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American academics condemn Japanese efforts to revise history of „comfort women“

As historians and members of the American Historical Association, we express our dismay at recent attempts by the Japanese government to suppress statements in history textbooks both in Japan and elsewhere about the euphemistically named „comfort women,“ who suffered under a brutal system of sexual exploitation in the service of the Japanese imperial army during World War II.

Historians continue to debate whether the numbers of women exploited were in the tens of thousands or the hundreds of thousands and what precise role the military played in their procurement. Yet the careful research of historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki in Japanese government archives and the testimonial of survivors throughout Asia have rendered beyond dispute the essential features of a system that amounted to state-sponsored sexual slavery.

As part of its effort to promote patriotic education, the present administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is vocally questioning the established history of the comfort women and seeking to eliminate references to them in school textbooks. Some conservative Japanese politicians have deployed legalistic arguments in order to deny state responsibility, while others have slandered the survivors. Right-wing extremists threaten and intimidate journalists and scholars involved in documenting the system and the stories of its victims.

We recognize that the Japanese government is not alone in seeking to narrate history in its own interest. In the United States, state legislatures and local school boards have sought to re-write school textbooks and craft curricula to eliminate „unpatriotic“ references to the Vietnam War. In 2014 Russia passed a law criminalizing dissemination of what the government deems false information about Soviet activities during World War II. This year, on the 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocide, a Turkish citizen can be sent to jail for asserting that the government bears responsibility. The Japanese government, however, is now directly targeting the work of historians both at home and abroad.

On November 7, 2014 the Japanese Foreign Ministry instructed its New York Consulate General to ask McGraw-Hill publishers to correct the depiction of the comfort women in its world history textbook, Traditions and Encounters: A Global Perspective on the Past, co-authored by historians Herbert Ziegler and Jerry Bentley.

On January 15, 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported a meeting that took place last December between Japanese diplomats and McGraw-Hill representatives. The publisher refused the Japanese government’s request for erasure of two paragraphs, stating that scholars had established the historical facts about the comfort women. We support the publisher and agree with author Herbert Ziegler that 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.

We practice and produce history to learn from the past. We therefore oppose the efforts of states or special interests to pressure publishers or historians to alter the results of their research for political purposes.

Jeremy Adelman, Princeton University
W. Jelani Cobb, University of Connecticut
Alexis Dudden, University of Connecticut
Sabine Fruhstuck, University of California Santa Barbara
Sheldon Garon, Princeton University
Carol Gluck, Columbia University
Mark Healey, University of Connecticut
Miriam Kingsberg, University of Colorado
Nikolay Koposov, Georgia Institute of Technology
Peter Kuznick, American University
Patrick Manning, University of Pittsburgh
Devin Pendas, Boston College
Mark Selden, Cornell University
Franziska Seraphim, Boston College
Stefan Tanaka, University of California San Diego
Julia Adeney Thomas, Notre Dame University
Jeffrey Wasserstrom, University of California Irvine
Theodore Jun Yoo, University of Hawaii

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Autor: Reinhard Zöllner

Geb. 1961. Historiker und Japanologe. Seit 2008 Professor an der Abteilung für Japanologie und Koreanistik der Universität Bonn.

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