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Seeking Reconciliation

Resolution Calls for Japan to Apologize for ‘Comfort Women’

For some, the issue of “comfort women,” who were forced to provide sex for the Japanese military during World War II, already has been addressed. For others, the 60-year-old issue is enduring.

As part of an ongoing effort toward reconciliation, Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) introduced a bipartisan resolution Jan. 31 calling on the Japanese government to formally apologize for its role in forcing women into sexual slavery in countries it occupied during the war. A hearing on the resolution featuring testimonies from survivors will be held on Feb. 15.

“It is never too late to reconcile differences or past actions,” Honda said.

H. Res. 121 urges the Japanese government to “acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner,” avoid any claims that sexual enslavement and trafficking of women for the imperial army never occurred, and continue to educate younger generations about the issue.

The resolution is the latest attempt for atonement to WWII comfort women. It is an effort that was supposed to end last fall when a similar resolution passed through the House International Relations Committee.

But, according to news reports, the Japanese government called on Hogan & Hartson, which has represented Tokyo’s interests in Congress for decades, to lobby former House leaders, including Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), on the issue. Advocates for the Japanese government expressed its opposition of the measure to House leaders, calling the resolution unnecessary and harmful to the U.S.-Japan relations. The measure, which was expected to pass with no debate, never went to the floor.

Today, supporters say the shift in Congressional leadership provides a more welcoming ground for H. Res. 121. Honda said his House colleagues have responded positively to the resolution and expects that it will go to the floor this time around.

Unlike the previous resolution, the measure focuses on a formal apology and does not include reparations for surviving “comfort women.”

“The change, I decided, was necessary in order for us to move forward,” Honda said. “[It is] still a strong resolution, it is still asking the prime minister to offer an unambiguous apology, [which] always has been my focus regarding this issue.”

Estimates of comfort women from Korea, China, Philippines, Indonesia and other Japanese-occupied countries are anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000, according to Mindy Kotler, director of Asia Policy Point. Military brothels were set up and women of all ages were forced to have sex with up to 30 men a day. Today, women who endured these “comfort stations” continue to feel physical and emotional anguish from their experience.

Supporters of the resolution say the Japanese government has continually tried to downplay the history of comfort women in school textbooks. They say there also are current efforts to dilute statements made by the Japanese government in the past expressing its remorse and apologies.

Kotler said the Japanese government is expected to lobby against the resolution.

“There [is] even more pressure in every form to kill [the measure] because there are some people in the Japanese leadership who feel that Japan has apologized enough, that the Koreans, the Chinese are not telling the truth about these war crimes, that it’s not relevant today,” Kotler said.

According to Hogan & Hartson documents addressing last year’s resolution to the Department of Justice, the Japanese government already has made the necessary steps to apologize and that a resolution would harm relations between the U.S. and its close ally in Asia. The documents stated that Japan’s establishment of the Asian Women’s Fund, a government-initiated but privately funded foundation for surviving comfort women, illustrates the government’s willingness to make amends.

The documents also point to a letter from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2001, which extended his “most sincere apologies and remorse to all the women who underwent immeasurable and painful experiences and suffered incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”

There also are concerns on whether Congress would be overstepping its boundaries in approving a measure that is strictly an international matter.

Honda said there are many American citizens who consider the resolution appropriate.

“Reconciliation is something we should be calling on in this century … [to learn] from our mistakes both globally and domestically,” Honda said.

Honda also disputes arguments that the resolution would negatively affect relations between the U.S. and Japan.

“I don’t think something like this is going to harm our relationship. It’s not going to harm our position on trade and [our] alliance,” he said. “Something like this is a very mature thing for a nation to acknowledge and move forward.”

Honda said that a formal apology could create a more positive relationship between Japan and other Asian countries. Kotler said that instability in the Asian region always has revolved around distrust of the Japanese government and its actions in the past.

“The level of distrust over old history issues are profound,” Kotler said. “The Koreans, the Russians, the Chinese, they’re distrustful in the table and it keeps coming back to [these] ‘history issues.’”

Honda likens what has happened to comfort women to the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII. Honda, who was an infant at the time his own parents were sent to a camp, said the United States took 46 years to fully apologize for its actions.

“As I listened to stories of my parents, their friends, did some research on my own as a student, then as a teacher, I understood that we need to teach children and other generations of the mistakes [that were made], how and why it occurred and how to prevent it,” Honda said.

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