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The New York Times

A Harvard professor called wartime sex slaves “prostitutes.” One pushed back.

SEOUL, South Korea – The students and the survivor split into two generations and 7,000 miles, but gathered at Zoom to discuss a common goal: to convert the widely disputed claims of a Harvard professor about sexual slavery during World War II in a teaching moment. A recent article by the professor in an academic journal, in which he described Korean women and other women forced to serve in Japanese troops as “prostitutes”, sparked an outcry in South Korea and among academics in the United States. It also offered an opportunity, in last week’s Zoom call, for the surviving elderly woman from the Imperial Japanese Army brothels to tell her story to a group of Harvard students, including her case of why Japan should issue a full apology. and face international prosecution. Subscribe to the New York Times The Morning newsletter “The Harvard professor’s recent comments are something everyone should ignore,” Lee Yong-soo, a 92-year-old man from South Korea and one of the few so-called comfort women yet they live, they told the students. But the comments were a “blessing in disguise” because they created a lot of controversy, added Lee, who was kidnapped by Japanese soldiers during World War II and repeatedly raped. “So this is kind of a wake-up call.” The dispute over the scholarly paper has echoes of the early 1990s, a time when the world was beginning to hear the voices of survivors of wartime Japanese sex slavery in Asia, traumas that conservative patriarchal cultures of the region had long played down. Now, the testimony of survivors drives much of the scholarly narrative on the subject. However, many scholars say that conservative forces are once again trying to marginalize the survivors. “This is so surprising, 30 years later, that it is delayed, because in the meantime, survivors from a wide range of countries found a voice,” Alexis Dudden, a historian of Japan and Korea at the University of Connecticut, who interviewed the women. . The uproar began after an academic journal website published an article in December in which J. Mark Ramseyer, a professor at Harvard Law School, argued that the women were “prostitutes” who had voluntarily entered into contract contracts. . An international chorus of historians called for the article to be retracted, saying its arguments ignored extensive historical evidence and sounded more like a page from Japan’s far-right playbook. A group of more than 1,900 economists wrote this week that the article used game theory, law and economics as a “cover to legitimize horrific atrocities.” The Korean Association of International Students at Harvard has also demanded an apology from Ramseyer, expressing concern that the university’s name “could lend credence to the argument” that the wartime Japanese government was not responsible for trafficking and slavery. of women. A petition in similar language has been signed by hundreds of Harvard students. Several scholars pointed out that Ramseyer’s argument was flawed because he did not present any signed contracts with Korean women as evidence, and that focusing on contracts in the first place was misleading because the women, many of whom were teenagers, had no free agency. Ramseyer’s article also ignored a 1996 United Nations report that concluded that comfort women, who hailed from various countries, primarily Asia, were sex slaves, said Yang Kee-ho, professor of Japanese studies at Sungkonghoe University. in Seoul. “There are many details in the document that contradict the facts and distort the truth,” he added. The document, “Sex Contracting in the Pacific War,” argues that the Japanese military created standards for licensing so-called comfort centers in Asia during World War II as a way to prevent the spread of venereal diseases. Ramseyer, an expert on Japanese law, wrote that “prostitutes” who worked in brothels signed contracts similar to those used in Tokyo brothels, but with shorter terms and higher wages to reflect the danger of working in areas of war. Ramseyer declined an interview request. She had previously argued that relying on survivors’ testimony is problematic because some of the women have changed their versions over the years. “Claims about enslaved Korean comfort women are historically false,” she wrote in Japan Forward, an English-language website affiliated with a right-wing Japanese newspaper, last month. The International Journal of Law and Economics, which published Ramseyer’s recent article online, published an “expression of concern” this month saying it was investigating the newspaper’s historical evidence. But the magazine’s editorial team said through a spokesperson that the article would still run in the March issue and was “considered final.” Another publication, the European Journal of Law and Economics, said this week that it was investigating concerns that had been raised about a Ramseyer paper it published last week about the experiences of Korean migrants in Japan. Ramseyer’s supporters include a group of six Japan-based academics who told the editors of the International Review of Law and Economics in a letter that the article that caused the recent outcry was “well within the academic and diplomatic mainstream.” and backed by the work of academics. in Japan, South Korea and the United States. They did not name a specific scholar. An academic who signed the letter, Kanji Katsuoka, said in an interview that he had only read the abstract of the article “Hiring for sex”, but felt that the term “prostitute” was appropriate because women had been paid for their services. “Harvard University is the best school in America,” added Katsuoka, a professor at Meisei University and secretary general of a right-wing research organization. “If they lose freedom of speech, I have to judge that there is no freedom of speech in the United States.” Three decades ago, when survivors like Lee began to speak publicly about their sexual slavery to Japanese troops, they were embraced by a nascent feminist movement in East Asia that prioritized the right of women to reclaim their own history. Although the testimonies elicited an official apology from Japan in 1993, the issue remains deeply contentious. The governments of Japan and South Korea agreed to resolve it in 2015, when Japan expressed responsibility, apologized again to the women, and promised to establish an $ 8.3 million fund to help provide care for the elderly. Some of the survivors accepted a portion of the funds, but Lee and a few others rejected the proposal, saying it did not provide official reparations or specify Japan’s legal responsibility. More recently, people on Japan’s political right, including former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, have insisted that Korean women were not sex slaves because there is no evidence that they were physically forced into brothels. Survivors have long challenged that claim. Lee has said that Japanese soldiers dragged her out of her home as a teenager, covering her mouth so she couldn’t call her mother. Ji Soo Janet Park, a Harvard law student who helped organize the recent Zoom event with Lee, said it was designed to combat “deniers and revisionists” who sought to erase accounts of wartime sex slavery. “We are the next generation to make sure this remains a part of history,” said Park, 27, whose undergraduate thesis explored how monuments to former sex slaves shape Korean-American identity. In an interview this week, Lee, the survivor, said she was shocked to see people in Japan echo Ramseyer’s “absurd” comments. He said he had not given up on his campaign to have the issue tried in the International Court of Justice. “As my last job, I would like to clarify the matter at the ICJ,” he said, referring to the court. “When I die and meet the victims who have passed away, I can tell you that I solved this problem.” This article originally appeared in The New York Times. © 2021 The New York Times Company

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