Harvard Professor Who Criticizes Ramseyer’s “Comfort Women Paper” May Not Have Read the Literature (Part I)International South and North Korea Published on April 5, 2021
Criticism by a colleague, a professor specializing in Japanese history
Harvard University professor Mark Ramseyer’s paper on “comfort women” has been criticized not only by scholars in South Korea but also in the US. His colleagues were among the first to criticize it. However, according to Professor Tetsuo Arima of Waseda University, a leading researcher on official documents, a detailed examination of the criticism shows that there are many things that seem to be a misreading of the documents. The following is a two-part article by Professor Arima on the Ramseyer paper, this time discussing the claims of his colleagues that led to the criticism.
In this article, I will discuss the claims of my colleagues that led to the criticism.
Harvard Law School professor Mark Ramseyer has been under intense criticism for his academic paper, “The Sex Contract in the Pacific War” (hereafter referred to as the Ramseyer paper). Professor Ramseyer is now forced to defend his thesis to Western scholars who criticize him by translating into Japanese an official document full of technical terms from the first half of the Showa era, which is difficult even for Japanese to understand.
If you read the criticisms of the paper and the statements demanding its retraction, you will find that most of them are based on the same stance and findings. In other words, although there are many criticisms of the Ramsey paper, many of them are actually written from the same stance and based on the same information.
It should also be pointed out that many of the critics are people who have written books and articles (based on the theory of forced labor and sexual slavery) whose contents were fundamentally overturned by the Ramsey article.
In this article, we will take a look at some representative examples of these people.
Among the early critics of the Ramseyer article were, surprisingly, Ramseyer’s colleagues at the Reischauer Center at Harvard University, Professor Andrew Gordon (Japanese history) and Professor Carter Eckert (East Asian languages and cultures).
Past Strong Opposition to Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Request for Removal
They issued a joint statement, “Statement by Andrew Gordon, Professor, Department of History, Harvard University, and Carter Eckert, Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures. Statement by Andrew Gordon, Professor, Department of History, Harvard University and Carter Eckert, Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, Harvard University” was released on February 17 this year.
Japanese and Korean experts from the same center issued a statement to the world criticizing the paper by Professor Ramseyer, who is also a Japanese expert. This is highly unusual. This has been reported to the Korean media, and this is the beginning of the fuss.
In the academic world, it is natural to criticize and verify papers, but I don’t know of any case where a colleague has made a statement of criticism to the world.
As for Professor Gordon, I can understand why he took this action from his past words and actions. There was a time when Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs requested the deletion of a description of comfort women in a history textbook (for American high school students) published by McGraw-Hill. At that time, Professor Gordon issued an extremely strong statement of opposition.
The textbook contained the following statement.
“The Japanese military forcibly recruited as many as 200,000 women between the ages of 14 and 20 to serve in the armed forces and forced them to work in military brothels called ‘comfort stations.
The Japanese military massacred many of the comfort women to cover up their activities.
What I am describing here is the now-denied “200,000 comfort women theory,” “forced conscription theory,” “comfort woman sex slave theory,” and “Korean comfort woman massacre theory. The reason is that no evidence has been presented to date to support any of these theories. The official position of Japan, an ally of the U.S., is that there is no basis for these theories.
Does the acceptance of the Ramseyer paper, which rejects these views and theories, jeopardize his status as a historian? The text of the statement is quite emotional and the content seems to be full of one-sided assumptions that are not scholarly in nature (the full text can be read at https://perma.cc/8ZHY-RD5C). (The full text can be read at the following URL: .) However, it seems that the claims made here have become a kind of “original story” and subsequent critics are basing their arguments on them.
Are we not supposed to be fooled?
They criticize the Ramseyer paper on various points, the two main ones being as follows
(1) The actual contract signed by the Korean woman or her parents is not presented. (1) There is no actual contract signed by the Korean woman or her parents, so we do not know what kind of contract was made.
(2) Therefore, we do not know if the woman or her parents voluntarily agreed to the contract. (2) Therefore, we don’t know if the woman or her parents voluntarily agreed to the contract, and the broker must have lied or used unclear words to deceive them. So, since there is no voluntary consent, the Ramseyer thesis could be undermined.
But as I see it, there are inconsistencies and errors in their criticisms. Let’s take a look at what they are. Incidentally, since this is a joint statement by Professors Gordon and Eckert, and I don’t know which of them said it, I will use “they” as the subject.
They said (all translated by the author)
It is easy to obscure the nature of the work required in verbal communication with women and their parents. In fact, there are many accounts of women being deceived about the nature of the work they are supposed to do. This is all the more important if, as we suspect, the contract itself uses such obscure language. Of course, if we don’t have a sample of the contract or the actual contract, then we can’t even be sure that the contract used the obscure language.
It’s hard to understand, so let me add.
What they are thinking is that if they have the actual contract, they can prove that they cheated because they can see what kind of work it says they are supposed to do. They assume that the contract will be worded in such a way as to mislead the female side (including the parents). And they believe that if the actual contract is proven to have such language, the women will have been deceived, not signed a contract, and the Ramseyer thesis will no longer be valid. In other words, the paper assumes that the women are not supposed to be deceived.
They are ignoring the evidence.
However, as I wrote in a previous article, Professor Ramseyer is aware that women and parents have been deceived, so he assumes that women can be deceived. Let me quote him again.
Korea had a different problem than Japan. In 1935, according to Chosun police records, 247 Japanese and 2,720 Koreans were arrested. In the late 1930s, Korean newspapers reported that a group of 11 brokers had sold more than 50 young women into prostitution.
Here it clearly says that “a group of professional brokers” have been using deception techniques. So, their assumption is wrong in the first place.
If women and parents have been deceived, the economic jurisprudence model that Professor Ramseyer presented in his paper would be fundamentally overturned.
As I wrote in a previous article, both cheated and non-cheated women are treated much the same as long as the basic contract (not necessarily a contract) is the same, i.e., advance payment, year, fee, share, and cost of living and food. And these can be seen from the Japanese military’s comfort station management regulations and reports on them that appear repeatedly in U.S. military reports such as “U.S. War Information Bureau Psychological Warfare Operations Group Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report No. 49, October 1, 1949. This is the position of the Ramseyer paper.
They refuse to acknowledge the contents of these documents, ignore the references in the notes to the paper, and insist on retracting the paper if they cannot produce the contract signed by the Korean women or their parents.
It is not that the Ramseyer paper does not provide evidence. It is that they are ignoring them. And they don’t say anything about why they are ignoring them.
Failure to Understand the Meaning of “Extenuating Circumstances
This is a common stance among scholars who criticize the Ramseyer paper. In other words, they do not mention the materials and evidence presented in the notes. They seem to ignore them because it is inconvenient for them to criticize.
In relation to this, there are some statements that make me wonder if their Japanese language skills are good enough or if they are able to read the materials listed in the notes. They write like this.
One of his sources (Ministry of Home Affairs, 1938) gives us a sample contract of a Japanese woman recruited to a comfort station in Shanghai. One of his sources (Ministry of Home Affairs, 1938) gives us a sample contract for a Japanese woman recruited to a comfort station in Shanghai, which describes the woman as a bar maid, not a comfort woman. It is written in Japanese.
Let me add something. First of all, they confuse the “Notice of the Director General of the Security Bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs,” which we will see in more detail in the second part, with the “Report of the Police Station of the Shanghai Consulate,” which we will see later. This is probably because they were both created in 1938.
The reason for the confusion is that the “Circular of the Director-General of the Security Bureau of the Ministry of Home Affairs” mentions contracts for prostitutes, but does not use the word “prostitute,” nor does it mention “comfort stations in Shanghai.
On the other hand, the “Report of the Police Station of the Shanghai Consulate” contains the word “prostitute” and a reference to “Shanghai comfort stations,” but no mention of contracts. Therefore, their confusion is clear.
After conflating the two sources, they develop their criticism of Professor Ramseyer.
They claim that the documents show a contract for “comfort women,” when in fact they mention a document about “bar maids.
However, their mistake is that they consider “comfort women” and “bar maids” to be completely different.
They do not understand the meaning of “comfort women”. The “Report of the Police Station of the Shanghai Consulate,” mentioned in the notes to the paper, indicates that “husyu-wo” was a generic term for prostitutes who could be public prostitutes, private prostitutes, or comfort women, depending on the context. If you find it difficult to read because it is an old document, you can skip to the author’s explanation that follows.
Lacking basic knowledge.
The situation of special women and girls among Japanese residents in 1933, their control, and the control of private prostitution by the concession authorities” (based on the history of the police station of the Consulate-General in Shanghai)
I. Geisha (Omitted)
However, in June 1929, the Shanghai Public Security Bureau announced the abolition of Chinese public prostitution in all areas under its jurisdiction, and also forced the closure of Japanese businesses in China Street. With the outbreak of the Shanghai Incident in 1932 and the increase in the number of Japanese troops stationed in the area, a naval comfort station (in effect, a rented seat) was established to assist in the comfort of these soldiers. Yoshimi Yoshiaki (ed.), Kogun Comfort Women (Military Comfort Women) (Otsuki Shoten), p. 184 (Katakana has been changed to hiragana and kana to new kana because it is difficult to read)
Since the title of the document is “Private Prostitution Control Situation,” the term “prostitute” is a euphemism for a prostitute (in this case, a private prostitute, who may later have become a comfort woman). Professor Ramseyer also takes “private prostitute” in this context. This, like “comfort women,” was a kind of jargon often used by the Japanese military and government officials in official documents.
They would like to say that they used women as comfort women under the guise of “pouring women,” but it was common knowledge at the time that “pouring women” could also refer to comfort women depending on the context. Yes, it is “unclear,” but it does not mean that the women were “deceived about the nature of the work they were supposed to do.
They may have thought they were accusing Professor Ramseyer of research misconduct, but it was more likely that they, lacking basic knowledge, misread him.
It is impossible to use it as material to deny the paper.
Even Professor Seok Ji-young of Harvard Law School, who learned a lot from them and has been a leading critic of the Ramsey article, wrote
Even Professor Seok Ji-young of Harvard Law School, who learned a lot from them and has been a leading critic of the Ramseyer paper, writes, “There was a sample contract drawn up in 1938 for the hiring of Japanese women as ‘comfort women’ (the occupation of ‘comfort women’ was understood to involve sex work).
It was “understood” that the term “comfort woman” was a paraphrase for sex work.
In addition, they are knowledgeable about the word “comfort”. In order to prove this, the Japanese and Koreans of the time did not necessarily take the word “prostitution” when they heard the word “comfort”.
To prove this, he shows that the word “comfort” was used in the Japanese and Korean newspapers from 1917 to 1935 in the sense of entertainment or recreation.
But of course, such things are commonplace for the Japanese.
It is normal for a single word to have many different meanings. It would be a problem if the word “comfort woman” was misunderstood as “waitress,” “hotel worker,” or “amusement park attendant.
However, as the Ramseyer paper shows, the contract with the women (parents) was based on a large advance payment. At that stage, it is reasonable to assume that the parents or the women realized that the job they were offered was that of a “prostitute” or “whore” (meaning public prostitute, private prostitute, or comfort woman).
Even in modern times, there are times when people are recruited for “customer service”. If the wage is 1,000 yen per hour, it is normal to think that it might be a job as a cafe clerk.
But if the wording is “customer service jobs available from 5,000 yen per hour,” then you know it’s not a regular cafe or restaurant.
If you think it’s natural to misunderstand, you’re making fun of the people of that time.
In this way, this criticism over the interpretation of the language of the time is probably not enough material to deny the Ramseyer paper.
However, by having an expert write at length, it gives the impression that Professor Ramseyer has a problem with his understanding of Japanese. Their knowledge of “comfort” has also become a common knowledge (or rather, a false knowledge) of those who criticize the Ramseyer paper.
To be continued on Part II…