it would punish fishermen who persist in exposing Beijing to potential reprisals from Japan or the US. Yet the incursions continue and are increasingly brazen. 

Beijing is waging informational warfare against Japan and the United States, and on so many fronts that we are only gradually becoming aware of the scope of the PRCʼs aggression. The comfort women debate, seen in this light, is just another in a long string of propaganda mechanisms, using tactics that the Chinese government in Beijing and its supporters in the United States (and in South Korea and Japan) have been perfecting to a high art. 

In December of 1996, for example, Global Alliance, a California-based ʻhuman-rightsʼ activist group, organized a conference in California that was a huddle for revisionism on a truly global scale. Iris Chang, whose mendacious book about the so-called Nanjing Massacre came out just one year later, in 1997, was a keynote speaker at the conference. 

Since then, Global Alliance has attacked Japan at every turn, helping to coordinate the censure of Japan in the US Congress‒an effort led in public by Mike Honda, a US Representative from California’s heavily Chinese-American 17th congressional district who is now under investigation by the Office of Congressional Ethics‒and insisting, with clockwork regularity, that Japan is an unrepentant regime comprising war criminals and apologists for former war crimes. 

When Japan tried to secure a seat on the UN Security Council in 2005, it was Global Alliance that spearheaded the petition campaign that left the PRC as the only Asian nation at the world’s most powerful roundtable. This Japan-bashing was covered approvingly in the People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the Communist government in Beijing. 

Significantly, this aggressive anti-Japanese rhetoric began in earnest shortly after Communist troops fired into a crowd of unarmed demonstrators in Tiananmen Square beginning on June 3rd of 1989. 

This pattern of distraction is at the heart of the American academics’ anti-Japan politicking. 

As the focus begins to shift from the sidebar issue of the comfort women to the deeper problem of how the PRC is actively influencing American politics through various channels, American professors likely will become even more strident in their veneration of the comfort women as feminist heroes. It is also likely that the vituperative personal attacks on anyone prying into the workings of Beijing cash in the American academic-political-mass media syndicate will only escalate. 

Both things are already happening. In May of 2015, the Woman’s Forum for Peace and Diplomacy and the Korean Women Lawyers Association jointly announced their intention to nominate the surviving Korean comfort women for the Nobel Peace Prize. Simultaneously, Alexis Dudden is increasingly desperate in her attempt to portray Japan as a monstrously unrepentant criminal regime, even taking recently to the Japan Times to insinuate that Imperial Japan engaged in practices similar to that of the Nigerian Islamist terrorist gang Boko Haram. 

Furthermore, while Dudden claims to be defending the right of academics to speak the truth, when her colleague Park Yu-ha was indicted, tried, and fined by a South Korean court for publishing the findings of her research on the comfort women, Dudden ignored her case completely. These are not the actions of someone who is truly concerned with academic freedom. 

We should expect this trend to continue as the investigation of Chinese influence moves to looking at the Confucius Institutes, soft-power fronts on American college campuses that funnel RMB into the American academy. Beijing’s goal is to become the hegemon of East Asia. The Communist PRC government’s ambitions also extend to dominating the United States. The infiltration of American universities - much as the Soviets did in the 1930s, when they corrupted Kim Philby and his associates at Cambridge - is just a small part of Chinaʼs long-term re-conquest of the Asia-Pacific. So far, Beijing has found an American academy more than willing to discredit what is arguably America’s staunchest ally. 

Non-aligned scholars must continue their dispassionate research into the historical record. But much of the energy that has heretofore been expended in confronting bad-faith American professors about blatantly false history textbooks can, henceforth, be more profitably directed toward uncovering the ways in which the People’s Republic of China is orchestrating information warfare.