SEOUL, South Korea – The students and survivor were split into two generations and 7,000 miles, but met on Zoom to discuss a common goal: to turn a Harvard professor’s widely contested claims about sexual slavery during WWII into a teachable moment.
An article in a recent academic journal by the professor – describing Korean women and other women forced to serve in Japanese forces as “prostitutes -” sparked outrage in South Korea and among scholars in the United States.
In a Zoom call last week, Forsa offered the elderly survivor of the Imperial Japanese Army brothels to tell her story to a group of Harvard students, including her case why Japan should issue a full apology and face an international trial.
“The recent statements made by a Harvard professor are something that all should ignore,” Lee Yong Soo, a 92-year-old in South Korea and one of the few who still live, He told the students.
But these statements were a “blessing in disguise” because they sparked great controversy, added Ms. Lee, who was kidnapped by Japanese soldiers during World War II and raped repeatedly. “So that’s kind of a wake-up call.”
The controversy reverberates around the academic paper in the early 1990s, a time when the world first began to hear the voices of survivors of wartime Japanese sexual slavery – shocks that have diminished the importance of conservative patriarchal cultures in the region for so long.
Now, survivor testimony leads much of the academic narrative on the topic. However, many scholars say that conservative forces are once again trying to marginalize the survivors.
“It’s so amazing that, 30 years later, they are being pulled back, because in the meantime survivors from a wide range of countries have found a voice,” Alexis Dowden, historian of Japan and Korea at the University of Connecticut who interviews the women.
The uproar began after an academic journal website published an article in December in which J. Mark Ramser, a professor at Harvard Law School, said the women were “whores” and willingly entered into contracting contracts.
international Chorus of Historians He called to retract the article, saying his arguments were ignored Extensive historical evidence It looked like a page from the far-right playbook in Japan. A group of over 1900 economists Wrote This week, the article used game theory, law, and economics as “a cover to legitimize horrific atrocities.”
The Federation of Korean International Students has also done at Harvard University Demand an apology From Mr. Ramser, expressing concern that the university’s name “could lend credence to the argument” that the government of Japan in wartime was not responsible for the trafficking and enslavement of women. A petition was signed in similar language by hundreds of Harvard students.
Several scholars noted that Mr. Ramseer’s argument was flawed because he did not provide any signed contracts with Korean women as evidence – and that the focus on contracts in the first place was misleading Because the women, many of them teenagers, did not have a free agency.
Mr. Ramseer’s paper also ignored the 1996 UN report that concluded that comfort women, who hailed from a number of countries, mostly in Asia, were sex slaves, said Yang Ki-ho, a professor of Japanese studies at Songkonghu University in Seoul.
“There are many details in the paper that contradict the facts and distort the truth,” he added.
The paper, “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” argues that the Japanese military established standards for licensing so-called rest stations across Asia during World War II as a way to prevent the spread of venereal diseases.
Mr. Ramser, 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 risk of working in war zones.
Mr. Ramsier refused to be interviewed. He has previously argued that relying on survivors’ testimony is a problem because some women have changed their accounts over the years. “Allegations about enslaved Korean comfort women are historically untrue,” he said Wrote At Japan Forward, an English-language website affiliated with a right-wing Japanese newspaper, last month.
The International Journal of Law and Economics, which has published Mr. Ramsier’s last paper on the Internet,Express concernThis month, she said she was investigating the newspaper’s historical evidence. However, the magazine’s editorial team said through a spokesperson that the article would still be published in the March issue and be considered “final”.
Another post is European Journal of Law and EconomicsThis week, it said it is investigating concerns raised about a paper written by Mr. Ramseyer, it published last week, on the experiences of Korean immigrants in Japan.
Among Mr. Ramseer’s supporters are a group of six academics residing in Japan who told the editors of the International Journal of Law and Economics at Message The article that caused the recent protests was “within the academic and diplomatic mainstream,” and is backed by work by researchers in Japan, South Korea, and the United States. They did not name any specific scholars.
One of the academics who signed the letter, Kanji Katsuka, said in an interview that he had only read the summary of the article “Contracting for Sex,” but felt that the term “prostitute” was appropriate because the women were paid for their services.
“Harvard is the best school in the United States,” added Mr. Katsuoka, a lecturer at Meisei University and general secretary of a right-wing research organization. “If they lose free speech, I have to judge that there is no free speech in the United States.”
Three decades ago, when survivors like Mrs. Lee began speaking out about their sexual enslavement of Japanese forces, they were embraced by an emerging East Asian feminist movement that prioritized a woman’s right to claim her history.
Although the testimonials prompted that Official apology from Japan in 1993The issue remains highly controversial.
The governments of Japan and South Korea Agreed to solve it In 2015, when Japan expressed responsibility, it again apologized to the women and promised to create a $ 8.3 million fund to help provide elderly care. Some of the survivors accepted part of the money, but Mrs. Lee and a few others rejected the offer, saying it failed to provide formal compensation or limit legal liability to Japan.
Recently, people from the political right in Japan, 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 always contested this claim. Mrs. Lee has it She said That Japanese soldiers dragged her from her home when she was a teenager, and covered her mouth so that she could not call her mother.
Ji Soo Janet Park, a law student at Harvard who helped organize the recent Zoom event with Ms. Lee, said it was aimed at fighting “deniers and revisionists” who sought to erase narratives of wartime sexual slavery.
“We are the next generation responsible for making sure this is still a part of history,” said Mrs. Park, 27, whose undergraduate thesis explored how Memorials Former sexual slaves make up the Korean-American identity.
In an interview this week, Ms. Lee, the survivor, said she was horrified to see people in Japan chant Mr. Ramsay’s “absurd” statements. She said she has not given up her campaign to prosecute the case in the International Court of Justice.
“As my last work, I would like to make the matter clear at the International Court of Justice,” she said, referring to the court. “When I die and meet victims who have already died, I can tell them that I have solved this problem.”
Daily Report Kim in Seoul and Mike Ives in Hong Kong Jennifer Schuessler contributed reporting from New York and Miku Inoue from Tokyo.