Was there no forced recruitment?
Remarks that deny the fact of forced recruitment by the Japanese military have been made by many influential, conservative political leaders in Japan.
When U.S. House Resolution 121, which demanded Tokyo's formal unequivocal apology to the comfort women and pressed the Japanese government to take responsibility, started to be discussed in the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2007, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo and his cabinet made some statements which reflect their current historical view.
- “There is no evidence to back up (the assertion) that there was coercion as defined initially” in the role of “the Japanese military or government” in recruiting comfort women.
- There were apparent cases of coercion by private recruiters for the military, but “it was not as though military police broke into people’s homes and took them (women) away like kidnappers,” and “testimony to the effect that there had been a hunt for comfort women is a complete fabrication.”
- The Japanese government refused to issue an apology to the comfort women in response to passage of the House Resolution 121 by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Exposed to a storm of criticism at home and abroad, Abe did extended an apology “as Prime Minister” to the former “comfort women,” declaring that he stood by the Kono Statement of 1993, which acknowledged the official involvement of the Japanese Imperial Army as well as coerced recruitment. The apology, however, was eviscerated even before receiving comment. Shimomura Hakubun, Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary and Abe’s closest aid, said, “I believe some parents may have sold their daughters. But it does not mean the Japanese army was involved.”
Abe himself did not retract his denial of coerced recruitment despite his endorsement of the Kono Statement.
Such backtracking by Japanese political leaders in their remarks on coerced recruitment explains why Japan has been unable to gain the trust of neighboring countries concerning its sincerity regarding the “comfort women” system and other wartime crimes. Its double standard is now being criticized in the U.S. as well. The Washington Post, in its editorial “Shinzo Abe’s Double Talk” of March 24, 2007, pointed out that if Japan seeks international support in the kidnapping cases of its citizens by North Korea, it should straightforwardly accept responsibility and apologize for its past crime of abduction, rape and sexual enslavement of tens of thousands of women during World War II.
The Japanese government’s fixation on denying coerced recruitment, though resonant with only a few people, seems to obscure the big picture of the “comfort women” issue: that the Japanese military and government were involved in not only recruiting and transporting women, but also establishing and operating the brothels, where the women were forced to live in servitude, deprived of freedom and dignity. Although the abuses are an established fact supported by disclosure of official records and testimony in various countries, numerous recommendations for Japanese action by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, and the passing of 55 Comfort Women resolutions by national and local legislatures in a variety of nations, including local assemblies in Japan, the Japan’s central government has refused to seek resolution of this issue with the Korean government or the surviving comfort women themselves.
Statement by the Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono on the result of the study on the issue of "Comfort Women"
August 4, 1993
“As a result of the study which indicates that comfort stations were operated in extensive areas for long periods, it is apparent that there existed a great number of comfort women. Comfort stations were operated in response to the request of the military authorities of the day. The then Japanese military was, directly or indirectly, involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of comfort women. The recruitment of the comfort women was conducted mainly by private recruiters who acted in response to the request of the military. The Government study has revealed that in many cases they were recruited against their own will, through coaxing, coercion, etc., and that, at times, administrative/military personnel directly took part in the recruitments. They lived in misery at comfort stations under a coercive atmosphere.”
The testimony of Chong Ok-Sun, who is now 74 years old, reflects in particular the brutal and harsh treatment that these women had to endure in addition to sexual assault and daily rape by soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army:
"I was born on 28 December 1920, in Pabal-Ri, Pungsan County, South Hamgyong Province, in the north of the Korean peninsula. One day in June, at the age of 13, I had to prepare lunch for my parents who were working in the field and so I went to the village well to fetch water. A Japanese garrison soldier surprised me there and took me away, so that my parents never knew what had happened to their daughter. I was taken to the police station in a truck, where I was raped by several policemen. When I shouted, they put socks in my mouth and continued to rape me. The head of the police station hit me in my left eye because I was crying. That day I lost my eyesight in the left eye.
After 10 days or so, I was taken to the Japanese army garrison barracks in Heysan City. There were around 400 other Korean young girls with me and we had to serve over 5,000 Japanese soldiers as sex slaves everyday - up to 40 men per day. ….
One Korean girl who was with us once demanded why we had to serve so many, up to 40, men per day. To punish her for her questioning, the Japanese company commander Yamamoto ordered her to be beaten with a sword. While we were watching, they took off her clothes, tied her legs and hands, and rolled her over a board with nails until the nails were covered with blood and pieces of her flesh. In the end, they cut off her head. ……
I think over half of the girls who were at the garrison barracks were killed. Twice I tried to run away, but both times we were caught after a few days. We were tortured even more and I was hit on my head so many times that all the scars still remain. They also tattooed me on the inside of my lips, my chest, my stomach and my body. I fainted. When I woke up, I was on a mountainside, presumably left for dead. Of the two girls with me, only Kuk-Hae and I survived. A 50-year-old man who lived in the mountains found us, gave us clothes and something to eat. He also helped us to travel back to Korea, where I returned, scarred, barren and with difficulties in speaking, at the age of 18, after five years of serving as a sex slave for the Japanese."
The Radhika Coomaraswamy reports