More apologies

This is already a week old, but did anyone notice that the very same day US Congressman Mike Honda (D, California) issued yet another call for Japan to issue a more concrete apology to former comfort women, New Jersey became the first Northern state in the United States to issue a formal apology for our state’s history of slavery? Although four Southern states of Virginia, Maryland, Alabama, and North Carolina had previously issued similar resolutions, the fact that many Northern states still allowed slave-holding well into the 19th century has been largely ignored. New Jersey, for example, did not finally ban slavery until 1846. There has been no such resolution at the federal level.

While it might be nice to see the Japanese government officially acknowledge past crimes in more specificity, perhaps the US Congress should apologize for slavery at the national level before its members go overseas to demand that foreign governments do the same thing. Maybe by setting a moral example, Mister Honda might convince a wider audience of his credibility.

Oh, and as for the Japanese government’s previous apologies. While they were a good start, they really could be more specific. Take a look at the actual text of last week’s New Jersey slavery apology resolution and think about how they compare.

Update: I feel like I should add that I don’t consider a simple apology in and of itself very worthwhile. The important thing about the New Jersey resolution is not so much that it apologizes, but that it lists both the actual crimes and in historical context and legacy in a decently comprehensive outline, and then also explicitly calls for continuing education on the subject. Let me quote the “statement” at the end of the resolution.

This concurrent resolution issues a formal apology on behalf of the State of New Jersey for its role in slavery and discusses the history of racism and inhumane treatment toward African-Americans in the United States from the arrival of its first settlers to the present day. It calls upon the citizens of this State to remember that slavery continues to exist and encourages them to teach about the history and legacy of slavery and Jim Crow laws.

While I think it was sloppy phrasing not to say something like “continues to exist in parts of the world,” resolutions like this are important not because they can make people feel good about their awesomeness in making said apology, but because it can contribute to the education of the populace.

16 thoughts on “More apologies”

  1. ‘Comfort women’ issue is not something that can be compared with US slavery system. The latter is disapproval of public rights by the government. On the other hand, ‘comfort women’ in Japan were not forced to be so by the Japanese government. Basically, they were not slaves as human. The system should be called prostitute, because they entered such commercial relationship either by their own or by their family’s will. The middlemen for prostitute, of which about half were Korean, existed on a commercial basis, as were in most of other countries at that time. Evidences suggest that ads for ‘comfort women’ as profession were posted on newspapers; women were actually well-paid to the extent that some earned more than then-Japanese prime minister did. Korean women who made a testimony at US congress had said in 1980s – 90s that they were sold by their families to middlemen. They changed what they said later. (I know the incident experienced by Dutch women in Indonesia, but that was not allowed even by the military and the soldiers who committed that crime were prosecuted by the military.)
    Considering these facts, I think the apology expressed by the Japanese government recently was as explicit as it could be. It didn’t consider that formal apology was needed for commercial transactions.

  2. In the second line above, I should have said “basic human rights” instead of “public rights.”

  3. Una:

    (1) I believe the context of Roy’s post was not about slavery v.s. prostitution, but the concept of empty moralization, i.e. “pot calling the kettle black,” “seeing a splinter in your neighbor’s eye but not a log in your own.”

    (2) Beyond that the analogy is valid — the State and federal governments probably never enslaved any individual persons directly, but it sure did let it to happen, on which grounds the comfort women issue can be appropriately compared.

  4. Thank you Curzon, I think both of your bullet points are fairly accurate.

    While I am inclined to believe that at least some portion of the “comfort women” were essentially sex slaves, even if you completely believe Una’s description of their situation. For example: “they entered such commercial relationship either by their own or by their family’s will.” When a young girl is handed over to a prostitute-broker in exchange for money by her family, I’m not sure what you can call that besides sex-slavery/human-trafficking. It may not have been de jure slavery, as in the case of the US, but it sounds like de facto slavery to me.

    Of course it still isn’t remotely comparable to the centuries. and many millions of victims of American slavery, but on the other hand the fact that a few of the victims are still alive (I’ve actually met a few of them) means that apologies regarding this case have somewhat more import than purely historical ones.

  5. I’m not sure why this issue is compared with American slavery.Same logic is based on Mike Honda’s crusade on “unsolved”Japanese war crimes of WW2.
    Honda claims his involvement of demanding the U.S government’s apology and compensation to American citizens of Japanese origin has lead him to his crusade.

    To me both are basically internal affairs of the United States,nothing more,nothing less.

    If Americans want to make official apology on slavery,something they’ve denied along with other European nations at the U.N Conference on Racism in Durban South Africa in 2001,but in the watered down form that bears no international nor legal responsibilities,that’s just fine by me.

    But that doesn’t justyfies Mike Honda flaming nationalists of all stripes in the North East Asia and make the history war even more ugly,while pretending as the only good guy,I think.

    The Comfort Women issue happens to be one of the few issues that relates with WW2 crimes that has been treated with bipartisan effort in both government and civic society,but thanks to Honda and the U.S house of representatives,that small pride went to the shit hole and made the cynics in our country saying I-told-you-so’s to the liberals.

    Something makes me feel irk about Honda(and that guy in NYT) is their arrivals to the issues had changed everything about the issue.
    That made the very people who worked on the subject for decades were completly marginalized,or even painted as the agent of Japanese government for acting to break up the ex-victims for a handful of yen.

    I have read pretty disturbing article on Korea’s Joongang Ilbo dated on Jan 8.

    According to this article,Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Commerce is decorating Korean diplomat at the embassy in Washington for organizing lobbying and connecting Honda and Korean American community.

    This is after we made multiple agreements with Seoul that “no more history matter” between Korea and Japan.
    Even the conservative like Komori Yoshihisa of Sankei had speculated Chinese American invovement,but never the govermental involvement from Seoul.
    Another reason to let down Korea watcher in Tokyo seeking mutual trust between the two countries.

    Seriously,I’ve seen just tooo many fishy deals relating this issue,that I can’t buy any advice(either friendly or not)coming from America with a grain of salt.

  6. Well, to be clear I was giving advice to Congressman Honda, not to the Japanese government. Of course I have my opinions about what GOJ should do, and I might give those from time to time, but I try not to sound like I’m demanding anything because, frankly, I’m just not that worked up over it.

  7. “When a young girl is handed over to a prostitute-broker in exchange for money by her family, I’m not sure what you can call that besides sex-slavery/human-trafficking.”

    And that’s something that has been subject to serious punishment under the Volume 2, Chapter 33 of the Criminal Code of Japan (articles 224-229) since 明治40年…

    MF, your response here would be appreciated:

  8. I haven’t seen “Memoirs.” Are you referring to how the fact that girls in Japan were often sold into prostitution meant that the law was “just a piece of paper” ?

    BTW Curzon, I’m impressed you pulled out the Japanese criminal code.

  9. Just occurred to me. Does anyone know if any of the local “comfort woman” brokers/recruiters were ever prosecuted by the post-colonial governments of the countries Japan had occupied?

  10. “I haven’t seen “Memoirs.” Are you referring to how the fact that girls in Japan were often sold into prostitution meant that the law was “just a piece of paper” ?”


    I think there was a case that chief of staffs of Impeial army had recieved a letter from office of governor general of Korea that some of the brokers were notorious kidnappers in the colony and that invetigation by the police is underway.So army put up a stricter measures on selecting the recruiters.

    “Does anyone know if any of the local “comfort woman” brokers/recruiters were ever prosecuted by the post-colonial governments of the countries Japan had occupied?”

    So far none to my knowledge.

  11. ”So far none to my knowledge.”
    Well, considering the girls were themselves teenagers and are now in their 80s and 90s, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that any adults involved are long dead.

  12. What make thing more complicates is this sort of things still happening in Korea and Japan,you know.

    I always see a wiseguys or two on a plane to Mongolia everytime I go back.
    Needless to say they are involved in trafficking of women to “Mongolian Pubs”(yes they exist.)A Korean national was busted for violation of Mongolian law for doing just that,and he was recruiting women to work in Japan.I believe this “Korean” is probably a Zainichi member of Yakuza.

  13. Oh yeah. Sex slavery of foreign women happens in every developed country in the world. And while it’s true that in many (but far from all) cases the women had known what they were in for, they are still often abused, enslaved, and forced to engage in prostitution without even the pay they had initially been promised. Standard practice is for their “boss” to take their passport away to make it harder for them to escape or ask for help. Japan, Korea, USA, Europe.

    Very, very slightly off-topic, I recently heard a very good report on a case of industrial labor slavery that was prosecuted fairly recently. First half of the 11.30.2007 episode of the radio show This American Life:

    And let’s not forget about the horrible things that go on in Saipan, which is US territory-so products made there are labeled “Made in USA”-but strangely exempt from American laws and regulations.

  14. Canada has just seen a sex slavery / human trafficking bust in the past week and the number of Canadians arrested in connection with pedophile “tourism” and child porn in the last year has been truly shocking.

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