For some years now there has been a campaign in Japan to publicise the ‘hidden’ history of the existence and treatment of ‘comfort-women’ during the Second World War. These were women who were mainly forced into prostitution to service the sexual desires of Japanese soldiers during that war. Such women were ‘captured’ by (or on behalf of) the Japanese government and herded from place to place as the army advanced or retreated. A few of the women, who were ‘used’ and abused in this fashion are still alive and their stories have been compiled by activist women in Japan.

The use of the term ‘comfort’ itself attempts to hide a reality of forced sex-slavery for some women in the Japanese theatre of operations. The resistance to come clean is already embedded in the term selected to describe this predatory and degrading practice. It cannot be surprising therefore, that the campaign for a retrospective admission and apology for this callous obliteration of women’s rights in the 20th century, has been met with less than enthusiasm by the ‘nationalist’ sentiments of ‘official’ male-stream Japan.  Apparently to some among the Japanese elite, the visiting and discussion of historical crimes against humanity, has little or no contemporary relevance and should be left entirely to the individual study of historians.

Yet it is clear – to those who want to see – that resistance or failure to admitting past wrongs, more often than not, says a great deal about the present. Elites, throughout the globe, like to base themselves upon ‘traditions’ and those traditions are always whitewashed to make them appear healthy and ‘civilised’. Japan is no exception! The admission of former crimes against humanity, not only shakes the moral foundations of these traditions but also raises questions as to what contemporary crimes are also being committed and covered up by these ‘traditional’ values. This revealing possibility was at evident in a recent televised discussion on the subject in the ‘stream’ section of an Aljazeera international broadcast. This discussion, of the plight of ‘comfort women’ with participants drawn from Japan, revealed this reluctance and also its contemporary rationalisation.

From the outset the discussion was couched within a ‘nationalist’ framework with one young male most anxious to defend the political and military integrity of Japan. He claimed that it was not the Japanese military who recruited these women, but the men of the countries annexed by Japan. It was pointed out to him that these men were directly acting on behalf of the Japanese occupying forces. However, this did not inhibit his sophistry and bluster in his increasingly failing defence of Japanese integrity and humanity, during the Second World War. As part of his rationalisation of the use of ‘comfort women’ by the Japanese military and political class, at one point he claimed that such ‘prostitution’ was part of ‘the oldest profession’ .

Such patriarchal assertions completely ignore the fact that to the extent that this claim has any truth within it at all, this merely indicates how long the sexual exploitation of the female half of humanity has been systemic. During the ensuing discussion this young Japanese double-chauvinist kept on attempting to shout the female participants down and continually interrupted the points they were making. This latter behaviour as much as his justifications, more than anything demonstrated that Japanese patriarchal attitudes were still dominant in the 21st century – even among the younger generation of  males of that country.

His one relevant point was to blurt out that other armies – the west included – had also made use of military-supported brothels to satiate the sexual desires of their troops.  However, this observation on the international character of sexual exploitation via patriarchy and patrifocality was not followed up by the organisers of the discussion nor the other participants. This was a pity because the fate of women during warfare is entirely global.  And this brutal treatment is as utterly and horribly relevant in the 21st century as it was in previous centuries. No modern nation-state, or ancient feudal kingdom is bereft of such horrors.

This particularly exploitative and oppressive attitude to women is not a product of nationality, but of patriarchy. The general discriminatory and callous treatment of women – in all countries – merely reaches the ultimate depths of depravity during the obscenities of war. This universal phenomenon reveals much that is deficient in the male section of humanity. The failure by men to confront the ideological foundations of patriarchy and patrifocality, and ‘all’ its practical manifestations is also an indicator of the long journey modern humanity has yet to make to become truly human and truly wise.

Roy Ratcliffe (May 2015)

This entry was posted in Critique, dispossession, Feminism, Nationalism, Patriarchy, Politics, The State and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. WJF says:

    The Comfort Women issue has been interpreted and explained inaccurately by most people including Japanese and Koreans themselves. I believe the following video provides you with the most impartial viewpoint regarding the issue. Please take a look.

  2. Does anyone deny that the forces of imperial Japan worked people to death in constructing the infamous Burma Railway, also that they buried people alive, that they tested biological weapons on prisoners of war of various nations, also that great swathes of rural China were cleared entirely of population (I am not sure with what brutality). That Japanese officers competed in the attempt to split a living person lengthways with a traditional sword.
    If half of the above is true then it is hard to conceive of the so called comfort women being treated with any respect or compassion.
    The response from WJF struck me as infantile in the manner of presentation and worse as an attempt to gloss over some of the worst atrocities in history.

  3. No, I do not know anything about the specific issue of the so called comfort women. I do not deny that there is a great deal of hypocrisy in condemning imperial Japan for things which other imperialisms have also done, I am however prepared to believe that sexual enslavement took place.

    • WJF says:

      History is not an issue to “believe” but to inspect. If you are lazy enough to stay in your “belief” instead of inspecting the real cause of the tragedies, the same tragedies will be repeated again and again and again and again. Actually the same tragedy is still being repeated in front of your eyes. Do not be lazy to save those poor women.

      “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

  4. What are the allegations which you are trying to refute?
    Either women accompanying Japanese forces were prostitutes and therefore theoretically free or else they were slaves and therefore effectively raped each time they were used, if I can call it that, by soldiers.
    If only some of them were slaves then there treatment constitutes a war crime against humanity.
    I think that the few elderly survivors who continue to protest allege that they were slaves.
    If the protestors are trying to falsify history then what is there motive?
    I am not anti-Japanese I cold give you a fine list of crimes committed by my own country (Britain) but time and space do not permit.

    • WJF says:

      All allegations are presented in the movie. You told it was “an attempt to gloss over some of the worst atrocities in history.” So I asked you to show how you could reach such a conclusion by refuting the content of the video more concretely, but you couldn’t, since you had no historical knowledge on the issue. All these simply prove that it’s merely a kind of religious belief or something that you think of the Comfort Women as “the worst atrocities in history.”

    • WJF says:

      If you watch the movie to the end, you will find that it’s nothing covering up any historical facts. The movie admits that there were women who were forced to serve as Comfort Women for the Imperial Japanese Army by several reasons. The movie simply claims that the causes of the tragedies of those women must be identified more precisely for the better prevention of sexual abuse of women, because exactly the same tragedies are being repeated between South Korea and America currently.

      Thus you must recite the following words of Jesus again and again and again and again.

      “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5)

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