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Home > Media Reiews > Weekly Review Last Updated: 14:57 03/09/2007
Weekly Review #118: December 10, 2003

Important Document on Sex-Slave Brothels Comes to Light in U.S.

John de Boer (Research Associate, GLOCOM; Japan Fellow, Stanford University)

The San Francisco Chronicle revealed on December 7, 2003 that a group of researchers affiliated with University of California at Riverside and Seoul National University have obtained official documentation detailing the direct involvement of the Imperial Japanese government in organizing and managing sex-slave brothels, euphemistically known as "comfort stations", between 1931-1945. This finding is based on a 36-page Supreme Command for the Allied Powers (SCAP) report dated November 15, 1945 recently recovered from the U.S. National Archives. While the existence of a brothel network servicing the Japanese military has been well known for sometime, these documents detail how the system worked. The report indicates that brothel operators were required to keep a daily log, which included information on the number of soldiers that were attended, their rank and the payments received. These facts were recorded along with the brothel's name and were sealed by the operators and the sexual slaves themselves. Victims and human rights groups hope that this new documentation will assist them in their quest for justice.

When K. Connie Kang of the Los Angeles Times, who wrote the article, asked a spokesman for the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C. to respond to the report the answer was a no comment on the specifics. However, he did say that "all claims against Japan were settled in the 1951 peace treaty with the United States and other allied powers", thereby, discounting the idea that Japan had the obligation to offer these women an official apology and substantial compensation.

Sadly, the spokesman does have a point. The limits of Japan's reparation obligations were severely restricted under the 1951 San Francisco Peace Treaty, which conditioned reparations on an arbitrary estimate of Japan's ability to pay. In fact, Washington's desire to prevent Japan from collapsing economically and its wish build up Japan into a bulwark against Communism in Asia encouraged U.S. decision makers to go soft on Japan. By 1948, ninety percent of all proposed reparations in the heavy-industry and sixty percent of all reparations in the war-industry categories were cancelled. The idea to absolve Japan of major war reparations and war responsibility gained ground after a report drafted by Clifford Strike, head of a U.S. engineering consortium, was submitted to Secretary of State George Marshall and George Kennan in 1947. At that time Japan's economy was under serious constraint, social unrest was heightening and fears of a Communist takeover in Japan were mounting among Washington bureaucrats and politicians. Supported by SWNCC 381, which predicted that a Japanese recovery would stimulate region-wide development, the idea of scrapping most reparations was formalized on June 2, 1948, when NSC 13 emerged as the key document promoting Japan's economic recovery over reparation concerns. This ordinance was eventually approved by President Truman on 7 October of the same year and ultimately served as a guideline when drafting the San Francisco Peace Treaty.

Unfortunately, Japan's evasion of war responsibility neither starts nor ends there. In fact, a series of decisions to protect the perpetrators of serious war crimes for political purposes is one of the legacies of occupied Japan. Examples include SCAP and Washington's refusal to put Emperor Hirohito, members of Unit 731, as well as soldiers, businessmen and politicians who contributed to and performed in the systematic rape of women during war-time on trial at the Tokyo International Military Tribunals. Lamentably, the key occupation authorities were solely interested in White man's justice at that time and not in bringing justice to the main victims of Japan's war of aggression and expansion throughout Asia. Most recently, history text-books which ignore these facts have been approved by the Ministry of Education and denials as to their occurrence are not uncommon among conservative politicians.

While it is extremely important that documents such as the one highlighted in the San Francisco Chronicle are unearthed and exposed, it is regrettable that allied forces did not take the opportunity to address the matter at the appropriate time when victims were alive and when memories were recent.

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