Time To Say Goodbye
Time To Say Goodbye
The real history of "comfort women"

The real history of "comfort women"

We discuss the unfolding row over an academic article by Harvard law professor Mark Ramseyer, who argues, without evidence, that “comfort women” across Asia were not coercively indentured by the Japanese imperial army in World War II, but had legally consented to sex work. (For background on this debate, check out Tammy’s paper from 2006!)

Though typically irrelevant to the rest of society (lol), Ramseyer’s is the rare academic paper to invite public attention and, subsequently, outrage. His bizarrely unsourced work has triggered questions about Japan’s wartime responsibilities, unfree labor, sexual slavery, and ongoing geopolitical tensions in East Asia. And also, as Jeannie Suk Gersen, Ramseyer’s colleague, wrote last week in The New Yorker, the struggle at Harvard

Thousands of scholars have spoken out against the article, including five historians of Japan (and friend of the show Chelsea Szendi Schieder) who compiled an extensive list of Ramseyer’s errors and mistakes—far longer than the original paper! (N.b., economists have denounced the piece, as have groups at Harvard.)

  • History of the ‘comfort women’ question 101, starting in the 1990s, thanks to the public testimony of survivor Kim Hak-sun and the support of historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki

  • What does this story mean, especially, to those in Korea and the Korean diaspora? 

  • What does it tell us about legal academia, the prestige of Harvard, and how TF it could get published in the first place?

  • What is going on with the far-right in Japan? (cf. friend of show Adam Bronson’s piece on Abe Shinzō in Dissent)

  • Why should people in the US, or around the world, care about a story seemingly confined to South Korea and Japan?

Good materials on the comfort women:

Some prints inspired by stories of the comfort women, by Tammy:

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