Historians Urge Japan to Confront Its Past

May 8, 2015

More than 180 historians -- most of them working at American colleges and universities -- this week issued an open letter to Japan's prime minister, Shinzo Abe, calling on his country to be more open to discussing the atrocities of the World War II era. The letter focuses on the "comfort women," women whom the Japanese military forced into sex slavery in many of the countries Japan occupied.

"Exploitation of the suffering of former 'comfort women' for nationalist ends in the countries of the victims makes an international resolution more difficult and further insults the dignity of the women themselves. Yet denying or trivializing what happened to them is equally unacceptable," the letter says. "Among the many instances of wartime sexual violence and military prostitution in the 20th century the 'comfort women' system was distinguished by its large scale and systematic management under the military, and by its exploitation of young, poor and vulnerable women in areas colonized or occupied by Japan."

The signatories include many of the leading American scholars of Japan. The letter grew out of a discussion in March at the meeting of the Association for Asian Studies. The letter is receiving widespread coverage in Japan and some of the countries, such as South Korea, where women were forced to be "comfort women."

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