2014년 11월 16일 뉴욕타임즈 선데이 리뷰 오피니언란에 “일본군 위안부와 일본의 전쟁에 대한 진실(The Comfort Women and Japan’s War on Truth)”이라는 제목으로 Asia Policy Point의 Director 인 민디 코틀러 (Mindy Kotler)의 글이 실렸다. 민디 코틀러는 일본군 위안부 이슈에 관해서 시민참여센터와 오랜 시간을 같이 일 해왔으며, 워싱턴에서 일본문제에 관한 전문가 중에 한명이다.

민디 코틀러는 이 글을 통해서 일본군을 위안 위안소가 당시 23세인 해군 보급당당 중위였던 야스히로 나카손 (후에 일본 총리까지 지내며 일본 총리로서는 최초로 A급 전범들이 합사된 야스쿠니 신사를 참배한 일본 극우 정치인)에 의해서 시작된 배경을 밝히며, 그 사실 또한 야스히로 나카손 자신의 회고록을 통해 세상에 알려지게 되었음을 말한다. 이러한 역사적 사실에도 불구하고 일본군 위안부 동원과 위안소 운영에 일본군의 조직적인 참여가 없었고, 역사적 기록들이 일본의 명예를 떨어뜨리기 위한 거짓말들로 치부하고 부인하려는 아베 정권의 노력들을 일거하고 있다. 일례로, 위안소를 처음 만들어낸 인물인 야스히로 나카손의 아들 히로후미 나카손(전 일본 외무성 장관)이 지난 10월 일본군 위안부 문제로 인해 손상된 일본의 명예를 회복하는 목적을 가진 위원회의 위원장이 임명된 것을 말하며 아베정권의 아이러니를 말한다.

또한 2007년 첫 아베 정권에서 고노담화를 여성들을 강제로 위안소로 끌고 갔다는 공식문서가 없다는 것과 고노 담화가 정식으로 정부의 정책에 포함되지 않았다는 이유를 들어 고노담화를 훼손하는 하는 아베의 노력을 말한다. 그리고 올해 6월에 고노 담화 작성 시에 한국 외교관들이 영향력을 미쳤고, 확인되지 않은 16명의 일본군 위안부 피해자의 증언이 고노담화를 작성하는데 들어갔다는 연구결과를 내놓으며 고노담화를 다시 한번 무용지물로 만들려는 그의 노력을 설명하고 있다. 심지어 아베가 지난 10월에는 일본군 위안부 이슈에 관한 국제적인 여론에 영향을 미칠수 있는 전략적인 캠페인을 조직할 것을 직접 명했다는 것도 말해주며 얼마나 아베정권이 위안부 문제의 책임에서 벗어나려 하는지를 말해주고 있다.

민디는 아베가 이러한 노력들의 이후 최근 인권담당 일본대사를 뉴욕으로 보내 라디카 쿠마라스 (전 유엔 특별 조사위원)에게 그녀가 제출한 일본군 위안부 문제에 관한 보고서 (1996년)를 철회할 것을 요구하였고 쿠마라스가 그것을 거부했다는 일화를 전하면서, 아베의 정치적인 목적이 담긴 이러한 노력들이 진실을 가려선 안 될 것이라고 강조한다.

일본군 위안부 동원에 의한 피해자는 비단 한국뿐만 아니라 인도양 서태평양 지역을 통틀어서 저질러진 일이며 그 피해자는 일본제국의 군대가 점령한 모든 점령지, 농장 등에서 나왔음을 민디는 말한다. 안다만 제도, 싱가포르, 필리핀, 보르네오 등지에서 일본군의 강간과 약탈에 대한 증언이 놀랄 만큼 유사함을 말하고, 포로로 억류된 네덜란드 소년들과 필리핀에 있던 미군 간호사 등의 사례를 열거하며 일본군의 전쟁범죄가 사실이었음을 역설한다.

그녀는 전 세계적으로 전시 인신매매와 강간이 문제로 남아있다며 우리가 그러한 문제들을 해결하려는 노력을 하지 않는다면 아베의 역사를 부인하고 다시 쓰려는 노력을 막을 수 없을 것이라 경고한다. 따라서 유엔 안전보장이사회의 속한 나라들은 인신매매와 성노예에 관한 역사적 기록들에 대한 왜곡과 부인을 일삼는 아베정권에게 그들의 반대의사를 분명히 밝혀야 한다고 주장한다.

마지막으로, 그녀는 미합중국이 동맹국인 일본에게 인권과 여성의 권리는 미국의 외교정책의 핵심임을 상기 시켜야한다고 권고하며, 만일 우리가 아무런 말도 하지 않는다면 일본의 역사왜곡 및 부인의 노력에 동참하는 것뿐만 아니라 성폭력에 관한 전쟁범죄를 없애기 위한 현재의 국제적인 노력들을 훼손하는 것이라 주장하며 글을 맺는다.

 

아래의 글은 뉴욕타임즈에 실린 민디 코틀러의 글의 원문이다.

16COMFORT-superJumbo

ASHINGTON — In 1942, a lieutenant paymaster in Japan’s Imperial Navy named Yasuhiro Nakasone was stationed at Balikpapan on the island of Borneo, assigned to oversee the construction of an airfield. But he found that sexual misconduct, gambling and fighting were so prevalent among his men that the work was stalled.

Lieutenant Nakasone’s solution was to organize a military brothel, or “comfort station.” The young officer’s success in procuring four Indonesian women “mitigated the mood” of his troops so well that he was commended in a naval report.

Lieutenant Nakasone’s decision to provide comfort women to his troops was replicated by thousands of Imperial Japanese Army and Navy officers across the Indo-Pacific both before and during World War II, as a matter of policy. From Nauru to Vietnam, from Burma to Timor, women were treated as the first reward of conquest.

We know of Lieutenant Nakasone’s role in setting up a comfort station thanks to his 1978 memoir, “Commander of 3,000 Men at Age 23.” At that time, such accounts were relatively commonplace and uncontroversial — and no obstacle to a political career. From 1982 to 1987, Mr. Nakasone was the prime minister of Japan.

Today, however, the Japanese military’s involvement in comfort stations is bitterly contested. The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is engaged in an all-out effort to portray the historical record as a tissue of lies designed to discredit the nation. Mr. Abe’s administration denies that imperial Japan ran a system of human trafficking and coerced prostitution, implying that comfort women were simply camp-following prostitutes.

The latest move came at the end of October when, with no intended irony, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party appointed Mr. Nakasone’s own son, former Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone, to chair a commission established to “consider concrete measures to restore Japan’s honor with regard to the comfort women issue.”

The official narrative in Japan is fast becoming detached from reality, as it seeks to cast the Japanese people — rather than the comfort women of the Asia-Pacific theater — as the victims of this story. The Abe administration sees this historical revision as integral to restoring Japan’s imperial wartime honor and modern-day national pride. But the broader effect of the campaign has been to cause Japan to back away from international efforts against human rights abuses and to weaken its desire to be seen as a responsible partner in prosecuting possible war crimes.

A key objective of Mr. Abe’s government has been to dilute the 1993 Kono Statement, named for Japan’s chief cabinet secretary at the time, Yohei Kono. This was widely understood as the Japanese government’s formal apology for the wartime network of brothels and front-line encampments that provided sex for the military and its contractors. The statement was particularly welcomed in South Korea, which was annexed by Japan from 1910 to 1945 and was the source of a majority of the trafficked comfort women.

Imperial Japan’s military authorities believed sex was good for morale, and military administration helped control sexually transmitted diseases. Both the army and navy trafficked women, provided medical inspections, established fees and built facilities. Nobutaka Shikanai, later chairman of the Fujisankei Communications Group, learned in his Imperial Army accountancy class how to manage comfort stations, including how to determine the actuarial “durability or perishability of the women procured.”

Japan’s current government has made no secret of its distaste for the Kono Statement. During Mr. Abe’s first administration, in 2007, the cabinet undermined the Kono Statement with two declarations: that there was no documentary evidence of coercion in the acquisition of women for the military’s comfort stations, and that the statement was not binding government policy.

Shortly before he became prime minister for the second time, in 2012, Mr. Abe (together with, among others, four future cabinet members) signed an advertisement in a New Jersey newspaper protesting a memorial to the comfort women erected in the town of Palisades Park, N.J., where there is a large Korean population. The ad argued that comfort women were simply part of the licensed prostitution system of the day.

In June this year, the government published a review of the Kono Statement. This found that Korean diplomats were involved in drafting the statement, that it relied on the unverified testimonies of 16 Korean former comfort women, and that no documents then available showed that abductions had been committed by Japanese officials.

Then, in August, a prominent liberal newspaper, The Asahi Shimbun, admitted that a series of stories it wrote over 20 years ago on comfort women contained errors. Reporters had relied upon testimony by a labor recruiter, Seiji Yoshida, who claimed to have rounded up Korean women on Jeju Island for military brothels overseas.

The scholarly community had long determined that Mr. Yoshida’s claims were fictitious, but Mr. Abe seized on this retraction by The Asahi to denounce the “baseless, slanderous claims” of sexual slavery, in an attempt to negate the entire voluminous and compelling history of comfort women. In October, Mr. Abe directed his government to “step up a strategic campaign of international opinion so that Japan can receive a fair appraisal based on matters of objective fact.”

Two weeks later, Japan’s ambassador for human rights, Kuni Sato, was sent to New York to ask a former United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women, Radhika Coomaraswamy, to reconsider her 1996 report on the comfort women — an authoritative account of how, during World War II, imperial Japan forced women and girls into sexual slavery. Ms. Coomaraswamy refused, observing that one retraction did not overturn her findings, which were based on ample documents and myriad testimonies of victims throughout Japanese-occupied territories.

There were many ways in which women and girls throughout the Indo-Pacific became entangled in the comfort system, and the victims came from virtually every settlement, plantation and territory occupied by imperial Japan’s military. The accounts of rape and pillage leading to subjugation are strikingly similar whether they are told by Andaman Islanders or Singaporeans, Filipino peasants or Borneo tribespeople. In some cases, young men, including interned Dutch boys, were also seized to satisfy the proclivities of Japanese soldiers.

Japanese soldiers raped an American nurse at Bataan General Hospital 2 in the Philippine Islands; other prisoners of war acted to protect her by shaving her head and dressing her as a man. Interned Dutch mothers traded their bodies in a church at a convent on Java to feed their children. British and Australian women who were shipwrecked off Sumatra after the makeshift hospital ship Vyner Brooke was bombed were given the choice between a brothel or starving in a P.O.W. camp. Ms. Coomaraswamy noted in her 1996 report that “the consistency of the accounts of women from quite different parts of Southeast Asia of the manner in which they were recruited and the clear involvement of the military and government at different levels is indisputable.”

For its own political reasons, the Abe administration studiously ignores this wider historical record, and focuses instead on disputing Japan’s treatment of its colonial Korean women. Thus rebuffed by Ms. Coomaraswamy, the chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, vowed to continue advocating in international bodies, including the United Nations Human Rights Council, for Japan’s case, which is to seek to remove the designation of comfort women as sex slaves.

The grave truth about the Abe administration’s denialist obsession is that it has led Japan not only to question Ms. Coomaraswamy’s report, but also to challenge the United Nations’ reporting on more recent and unrelated war crimes, and to dismiss the testimony of their victims. In March, Japan became the only Group of 7 country to withhold support from a United Nations investigation into possible war crimes in Sri Lanka, when it abstained from voting to authorize the inquiry. (Canada is not a member of the Human Rights Council but issued a statement backing the probe.) During an official visit, the parliamentary vice minister for foreign affairs, Seiji Kihara, told Sri Lanka’s president, “We are not ready to accept biased reports prepared by international bodies.”

Rape and sex trafficking in wartime remain problems worldwide. If we hope to ever reduce these abuses, the efforts of the Abe administration to deny history cannot go unchallenged. The permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — all of whom had nationals entrapped in imperial Japan’s comfort women system — must make clear their objection to the Abe government’s perverse denial of the historical record of human trafficking and sexual servitude.

The United States, in particular, has a responsibility to remind Japan, its ally, that human rights and women’s rights are pillars of American foreign policy. If we do not speak out, we will be complicit not only in Japanese denialism, but also in undermining today’s international efforts to end war crimes involving sexual violence.

 

Mindy Kotler is the director of Asia Policy Point, a nonprofit research center.

A version of this op-ed appears in print on November 16, 2014, on page SR4 of the New York edition with the headline: The Comfort Women and Japan’s War on Truth.

 

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