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(Yonhap Interview) More historians urge Japan to apologize for wartime sex slavery

2015/05/06 10:07

WASHINGTON, May 6 (Yonhap) -- A U.S. history scholar, who led 187 historians to issue a statement on Japan's wartime sex slavery, said Wednesday she wanted to show Tokyo the widespread view of the issue held by scholars across the globe.

In the joint statement, the scholars urged Japan to acknowledge the historical facts about the sexual slavery issue, saying "denying or trivializing" what happened to the victims is "unacceptable." It is unusual for such a large number of international historians to take collective action.

The appeal came a week after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe failed to offer a clear apology for the sexual slavery issue or other wartime atrocities when he delivered an unprecedented address at a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress.

The statement, which follows a similar statement issued in February by some 20 members of the American Historical Association, shows how concerned international historians are about Japan's attempts to whitewash its wartime actions.

"We wanted to make sure that we were making it clear to the Japanese government that ours is not some isolated, fringe effort," University of Connecticut professor Alexis Dudden told Yonhap News Agency in an email interview.

"Rather, this open letter reflects the widespread, collective belief of many outside Japan who have chosen to teach and research about Japan as the defining part of their own lives," she said.

The scholars included Pulitzer Prize winner Herbert Bix of Binghamton University; William Paterson University history professor Theodore F. Cook; Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor John Dower; Harvard University professor Ezra Vogel and University of Chicago professor Bruce Cummings.

Dudden said she and her colleagues began talking about issuing a collective statement in March, but they decided to wait to issue it until after Abe ended his visit to the U.S., "in case he said what we all wanted him to say: that his government of Japan accepts responsibility for this terrible history.

"Unfortunately, as we know, this did not happen," she said.

Dudden said the statement is a "direct appeal to the Japanese government to address this history squarely, accept responsibility for it -- which it had begun to do with the now-eviscerated Kono statement -- and to desist from further distortions and politicization."

   The Kono statement refers to a 1993 statement of apology where Japan acknowledged for the first time that women were forcibly recruited into sexual slavery. The Abe government attempted to undermine the statement by conducting a review of it last year.

"I'm really thrilled to see a lot more historians and professors signed on for this statement than expected. They are not only in the U.S, but also all over the world including Europe and Australia. So this statement is actually on a global scale," she said.

Dudden also criticized Abe for making vague remarks about the issue during his visit to the U.S., including the use of the term "human trafficking," instead of sexual slavery, which was seen an attempt to evade responsibility because the phrase is usually associated with private prostitution.

"Abe's determination not to finish his sentence about 'human trafficking' to explain who trafficked the victims of this system reveals his and his supporters' commitment to evade Japanese government responsibility for this history. In clear ways, his words further attempt to blame the victim for the crime," she said.

Dudden also said attempts to distort history work against any country's future.

"One of the only possible ways to unravel the tight knots that surround the so-called 'comfort women' issue is to try to seek some sort of resolution while these few victims are still alive," the professor said.

"Without their acknowledgement that progress toward what they are seeking is gaining ground -- individually and collectively -- then this history will continue to be used as a political weapon into the foreseeable future," she added.

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