A Modest Proposal
—For the Final Solution of the Comfort Women/Sex Slave Issue
YU Bin, Asia Times online, August 7, 2014
[Asian Times: The author's preferred title for this article, its length precluding its use on our front page, is "A Modest Proposal - For the Final Solution of the Comfort Women/Sex Slave Issue". The phrase "final solution" is deliberately used here to reveal both the horror of the issue and satiric nature of the essay, similar to Jonathan Swift's treatise centuries ago. This article was previously posted under the headline: "Healing the 'comfort women' rift". ]
A specter is haunting East Asia—the specter of a steadily growing divide between the mounting condemnation of Japan’s wartime “sex slave” brutality on one hand,1 and an increasingly revisionist Japan to deflect, deny or defend its “comfort women” policy on the other.2 With the polarization of the issue, a radically different approach—which is not only more historical and analytical but also practical—should be considered to accommodate the values and interests of all sides, including those of Japan.
—“So much Owed by So Many to So Few”: Japanese Style!
An emerging consensus outside Japan is to redefine the term “comfort women” as “sex slaves.” For the 300,000 young Asian women who were duped, abducted, or coerced into Japan’s vast network of managed prostitution,3 the difference between the two phrases means very little because their life was forever altered and mostly ruined. The dichotomy, however, misses two vital pieces in a unique historical triangle of human interaction: millions of the Emperor’s soldiers in Asia and hundreds of millions of “untouched” Asian women. Thanks to the timely and systemic “service,” or sacrifice, by a fraction of women at the time, these two large human groups were mostly separated, at least in theory.
On 13 January 1938, the headquarters of the Japanese Shanghai Expeditionary Forces (SEF) opened a large comfort station named Yangjiazhai Entertainment Station in Shanghai, which employed, for the first time, a large number of young Korean women. By the time of Japan’s surrender in August 1945, Shanghai had 149 registered comfort stations for the Japanese military, while several thousand comfort stations were in operation across China and beyond, serving millions of Japanese soldiers.4
The rapid expansion of the comfort stations from early 1938 onward was an emergency measurement to curtail the widespread rape and murder of Chinese women. In the first few months of Japan’s all-out invasion of China during August-December 1937, the fast advance of the SEF from Shanghai to Nanking was not accompanied by adequate comforting, or military prostitution, services. This was one of the root causes for the brutal killing and raping of civilians. For three months following the fall of the Chinese capital city of Nanking in early December 1937, the Emperor’s soldiers killed 300,000 Chinese and raped an estimated 20,000 women. Many of those women were killed immediately after being raped, often through explicit mutilation.5
The Rape of Nanking, which lasted for more than six weeks until the end of January of 1938, was actually the final phase of a much larger scale of Japanese atrocities after the Battle of Shanghai (13 August to 26 November 1937). According to a declassified telegraph sent by the U.S. ambassador to Germany in Berlin one day after the Japanese army occupied Nanking, the US ambassador heard the Japanese Ambassador in Germany boasting that Japanese army killed 500,000 Chinese as the SEF advanced from Shanghai to Nanking.6 If this was true, this most beautiful part of the Yangtze River valley—Suzhou, Jiaxing, Hangzhou, Shaoxing, Wuxi and Changzhou—was disproportionally devastated by the Japanese troops racing towards Nanking. There was no record for the number of women raped. If Nanking’s 15:1 ratio (300,000 killed and 20,000 raped) is applied here, about 33,333 Chinese women were raped between Shanghai and Nanking in a matter of just two weeks between the end of the SEF’s Shanghai operation on November 26 and its siege of Nanking on December 10, 1937. Such a killing and raping spree is yet to be rivaled by any other military in war history.
It was against this backdrop of random and indiscriminate rape and murder of Chinese civilians that the Japanese military raced to expand its comfort services in China. One wonders how millions of Japanese military personnel across Asia would have behaved without proper “comfort” in the next eight years of war.
The real number of comfort women and the ratio with Japanese troops can never be established,7 given the systematic destruction of documents by the Japanese government and military authorities on the eve of Japan’s surrender.8 Let’s take the low estimate of 200,000 comfort women.9 A semi-official Japanese source estimated that on average a soldier went to a comfort station once a month.10 Statistically, this means 12 Asian women would NOT be raped per year and about 90 rapes would not be committed by a particular Japanese soldier over the duration of his overseas deployment till August 1945. This, in turn, means a total of 315 million rapes would be “avoided” thanks to the visits to comfort stations by the 3.5 million military personnel outside Japan’s homeland throughout the war.11 It is anybody’s opinion to consider this an “accomplishment” or an atrocity. Life for hundreds of millions of Asian women outside the “comfort zone” could have been much worse without this human (comfort women) “shield”.
The math exercise, however, should be treated with caution. There is no evidence that Japanese military personnel would not rape local women after visiting comfort stations, particularly in punitive operations against civilians who were believed to collaborate with either the Communist-led guerrillas or allied forces (Doolittle Raid pilots). For example, Japan’s “Three All” operations (kill all, loot all and destroy all) of 1940-42 killed 2.7 million civilians in northern China. In the five months between May and September of 1942, 250,000 Chinese were slaughtered in the areas where the Doolittle pilots landed. 12
— Rationality of Irrationality?
By no means does this author try to rationalize Japan’s brutal war policy. My purpose is simply to take into account this historical fact of life in its totality. In this regard, the degree of evilness does matter.
In pure logical inference, Japan’s comfort women practice can be comprehended as a case of what the 2005 Nobel Prize of Economics winner Thomas Schelling calls “the rationality of irrationality.”13 This means an act—no matter how irrational or even brutal according to others’ opinion or today’s moral standards—may have its own “merits.” Japan’s wartime brothel system actually provided some “public goods”: directly for millions of Japanese military personnel and indirectly for hundreds of millions of Asian women.
Decades later, a Japanese source offered three reasons for drafting hundreds of thousands of young women, mostly from Korea, following the initial but failed effort to recruit a large number of Japanese prostitutes: to prevent a worsening of anti-Japanese feelings in China; to prevent the spread of venereal diseases among its troops; and to avoid leaking military secrets as a result of contact with Chinese women.14 All tried to limit the contact with local women.
At least two additional factors were behind Japan’s comfort women policy. One was a culturally specific belief, or superstition, that sex before going into battle worked as a charm against injury, and sexual deprivation was considered to make one accident-prone.15 Secondly, the Japanese military’s sanctioned brothel system was a natural extension of Japan’s state-organized and licensed prostitution at home. As a modernized and militarized Japan started to expand its military presence outside its homeland from the late 19th century onward, Japanese karayuki-san (唐行きさん, meaning “Ms. Gone Abroad” or travelling prostitutes) were also “exported” to many Japan-occupied areas. This was done during the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-95) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05). Both wars were fought in China, hence the literally meaning of karayuki-san as “Ms. Gone-to-China.”
These culturally specific beliefs and practices aside, the Japanese military in early 1938 was perhaps more concerned about its tarnished international image in the midst of the Rape of Nanking.16 American priest John Magee, then chairman of Nanjing Committee of the International Red Cross Organization, used his 16mm movie camera to document more than a hundred minutes of film: men being beheaded by the Japanese soldiers, women raped, and corpses lying everywhere.17
The killing and raping in Nanking even sickened John Rabe, the leader of the German Nazi party in the area and head of the International Safety Zone in Nanking. When he failed to persuade Japanese military authorities to stop the atrocities, Rabe began to roam the city, trying to prevent the atrocities himself. He'd go anywhere raping was taking place. On one occasion, Rabe even lifted a Japanese soldier off a young girl.18
The atrocities committed by the Emperor’s soldiers in Nanking even alarmed General Matsui, commander of the SEF, who was not present in the early stage of the atrocities because of illness and was temporarily replaced by an uncle of Emperor Hirohito, Prince Asaka Yasuhiko, who issued an order to “kill all captives.”19 Matsui reportedly said to his subordinates: “I now realize that we have unknowingly wrought a most grievous effect on this city… I personally feel sorry for the tragedies to the people… I offer my sympathy, with deep emotion, to a million innocent people…” Perhaps genuinely worried about the wide dissemination around the world about the killing and raping spree in Nanking, Matsui confided to an American reporter that “the Japanese army is probably the most undisciplined army in the world today.”20
The rapid expansion of the comfort system at this point was, at least, a soft “cushion” between the bad and the worst.
— Some Modest Proposals
After having perhaps digressed a bit too far into intellectual reasoning, it is time to offer practical solutions to resolve the comfort women issue.
First, as I have already observed, Japan’s “rationality of irrationality” should be seriously considered as the basis for reciprocity between various parties. Instead of criticizing Japan’s wartime policy, one should not ignore the outcome of Japan’s comfort service: hundreds of millions of Asian women may have avoided being randomly and brutally raped.
For Japan’s contribution to the safety and wellbeing of Asian women, intentionally or not, efforts should be made to identify and award those who planned, executed, managed and utilized the wartime comfort system. Sixty-nine years after 1945, this is still possible, thanks to Japan’s extraordinarily long life expectancy (almost three years more than that of South Korea). Based on the 3636:1 ratio for the surviving Korean comfort women (200,000:55) at this moment, there should be about 1,000 WWII veterans still alive in Japan out of 3.5 million stationed abroad in August 1945. Given the ubiquitous comforting services, most of these veterans should have had some experience of the wartime comfort stations.
In case veterans are hesitant to come forward, role models can be used to energize the coming-out process. For example, former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, then a first lieutenant in the Japanese Navy in the Philippines, claimed in his memoir that he “took great pains to set up a comfort station after Japanese soldiers began “assaulting (indigenous) women.”21 Prime Minister Abe, whose family has broad and deep connections with the wartime government, should be able to facilitate this process.
For those “coming-out” veterans, assistance should be provided by psychologists, historians and family members for overcoming any sense of shame in order to reconstructing their wartime experience with comfort women. Their personal accounts will provide more accurate estimates for the frequency that soldiers visited the comfort stations. This scientific effort can be aided enormously by Japan’s perfectionist culture and attention to details: be in the areas of home electronics, automobiles, sushi, or whale killing, AV, ritual suicide (seppuku), kamikaze bombing, biological warfare (by its notorious Unit 731 in China), etc. In the comfort women issue, more scientific data may test the validity of Japan’s one-visit-per-month claim, which seems too low for majority of those young men in their prime sexual age. Indeed, the more frequently they visited comfort stations, the fewer local women they would rape; hence greater contribution for peace and wellbeing in those areas Japan “entered,” or “liberated” from West ern imperialists.22
As soon as some veterans start to come forward, actions should be taken to reunite former comfort women with their former clients. Social media outlets, such as Facebook, should be utilized in case of physical difficulties of these seniors. This may help dispel misunderstandings and overcome lingering bitterness, if passage of time is not enough to neutralize such feelings.
The coming-out campaign may even help rekindle some past affection—albeit extremely rare because of strict wartime regulations and harsh environment—between some former comfort women and their clients, as described by Hicks’ 1994 book. Should such “dangerous liaisons” be discovered, they should be quickly turned into novels, TV soaps, and anime, particularly of the popular adult-content “Hentai” variety.
Hollywood—which has been Germany heavy and Japan light—should lose no time in putting to the big screen these stories that guarantee to be more tear-jerking than Madame Butterfly and Miss Saigon. This should be done, of course, without Oliver Stone, whose 2013 speech at the annual Hiroshima commemoration (available on YouTube) unnecessarily shock-and-awed the innocent mind of the current generation of Japanese to the root causes of the atomic blasts: Pearl Harbor, the Nanking Massacre, the Manchuria “entrance,” Korean colonization, etc.
The profits from marketing these entertainment products can be used for multiple purposes, including setting up museums and statues of comfort women around the world, hopefully with their former clients together in an affectionate posture. Meanwhile, the Japanese government should present this treasure of Japanese history to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee as a case of “outstanding cultural importance to the common heritage of humanity.” This will be a logical step following Japan’s recent submission to the same UN committee of those Kamikaze suicide pilots, whose tragically heroic actions are winning the hearts and minds of a growing number of Japanese including Prime Minister Abe.23 Should this application fail, the opening ceremony of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics may prominently feature such a “tough love” between Japanese men and Asian women.
Last if not least, this heritage should be seriously considered by Japan’s Ministry of Defense as an integral component in the Japanese forces, whose future mission would inevitably include overseas deployment given the current trend in Japan to reinterpret, revise or reject the constitutional constraints on its military.
For all my good intention, scientific estimates and reasonable suggestions, the above reasoning could still be unacceptable to people with a normal mindset, which is perfectly understandable. Nonetheless, I would be pleased if this intellectual exercise could stretch the moral and analytical limits for Ruth Benedict’s classic juxtaposing of the bipolar behavioral patterns in Japan:
The Japanese are, to the highest degree, both aggressive and unaggressive, both militaristic and aesthetic, both insolent and polite, rigid and adaptable, submissive and resentful of being pushed around, loyal and treacherous, brave and timid, conservative and hospitable to new ways.24
All cultures have two sides. Few, if any, exhibit such a huge gap between the good and evil. And the comfort-women-vs.-sex-slaves dichotomy was such a perfect unity of opposites that even Benedict would be surprised by Japan’s extraordinary ability to reduce wide range of human sexuality—from intimate lovemaking to violent rape—to mere mechanical and tireless operation in its gigantic wartime sex machine. It would be a great loss if such a unique record of human behavior finds no place in Japan’s collective narrative.
Yu Bin is senior fellow of Shanghai Association of American Studies.
1 See Park Hyun, “Former comfort women have first official meeting at the White House,”, The Hankyoreh, August 6, 2014, http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_international/650066.html; Stephanie Nebehay, “U.N. panel tells Japan to compensate ‘comfort women’,”Reuters, July 24, 2014, http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/07/24/us-japan-sexcrimes-idUSKBN0FT1F520140724; Christine Ahn, “Seeking truth for 'comfort women',” Asia Times online, June 26, 2014, www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/KOR-02-260614.html; “Congressman Mike Honda Asks State Department to Act on ‘Comfort Women’ Issue, Letter asks for immediate attention, meeting with Department,” Press Release February 4, 2014, http://honda.house.gov/news/press-releases/congressman-mike-honda-asks-state-department-to-act-on-comfort-women-issue; “Sex slavery an ‘indescribable’ wrong: Murayama,” The Japan Times, February 12, 2014, www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/02/12/national/sex-slavery-an-indescribable-wrong-murayama/#.UwCa6fvgcoR; In September 2013, Taiwan released a documentary titled Song of the Reed about six former comfort women in Taiwan, “Documentary on Taiwan's 'comfort women' premieres,” http://www.ecns.cn/cns-wire/2013/09-29/82825.shtml.
2 In March 2014, the Abe government said that it would water down the Kono Statement “if new findings emerge.” In a meeting by the UN Human Rights Committee on 15-17 July 2014, the Japanese delegation continued to deny its responsibilities for the comfort women issue by insisting that the issue was resolved and those women were not sex slaves. See “Roundup: Japan questioned on ‘comfort women’ in Human Rights Committee,” Xinhua, July 17, 2014, http://www.china.org.cn/world/Off_the_Wire/2014-07/17/content_32973323.htm.
3 “Sex slaves put Japan on trial,” BBC, December 8, 2000, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/1061599.stm.
4 George Hicks, The Comfort Women: Japan’s Brutal Regime of Enforced Prostitution in the Second World War (W.W. Norton & Company, 1994), p. 16; “Secrets of the First Japanese Comfort Stations in the World,” People’s Daily online, June 16, 2005, http://world.people.com.cn/GB/14549/3465588.html
5 “A Debt of Blood: An Eyewitness Account of the Barbarous Acts of the Japanese Invaders in Nanjing,” February 7, 1938, Dagong Daily, Wuhan edition Museums.cnd.org, http://museums.cnd.org/njmassacre/njm-tran/njm-ch10.htm.
6 “U.S. archives reveal war massacre of 500,000 Chinese by Japanese army,” Xinhua, December 12, 2007, http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2007-12/12/content_7236237.htm.
7 Chinese scholar Su Zhiliang, for example, argued that there were at least 400,000 comfort women during the 14 years of Japanese war in Asia (1931-45), including many Chinese women. See Luan Fan, “‘Comfort Stations’ in More Than a Dozen Countries Brutalizing Hundreds of Thousands of ‘Comfort Women’,” Global Times, June 17, 2005, p. 23, http://world.people.com.cn/GB/14549/3481377.html.
8 For example, a decrypted message sent by the Japanese Chief of Staff of the 1st Southern Expeditionary Fleet on 18 August 1945 (three days after the surrender) reads: “on 1st August the personnel employed in connection with Japanese naval comforts at Singapore were appointed civilian employees of 101st hospital. Most of the girls were made auxiliary nurses. Other commands under 1st Southern Expeditionary Fleet are to conform.” On 20 August 1945, the Japanese Civil Administration Department from Makassar, Indonesia ordered that comfort women were to be attached to local hospitals as nurses and “when this message is understood, burn it.” Hicks, op.cit., p. 8.
9 Various evidences indicate a wide distribution between 29:1 and 100:1.See Hicks, op.cit., p. 19.
10 Digital Museum: The Comfort Women Issue and the Asian Women’s Fund, http://www.awf.or.jp/e1/facts-01.html.
11 Reports of General MacArthur: MacArthur in Japan: The Occupation: Military Phase, Volume I Supplement (Washington D.C.: 1994 edition), p. 117.
12 See “Doolittle Raid,” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doolittle_Raid.
13 Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Harvard University Press, 1960), p. 16.
14 Digital Museum: The Comfort Women Issue and the Asian Women’s Fund, http://www.awf.or.jp/e1/facts-01.html.
15 Hicks, op.cit., pp. 28, 32-33.
16 Hicks, op.cit., pp. 45-46.
17 John Magee, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Magee_%28priest%29#The_Film.
18 John Rabe, The Good Man of Nanking: The Diaries of John Rabe (Vintage, 2000).
19 Chen, World War II database, cited from “Prince Asaka appointed as commander,” in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanking_Massacre#cite_ref-Chen.2C_World_War_II_Database_36-0.
20 Iris Chang, The Rape of Nanking (Penguin, 1997), pp. 51-52.
21 Reiji Yoshida, “State mum on Nakasone’s war brothel,” The Japan Times, March 17, 2007, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2007/03/17/news/state-mum-on-nakasones-war-brothel/#.UwQW2PvgcoQ.
23 Jeff Kingston, “Pan-Asian dreams: The Greater East Asia Conference,” The Japan Times, November 9, 2013, http://www.japantimes.co.jp/opinion/2013/11/09/commentary/pan-asian-dreams-the-greater-east-asia-conference/#.U7eMufua9bw.
23 Yuka Hayashi, “As Tensions Rise, Pacifist Japan Marches Into a Military Revival,” The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2013, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324867904578592824100470576.
24 Yuka Hayashi, “As Tensions Rise, Pacifist Japan Marches Into a Military Revival,” The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2013, http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424127887324867904578592824100470576.
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