By the students, for the students of Central Washington University

Central scheduled to become flashpoint for international controversy

April 24, 2015

Photos by Army film and photographic unit

One film is causing quite the stir at Central; “Scottsboro Girls,” a film about the Japanese comfort women is scheduled to be viewed on April 28 and 29 at Central.

Comfort women were generally Asian women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese empire during and before World War II. These women were largely from territories under Japanese military occupation or colonies.

This has become a contentious area in Japanese politics  ever since allegations of the practice emerged in the 1990s, leading many to outright deny it. “Scottsboro Girls” is a film in this political school of thought.

Japanese language professor, Mariko Okada-Collins is putting on the event and also bringing the film’s director, Yujiro Taniyama, in for a speech following the viewing.

Okada-Collins said the film’s title itself is what sparked the controversy.

The name “Scottsboro” comes from the case of nine black male teenagers who were accused of raping two white females in 1931, but who were later cleared when it was discovered that the females lied.

“There was no proof, that is why the director, Mr. Taniyama, picked the title,” Okada-Collins said. “The Japanese government and the Japanese military are accused of being kidnappers and rapist by the confession of those women.”

Okada-Collins does not see herself as an activist or associated with right-wing movements, and denies allegations that she is.

There has been a prominent backlash against the screening on campus.

On April 28, associate professor and museum director, Mark Auslander has organized a panel: “Sexual Slavery in the Wartime Japanese Empire: The Historical Record and the Politics of Memory: A Panel of Concerned Scholars,” to defend the idea that these acts were indeed forced sexual slavery.

Auslander said that some in Japan never underwent any critical examinations of their actions.

“It’s just like the Nazi party trying to claim that the Holocaust did not happen,” Auslander said. “Germany after WWII, went through a civic process of critical self-examination. That never really happened in Japan, at least not by the right.”

From the past to the future

According to Bang-Soon Yoon, professor of East Asian political studies, this is due to the geopolitical conditions of the Cold War.

Initially, America was not willing to help Japan with their reconstruction as punishment for their part in WWII and there were never internal punishment of war criminals in Japan like there was in Germany.

With the communist revolution in China and the Korean war, America viewed Japan as a critical regional power base and began helping in their reconstruction.

Auslander said the panel being held on April 28 is a great opportunity for students to learn more about what was occurring in Japan during WWII.

“I think all of us need to learn more about it, and I think this is a good chance. I think a lot of students don’t know much,” Auslander said. “When students think about WWII they know more about the atrocities of the Holocaust, they don’t really realize the atrocities that went on with the Japanese Empire and East Asia.”

Director of the Douglas Honors College Dr. Anne Cubilie, one of the comfort women panel members, said it’s great for college students to talk about these issues.

“There’s an ongoing attack on civilians during wartime atrocities and so I think any conversation on campuses about the issue of wartime atrocities, about the issue of sexual violence against women in wartime is always welcome,” Cubilie said. “In that way, I think it’s great for people to be aware of these issues and think about them in broader context.”

Yoon is providing the keynote speech at the panel.

“Students should take it as a learning experience and learn from the panel,” Yoon said.

The history department at Central has weighed in on the issue, signing a letter written by Alexis Dudden, a professor out of the University of Connecticut, entitled “Standing with Historians of Japan” along with 20 other professors from universities all around the U.S.

In it, they express their dismay at what they view as the Japanese government attempting to rewrite history.

One incident, documented in the letter, occurred on Nov. 7, 2014, when the Japanese government contacted the educational book publishing company McGraw-Hill to remove a two-paragraph section in a textbook depicting the ordeal of comfort women.

McGraw-Hill refused.

From the letter by Dudden:

“No government should have the right to censor history. We stand with the many historians in Japan and elsewhere who have worked to bring to light the facts about this and other atrocities of World War II.”

The letter is also critical of other examples of governments attempting to rewrite history, including the United States for downplaying slavery, the Turkish government for denying the Armenian genocide, and the Russian government for silencing criticism of WWII Soviet activity.

Yoon said she does not understand why a movie like “Scottsboro Girls” is being shown at Central, when there is no basis for its allegations.

Linda Schactler, Central’s chief of staff addressed the issue, saying that Central is a campus which promotes discussion.

“This is a place where we embrace freedom of expression and a free exchange of ideas,” Schactler said.

Right-wing activism

567px-Chinese_girl_from_one_of_the_Japanese_Army's_'comfort_battalions' (1)

The Japanese right-wing often claims that women were not coerced into being sex slaves.

Trailers of the movie on YouTube promote this idea.

Namely, that the Japanese government did not engage in a coercive sex trade, but that the comfort women were professional prostitutes, who willingly sold themselves to Japanese military men.

Yujiro Taniyama is a director and political advocate of what he calls “Samurai Democracy.”

He ran for the governorship of Tokyo in 2011, receiving only .2 percent of the vote.

According to a Japanese web-page, as well as his website, his political platform includes revising Article 9 of the Japanese constitution, which explicitly renounces Japanese military activity outside of a strict self-defense policy.

The website also includes a picture of the Imperial Japanese naval flag, which Yoon said is viewed in former Japanese occupied territories as similar to the Nazi flag.

Widespread acceptance of the crimes committed by the Japanese empire are not strongly condemned, or acknowledged, by some in Japan.

Down playing atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial regime and military is a tactic that some right-wing hawks in Japan have used to bolster their political rhetoric.

The Japanese parliament has a majority of war-crime-deniers, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe among them.

Comfort women were only one of the crimes committed under Japanese imperialism;  forced labor, mass murder and colonialism are also contentious violations that South Korea and China often bring up.

According to Yoon, Abe comes from a conservative family, and believes that Japan receives unfair criticism from the outside world.

Abe is also pushing for greater military capabilities for the Japanese Self-Defense Force.

South Korea, China and other neighboring countries which suffered under Japanese Imperial occupation in the 20th century find it disconcerting that, at the same time, many in the Japanese government remain unrepentant in regards to past war crimes.

However, Yoon said that Japanese society, and even the Liberal Democratic Party, which the Prime Minister is a part of, is divided on these issues with many vocally advocating for social and historical justice, even in the face of government censorship.

“They will never forget.”

According to Amnesty International, the Japanese government has never taken widespread, concrete legal action to address the practice and make restitution.

The Japanese government has made statements acknowledging comfort women in the past.

Most notably, and contentious for some on the Japanese political-right, was a declaration in 1993 known as the “Kono statement.”

In it, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono apologized on behalf of the Japanese government for the practice of forcing women to serve as sex slaves during WWII.

Okada-Collins said she’s not trying to make people believe what the film is saying.

“I am just trying to show the other side, I am not trying to convince or force anybody, you know. I am not a right-wing activist like some of these people are claiming,” Okada-Collins said. “I just want to show the people because western society, the media, is so controlled, these other aspects are not shown.”

Yoon has a different perspective on comfort girls and the legacy of Japanese imperialism.

“For those war generations in China and Korea, they will never forget this,” Yoon said.

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  • P

    Phillip J FryApr 25, 2015 at 10:09 am

    Thank you for this excellent well documented investigation involving real time issues of geo-political significance. Fascinating detailed and well written

  • T

    Thea T van der WalApr 25, 2015 at 6:40 am

    Very brave women to come forward. My mother and her sister kept it all bottled up. They were rape victims of the Japanese imperial military while we were locked up in camp Moentilan a former Xavier college. And in all places in the church on the property. My mother and sister only once told their younger sister and asked her never to talk about it. My aunt only told me about it in 2009 when I wrote my memoirs. We are Dutch and I am born in the former Dutch East INDIES ON THE ISLAND OF java.My father was stationed in Bandoeng with the KNIL .He lost his life working as a slave laborer on the Birma rail road on September 18,1943. My mother and I, her sister and two children were taken to concentration camps. My mother once told me that one day they had to line up and the Kempetai and Japanese officers picked out young girls and took them to the church, where they were looked all over. A bus stood outside the church and the girls were forced into this bus. The mothers protested fierce fully and a fight broke out. The mothers went nuts to see their little girls been taken away. All women threw dirt and whatever they could lay their hands on at the Kempetai and Ofiicers. My mother always had to laugh when she told me this story, because she said it was quite a side to see these little yellow men ducking. But of course they were no match, many women got hurt , because the Japanese were using their swords and the next day we got no food and we children suffered. My mother suffered the rest of her life with nightmares which always woke me up with her screams. She always told me that the Japanese were trying to catch her.Many times I was waiting for my mother to come out of that church, and she always cried. She always told me that she had hurt herself in the church while cleaning the offices from the Japanese. The Japanese had set up their offices in the church. We children were very scared if we did something wrong, because our mothers would get a severe beating right in front of our eyes. My cousin and I once did not bow when an officer passed bye, we waved and laughed at him, instead of getting up while we were playing and our mothers had to come with him to the church were other guards had to give them a beating. They were black and blue and their clothes were ripped. As young as you are you will always remember those things, like women hanging in trees because they tried to get some food for their children. Many Dutch girls were forced into these brothels and were kidnapped from their mothers arms. These young girls were no comfort women but RAPE VICTIMS . It makes me angry and sad to think about these young girls who’s life were ruined forever. Many of these girls committed suicide, some were just killed by these monsters. when they were of no use anymore. Some were returned to their mothers like the Dutch girl JAN Ruff-O’Hern who is still alive and lives in New Zealand.This year it will be 70 years ago, and in The NETHERLANDS WE STILL DEMONSTRATE EVERY SECOND TUESDAY OF THE MONTH IN FRONT OF THE JAPANESE EMBASSY IN THE HAGUE.An atrocity can only be put aside once it is acknowledged. Japan must recognize what it has denied for so long. Its time for them to take the blame and remove the shame.

  • S

    Steve G.Apr 24, 2015 at 10:57 pm

    I would like to illustrate some basic investigatory facts that unfortunately The reporters have either not invested the effort to look into, or they are inconvenient to report as it would present an unbiased article and get in the way of the reactionary history they, like Dr Auslander are promoting with the Comfort Women issue.

    Lets look at some findings from the Korean side, before the politically powerful Black Shirt tactics of the Comfort Women lobby and their cronies took effect in the early 90s.  Keep in mind there was NO sex slave narrative before 1985.  A Japanese failed communist politician turned lurid novel writer made this issue up in a work of fiction he tried to pass off as fact in his book where he claimed Korean women were kidnapped and forced to be prostititues.  **This was the first instance of this myth being released to the mainstream**

    At the time Ms. Kim Bong Ok was the head of the Cheju-do island history association.  Cheju-do was where Yoshida Seiji (the author who wrote he had committed this kidnapping in 1985 but later admitted to making all of it up a decade later), had stated he kidnapped a majority of the girls.  Mr. Ok quoted “This is a prime example of the brutality and barbarity of the Japanese (the fabrication of the kidnapping story).  The author writes about acts that most people would find too shameful to describe.  We should dignify what he produced by calling it a book.”  Even in the village where the Japanese fascist mentions 15 girls being kidnapped the Korean press went and interviewed Chon Ok Dan (Then 85) a resident of Seongsan-li “It’s not true.  There are only a little over 250 houses in this village.  If an incident that serious, where 15 people were abducted, had taken place, everyone would have heard about it.  But no one did.”

    So there were NO corroborating witnesses.  Further, the one that did come forward at the time: Mrs. Kim Hak Sun initially said she was sold into prostitution, then changed her story to she was kidnapped by soldiers (and that story changed no less than 5 times in major details), then finally she admitted that she was already a prostitute and her contract was sold to a brothel in China that serviced a lot of military persons.  Again not forced and she admitted as much under questioning.

    A voice that was recently bullied into silence is Professor Emeritus Ahn Byong Jik.  He was on the Volunteer Corps Research group which also took on the Comfort Women study as well.  He found that of the 40+ women interviewed (almost all who came forward and presented themselves at that time..there are 55 now) in 1992-1996, only 19 were credible, the rest had invented narratives and continued to invent facts.  Out of those 19 Professor Ahn on the questions asked how many were forced or coerced.  The answer was 4.  Out of those 4 he further questions the circumstances and two were found to have been put into civilian brothels, and the other 2 mentioned were Kim Hak Sun and Moon Ok Ju.  Kim later recanted her story and admitted she was already a prostitute, and Moon was later found to have volunteered but later said she was forced to go from Burma where she was serving as a prostitute to Manchuria and didn’t want to go…so not coerced to join.

    Professor Ahn was recently assaulted in Korea by a group of black shirts demanding he recant his public statements on the findings from his time in the research group.  It is to Professor Ahn and those other courageous Koreans who are not afraid to tell the truth in the midst of tremendous pressure from the Comfort Women lobby that we should be aware of, as well as the facts on the issues, as well as those who stand up for academic Integrity in the face of racism like Ms Collins.

    Shame Central Washington Press lacks the skills to fact check prior to going to print.

    • M

      MMApr 27, 2015 at 11:49 am

      Steve G,

      Shame on you.
      It is true that the multiple layers of narratives actually have made this issue difficult to deal with. Some of the victims said they followed Korean men who gave them dresses and shoes, the others revealed the stories of forced displacement. The problem is that the women were actually caught in a dilemma between their experiences and “the” representative testimony of the coerced or kidnapped which the women were required to follow by Korean officials. This is why there are some different stories presented by one victim.
      We cannot focus on only one narrative and point out its inconsistency but instead, we should acknowledge the multiple layers of voices.

      In addition, if you ignore their stories as they were not released until 1985, you totally lack empathy for women and the underprivileged people. You should understand that the difficult societal and cultural situations they had to deal with to make their experiences voiced.

      • S

        Steve GMay 1, 2015 at 7:46 pm

        The Shame is clearly on those that propagate both racial hatred and the denial of historical facts. David Irving spirit lives on in those that attempt, as you have, to equate one persons narrative as evidence of 200,000 women kidnaped by the Army. In addition, the often overlooked point, is that Korea was of course a state of Japan at that time, and collaboration, contrary to the myths propagated by the dictator Syngman Rhee post war, was rampant.

        There are false allegations all the time. This is why we have courts of justice. The 5th Amendment is ensconced as a universal human right. If anyone is accused of a crime they have the right to defend themselves, and we as the public, always have the right to question testimony, especially 70 years on that CONTRADICTS the evidence at the time.

        This is what is frightening about CWU and this article. It paints this as a “settled issue” when neither Korean Scholars, Japanese Scholars, nor many others who actually take the time to look at it have said as much. The Korean scholars with the most time researching it to include your testimony providing subjects, are the ones who say the women were not kidnapped, and most were not coerced.

        Finally, this again overlooks so much evidence. It is more like “blood libel” or “alien abduction” than anything worthy of victim study for womens issues. Its curious why no one cites the current women actually being kidnapped in Africa by Boko Haram, why is there no cry against Islamic oppression against women in Suadi Arabia, or the continued suppression of women and a form of actual sex slavery in Chinese prison systems?

        No. The shame is clearly to you for perpetuating a blatantly obvious lie. In a way the title of the movie does describe this. Anyone attempting to say the Scottborough African Americans are innocent until proven guilty would have had “Shame on you” thrown at them for ignoring the “white victims”. Why do we continually perpetuate race guilt despite all the clear espousing of “innocent until PROVEN guilty”?