With all the drama this week triggered by the fatal shooting of a Taiwanese fisherman during a confrontation with the Philippine Coast Guard last week, another international slap in the face got less play in the local media. That is too bad, but it should not be allowed to just fade away.
Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto managed to insult women in Taiwan, the Philippines, China, the Korean Peninsula, his own country — women in general and everywhere — with his remarks about the “comfort women” system during World War II.
“It must have been necessary at that time to maintain discipline in the military,” he said on Monday. “For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest, a comfort women system was necessary. That’s clear to anyone.”
He added that the militaries of other countries have used prostitutes as well, but only Japan is accused of using sex slaves. Besides, there was no proof that Japanese authorities had forced women into servitude, he said.
Hashimoto also said he had advised a senior US military official on Okinawa that US troops there should make “more use of adult entertainers” to reduce sex crimes, and that the US military’s barring troops from such entertainment in Japan was a form of discrimination against women who legally work in the business.
After first defending himself against critics at home and abroad, Hashimoto tried to limit the damage, but continued to be insulting.
He said on Thursday that he stood by his earlier comments, but admitted he may have lacked “international sensitivity” and that his remarks might have seemed inappropriate to people outside Japan who have different values.
He said he would meet with two former comfort women from South Korea later this month, and “I think I have to apologize firmly for what Japan did,” but added: “I will tell the comfort women that I’m sorry for having had such a system no matter whether it was forcible or not.”
Hashimoto just keeps making a hash of it. He does not lack “international sensitivity,” he lacks any sensitivity at all toward women. He is another in a long line of Japanese male politicians who have tried to hide the brutalization of women behind the excuses that these things happen in wartime, and there is no proof that the Japanese government or the Imperial Japanese Army was involved in the forced recruitment of women to service the troops.
The accounts of the surviving comfort women should stand as proof alone, whether there is a document with chops and seals buried in some dusty archive or not. These women, most of whom had stayed silent for decades, have told of being abducted or of being recruited for nursing jobs or other such employment, only to find themselves in brothels, forced to service 20 to 40 men a day.
The sexual brutalization and exploitation of women go on in war and in peacetime all over the world — and it is still being excused by male politicians and others. It is happening now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where government troops and rebel forces have raped entire villages of women and children.
Sexual brutality and rape have been used for centuries as a tool of repression, as an instrument of torture or as a reward for fighting. That does not mean it can be excused by saying that “everyone does it.” It cannot be excused by saying that “men will be men” and they need an outlet for release. It cannot be excused as a cultural difference. It has never been, is not, and will never be acceptable to women.
That men like Hashimoto find themselves in trouble because they keep saying the same things shows that they really do not understand. Any apology he makes will be insincere and politically expedient. Just as many comfort women refused to accept money from the Asian Women’s Fund that Japan set up in 1995 because it came from private donations, not the Japanese government, half-hearted apologies from Japanese politicians should not be accepted.