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US Scholars on the "Comfort Women" Issue

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The following is the statement that Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea (ASCK) has sent in support of House Resolution 121 on the "comfort women" issue.

May 3, 2007
ASCK statement on HR 121

As scholars working on East Asian and Asian American issues, we call upon members of Congress to support House Resolution 121 proposed by Congressman Mike Honda. We believe that the government of Japan should make an official and unequivocal apology. It should take responsibility for how the Japanese Imperial Armed Force subjected thousands of girls and women of Asia, as well as those of European descent, to sexual slavery as "comfort women" during World War II.

It is beyond dispute that in the Pacific War, many Asian nations fell victim to Japan´s military aggression in lives and in resources. For example, Japan instituted a system of sexual slavery for the benefit of its military by forcing women to provide involuntary sexual services as military "comfort women. The "comfort women" issue is an extraordinarily painful chapter in East Asian history. For East Asia as a region to move beyond existing enmities and forge stronger political and economic ties, there must be a honest assessment of the past. Japan can play a critical and positive role by making an official apology for its wartime conduct on this issue.

The reckoning with the past, however, is not simply a matter of passing judgment on Japan´s misdeeds. The United States, too, played a role, when U.S. soldiers visited "comfort women" stations during the occupation after the war. The United States, too, bears responsibility for the failure to fully account for and confront Japanese war crimes. The United States is not an outsider to the problems of history arising out of the wars in Asia, and America must confront its role in mishandling Japanese war-crime issues after 1945.

It is now time for Americans to take issues of historical injustice in northeast Asia seriously. The United States has a clear interest in ensuring that the peace and prosperity of a region so vital to its future is not undermined by the past. So it is appropriate that Congress is taking a role in trying to heal the wounds of history. But simply demanding Japan´s apology will not be enough. America must also confront its own responsibility in ignoring Asians´ suffering. By fully acknowledging what war-crimes victims went through, the United States can help bring Japan and its neighbors closer together.

The ramifications extend well beyond East Asia. Girls and women are targeted victims of torture and degradation during armed conflicts around the world, from Bosnia to Rwanda. It is critically important that governments send a clear signal that such conduct constitutes a crime against humanity. Japan´s apology for past crimes will help to prevent future crimes from taking place.

As scholars, we recognize the importance of truth in any reconciliation process. Before reconciliation can truly take place in East Asia, Japan must take this first, vital step.

The Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea is a group of scholars working in the United States and other countries who join together out of concern about current US policies toward the Korean peninsula. Information about the organization can be found at www.asck.org

(Alliance of Scholars Concerned about Korea) 5/10/2007