Here we go again – another herpes eruption of Japanese right-wing revisionism.
A Japanese local leader’s defense of the use of Chinese and Korean sex slaves to service Japanese soldiers during World War II as a “necessary” part of the war effort has drawn angry responses from Beijing and Seoul, aggravating tensions in the region that were already high after a series of earlier provocations.
“We are shocked and indignant at the Japanese politician’s remarks, as they flagrantly challenge historical justice and the conscious of mankind,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday. “How Japan treats its past will decide its future.”
Mr. Hong was responding to comments by Toru Hashimoto, the outspoken mayor of Osaka, who told reporters on Monday that the taking of sex slaves–euphemistically referred in Japan as “comfort women”–was justifiable. “Anyone can understand that the system of comfort women was necessary to provide respite for a group of high-strung, rough and tumble crowd of men braving their lives under a storm of bullets,” Mr. Hashimoto said, adding that apart from moral considerations “back then it was a necessary system to maintain military discipline.”
South Korea’s foreign ministry also slammed Mr. Hashimoto on Tuesday.
“It was a totally senseless remark. I doubted my ears. It is an insult against the dignity of women. I really hope that he [Mr. Hashimoto] has the courage to face up to past history and admit wrongdoings instead of trying to whitewash them,” an official at the spokesman’s office for the South Korean foreign ministry said.
Carol Giacomo provides some historical context for Hashimoto’s remarks.
During Japan’s occupation in World War II, as many as 200,000 women were rounded up across Asia to work as sex slaves — the Japanese euphemism is “comfort women” — for the Japanese Army. Many of the women came from China and South Korea but others were from the Philippines, Indonesia and Taiwan.
Survivors still bear the scars of this abuse and Japan formally apologized in 1993.
One might expect that given his young age, his education (he is a lawyer) and the fact that he is living in a highly developed country where women are also becoming more educated and independent, Mr. Hashimoto would revile — and vow never to repeat — the sins of the past.
Instead, he told reporters that the sex slaves served a useful purpose. “When soldiers are risking their lives by running through storms of bullets, and you want to give these emotionally charged soldiers a rest somewhere, it’s clear that you need a comfort women system,” he said.
He insisted that brothels “were necessary at the time to maintain discipline in the army;” and he claimed there was no proof that the Japanese authorities had forced women into servitude. He attributed the women’s experiences, vaguely, to “the tragedy of war.” At least he bothered to say that surviving comfort women deserved kindness from Japan.
But, according to Mark Driscoll, sexual slavery was not just a wartime phenomenon – it was a development tool.
In this major reassessment of Japanese imperialism in Asia, Mark Driscoll foregrounds the role of human life and labour. Drawing on subaltern postcolonial studies and Marxism, he directs critical attention to the peripheries, where figures including Chinese coolies, Japanese pimps, trafficked Japanese women and Korean tenant farmers supplied the vital energy that drove Japans empire. Driscoll identifies three phases of Japans capitalist expansion, each powered by distinct modes of capturing and expropriating life and labour: biopolitics (18951914), neuropolitics (192032), and necropolitics (193545). During the first phase, Japanese elites harnessed the labour of marginalized subjectivities as it colonized Taiwan, Korea and south Manchuria, and sent hustlers and sex workers into China to expand its market hegemony. Linking the deformed bodies labouring in the peripheries with the erotic-grotesque media in the metropole, he centres the second phase on commercial sexology, pornography and detective stories in Tokyo to argue that by 1930, capitalism had colonized all aspects of human life: not just labour practices, but also consumers attention and leisure time. Focusing on Japans Manchukuo colony in the third phase, he shows what happens to the central figures of biopolitics as they are subsumed under necropolitical capitalism: coolies become forced labourers, pimps turn into state officials and authorized narcotraffickers and sex workers become comfort women. Driscoll concludes by discussing Chinese fiction written inside Manchukuo, describing the everyday violence unleashed by necropolitics.
One has to ask, why this strain of nationalism is recurring now. Robert Kelly obliges with an excellent, passionate defense of Abenomics.
One of the traditional responsibilities of sane conservative parties is to write-out of respectability and legitimacy the scary, nut-job right-wing fringe. There can’t be a ‘no-enemies-on-the-right’ strategy, or you wind up with anti-Semites, racists, and black-helicopter guys grabbing all the media attention and delegitimizing wider conservative goals. In the US, Bill Buckley explicitly intended the National Review to screen out the John Birch Society and the American Mercury. In Germany, the CDU/CSU keeps the nationalist/neo-Nazi fringe at bay. (I worked for both GOP and CSU legislators in the past, so I’ve actually seen this in action. The late-night/AM newsradio listeners come out of the woodwork to tell you all about Jewish banker conspiracies and stuff like that.) In Japan, that means the LDP has to tamp down the endless Pacific War revisionism that keeps popping up. And for as much as I think Abenomics is an important Keynesian antidote to the right-wing monetarist-austerity hysteria of the last five years, it’s also increasingly clear that Abe’s victory allowed the Japanese version of the Birchers to get all sorts of air time they shouldn’t.