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[Editorial] Act honorably

Attempts to whitewash history further stain Japan’s honor

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe still does not get it: The best way to regain the country’s honor is to own up to its history and sincerely apologize for its past wrongdoings.

In an interview with the conservative daily Sankei Shimbun published Thursday, Abe noted that Japan’s honor has been greatly damaged because of groundless testimony by Seiji Yoshida that was spread abroad. Yoshida is a former Japanese soldier who claimed to have rounded up women from Jejudo Island to work as sex slaves for the Japanese military during World War II. Noting that there is a need to demand fair judgment from the international community and to rectify Yoshida’s erroneous testimony, Abe said that there would be a more active dissemination of strategic diplomatic message.

In August, the liberal Asahi Shimbun retracted articles written in the 1980s and ’90s based on interviews with Yoshida and while some of his claims had already been disputed by scholars, the conservatives held up the newspaper’s retraction to press their argument that military sexual slavery was entirely fabricated and that the women were prostitutes who worked in brothels on their own volition.

Armed with “proof” that the Japanese had been wronged by erroneous reporting, the right-wing elements in Japan pressed the government and the Asahi Shimbun to make things right. A ruling party lawmaker demanded, “I want (the Asahi) to take measures to restore the situation to its state before trust in Japan is lost.”

While the conservatives in Japan use Yoshida’s now-discredited testimony to try to deny history, the women who survived the brutal military sexual slavery are living proof that the atrocity was very real.

Shamelessly, Japan last month sent Kuni Sato, its human rights ambassador, to meet with Radhika Coomaraswamy, a former U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women who authored a 1996 report that called on Japan to apologize and compensate the former sex slaves. The Sri Lankan lawyer outright rejected the request.

In an interview with the Yomiuri Shimbun, Coomaraswamy said the Asahi Shimbun’s retraction did not necessitate a revision of the 1996 report, explaining that the report was based on testimonies of a large number of “comfort women” and that Yoshida’s testimony, while it was cited in the report, did not play a significant role in reaching its conclusions.

Other scholars have expressed similar views. The four U.S. experts who were involved in the drafting of the 2007 U.S. House Resolution 121, which calls on the Japanese government to apologize to the former military sex slaves and include curriculum about them in Japanese schools, are reported to have said that Abe is overestimating the Asahi Shimbun’s role. The Wall Street Journal reported the experts as saying that a careful look at the facts “will refute the view of the Japanese history revisionists.” The experts also expressed concern that the Abe government appears to hold the view that the Yoshida account “colored all understanding of the comfort women tragedy.”

If Abe does indeed launch an all-out publicity campaign denying the existence of the military sexual slavery, it will be met with international scorn and ridicule and bring further dishonor to Japan and the Japanese people.

It is high time Abe realizes that the only way to regain Japan’s honor is to acknowledge its past, apologize and take responsibility. There just is no other way.
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