I am a scholar in Washington, D.C., who advises members of Congress and others about World War II history.
In my 2014 New York Times op-ed “The Comfort Women and Japan’s War on Truth,” I tried to make clear that the comfort women (and boys) used as sex slaves for Imperial Japan were emblematic of the larger crime of sex trafficking and sexual violence in warfare.
The memorial unveiled in Brookhaven is a timeless symbol of this unending wartime tragedy. The fact is that Imperial Japan during WWII had a unique state-sanctioned and -managed system of sexual slavery in wartime maintained outside of legal prostitution.
Nearly all the opposition you hear is from people coordinated by Japanese right-wing, anti-Korean groups. They are fueled by a toxic combination of racism and delusions of Japan’s wartime glory. These groups and their funders are also the political base of Japan’s prime minister and his party.
This is why you have Japanese diplomats humiliating themselves by denying history as cravenly as Holocaust deniers. And this is why the focus is only on Korea and not on the Dutch mothers, the German missionaries, the Filipino farm girls, the Taiwanese Aboriginals, the Indonesian villagers, the Vietnamese schoolgirls, the wives of Tamil laborers, the Australian shipwreck survivors, and even the French and British prostitutes in brothels requisitioned in Shanghai.
No one knows how many people were swept up in the comfort women system. None were willing, whether they were handed over by a village elder for protection, were trading their body to feed their children or grabbed off the street. The number, if you count the thousands of “opportunities” through the Pacific Islands, China and the internment camps for Westerners, is far in excess of 200,000.
The majority of the women “trafficked” to war zones were likely Korean. But the basic fact remains that young officers in the Japan’s Imperial Navy and Army were trained to establish “comfort stations” and requisition “supplies.”
It should be with pride that Brookhaven is willing to host a memorial to WWII crimes that not only happened in Asia (and not just to Asians), but also mostly to girls and women. This is rare. And the community should not succumb to the racism of Japanese right-wing groups any more than it would to an organization objecting to a Holocaust memorial.
This is not racist; it is American to honor and learn from the past of all its citizens.
Director of Asia Policy Point