Japan's attempt to dispute the long-established historical fact about the country's sexual enslavement of Asian women during World War II raises "serious concerns" about academic freedom in the country, an American scholar said Thursday.
Alexis Dudden, a professor at the University of Connecticut, also said in an email interview with Yonhap News Agency that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is attempting to "openly supplant long proven histories with preferred national memories."
Dudden led a group of American history scholars to issue a joint statement expressing strong protest against Japan's pressuring of U.S. publisher McGraw-Hill to alter the description of the sexual slavery issue in one of its textbooks.
It is highly unusual for U.S. history scholars to collectively issue a statement on a specific historical issue. Nineteen scholars belonging to the American Historical Association co-signed the joint statement titled, "Standing with Historians of Japan."
"The statement matters now because the history involved -- the so-called 'comfort women' -- has long been accepted as fact not only in Japan but also around the world. Targeting this particular history now for political reasons ... raises serious concerns about the state of academic freedom in Japan today," the professor said.
"As for Prime Minister Abe, it is important ... to understand that memory and history are different things. In this instance we have a politician who would openly supplant long proven histories with preferred national memories," he said.
The statement is "an act of professional solidarity with historians in Japan and elsewhere -- South Korea, the Philippines, Australia, Indonesia -- who research and write about these issues, Dudden said.
"Our aim is to show respect and solidarity for the efforts of historians everywhere who have long worked on the so-called comfort women issue and have published their work according to professional standards of evidence and multiple cross-referencing. This is how we produce the work we do, and why we hold to it as accurate and proven," he said.
In the joint statement, the scholars expressed "dismay" at Japan's pressuring of the textbook publisher, accusing the Abe administration of "vocally questioning the established history of the comfort women and seeking to eliminate references to them in school textbooks" as part of its effort to promote patriotic education.
They also stressed that "no government should have the right to censor history."
"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," the statement said.
Dudden stressed that "academic freedom is at stake" when certain political views summon history.
"This is how memory takes over what it calls history by picking and choosing from the past at will instead of learning from it," he said.
"Our small group agrees that it is the responsibility of historians who are able to practice in societies as open as the United States to recognize moments when colleagues elsewhere are themselves targeted and have their work targeted," he added.
Historians estimate that up to 200,000 women, mainly from Korea, which was a Japanese colony from 1910 to 1945, were forced to work in front-line brothels for Japanese soldiers during World War II. But Japan has long attempted to whitewash the atrocity.
The sexual slavery issue has been the biggest thorn in frayed relations between Japan and South Korea, with Seoul demanding Japan take steps to address the grievances of elderly Korean victims of the atrocity and Japan refusing to do so. (Yonhap)