Japan musttake responsibility

The Japanese prime minister's denial of WWII-era army sex slaves is a step back.

Last week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stirred up a regional controversy by denying that Asian women were forced into sex slavery by the Japanese army during World War II. His comments were met with public demonstrations and official condemnations from China, Taiwan, South Korea and the Philippines – countries where as many as 200,000 women were kidnapped or otherwise coerced into servitude for the Japanese military.

The New York Times interviewed one woman, now 90 years old, who was kidnapped at age 23 while she was working as a maid in a Taiwanese hotel. Over the next year, she was forced to have sex with 20 Japanese soldiers a day, and had multiple abortions until eventually she became sterile. All of these women no doubt have a tragically similar story, and for the head of the Japanese government to deny any wrongdoing on his country’s part is unthinkable.

In 1993, then-chief cabinet secretary Yohei Kono acknowledged the government’s responsibility for the practice, but his declaration was never approved by the Japanese parliament. Abe’s refusal to acknowledge the same is a politically motivated case of willful historical amnesia, playing down the Japanese government’s depraved human rights abuses during World War II. Abe has based a large part of his political success on whitewashing Japan’s war history, visiting shrines for internationally recognized war criminals and going so far as to say that they were not considered as such in the eyes of Japanese law.

Most of the people who committed those crimes are no longer alive today, but it’s reckless and insensitive to the point of disbelief to deny that their government was involved, which the historical record clearly proves is the case. We don’t get to choose our history, and rewriting it doesn’t change what actually happened.

The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a resolution that would urge Japan to acknowledge responsibility. This should be welcomed, but sadly, until Japan’s government is willing to do so, this issue won’t be going away.