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March 03, 2021

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Had I seen this, I would have written another paragraph

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/biden-japan-korea-allies-blinken/2021/03/01/a3604258-76e4-11eb-9537-496158cc5fd9_story.html

Interesting article, lj, with a lot to unpack.

One small thing which leapt out, though, was this:
...there was a paper diorama of the 1909 assassination of Hirobumi Ito by An Jung Geun. Imagine going to a US civil war battlefield gift shop and purchasing a diorama of John Wilkes Booth leaping from the box after shooting Abraham Lincoln....

That a somewhat inapt comparison, given the pretty brutal half century of Japanese colonial control of Korea. To this day, An is a national hero in S. Korea:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Jung-geun

Yes, your 08:11 raises the further complicated issue of the two countries' relationship towards China, and the very different histories of those relationships.

On the other hand, both countries have much more in common in terms of both economic and cultural influence, from their postwar relationships with the US.

This is also on topic.

South Korea's first transgender soldier found dead
https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/04/south-koreas-first-transgender-soldier-found-dead
...Byun, formerly a staff sergeant, enlisted voluntarily in 2017 and went on to have gender confirmation surgery in 2019 in Thailand.

The defence ministry classified her loss of male genitals as a mental or physical handicap, and a military panel ruled in early 2020 that Byun would be compulsorily discharged. South Korea prohibits transgender people from joining the military, and Byun was the first active-duty soldier to have gender reassignment surgery.

Byun had previously waived her anonymity to appear at a press conference at the time to plead to be allowed to serve, wearing her fatigues and saluting the gathered journalists and cameras...

because issues of face loom large in Asia, it isn't simply the money, it is the issue of apology and acknowledgement.

Quite a contrast to the US, where insincere "apologies" by politicians (and, to a lesser extent, company executives) are a staple.

Nigel, that's a fair point about An Jung Guen, but I'm trying to think of a similar situation where someone who committed an assassination so recently was feted in the same way. Of course, there is a ton of stuff to unpack about the assassination. Ito was, according to some, actually much more moderate on the question of the Korean occupation and his assassination created a push for stricter treatement of the colony while Jung Guen, a pan-asianist, felt that the Meiji Emperor was simply unaware of the treatment of Koreans which is included in the wikipedia page. I think I noted this before, but in 2014, China built a monument to Jung Guen in Harbin. This article is interesting, though the website name suggests that it is leaning towards one side of the triangle
https://sinonk.com/2014/06/06/national-identity-and-historical-legacy-ahn-jung-geun-in-the-grand-narrative/

And thank you for the guardian article. The LGBT movement in Korea seemed more vocal than Japan, possibly because of societal differences in attitudes towards sex. The Seoul Pride marches are often a point of contention, with evangelical churches busing in people to protest them, though apparently, many of the young kids view this as a chance for a free trip to Seoul. On the other hand, Japan has a number of talento who are LGBT, though there is more than a dash of tokenism in that. Still, it is difficult to imagine someone like Matsuko Deluxe being as popular in Korea as he is in Japan.

I can easily see how a culture which takes a relaxed view of prostitution would view comfort women as just another case of forced labor. And one which involved rather less threat to life and limb than some of the other types of forced labor. Whereas a culture which has stricter sexual morals would see it as a) very different, and b) much worse.

As with many cases of cultural conflict, it can be expected to leave both sides, at best, perplexed by the attitude of the other. That would be true even when the subject doesn't involve one side forcing its culture's attitude on the other. In a case like this, even with the best will in the world (lacking, not only due to issues of face) it would be hard to come to an agreement on how to address the issue.

Except that it wasn’t prostitution, wj, rather trafficking and mass rape.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comfort_women

I have to say, I agree with Nigel here. I do think it's important to call things by their proper names, and I'm sure you meant nothing dismissive by it wj (supported by your calling it "forced" labour), but even calling it (or viewing it as analogous to) prostitution really muddies the issue.

I wasn't suggesting that *I* see it as forced labor. I was pointing out that the Japanese culture might incline them to see it that way. Or, at least, discount it heavily.

It was forced, wj, what it wasn't was prostitution. And if the Japanese see it as that, whatever their cultural view of prostitution, or any of us call it that, even by implication, that is part of the problem.

The tendency to explain away the comfort women as voluntary sex workers is indeed part of the historical dispute between Japan and Korea, I believe (and, of course, attitudes towards the behaviour of their military during that period are not uncontested in Japan either).

And to make it even more difficult, Japan has an indigenous history that blurs that distinction

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karayuki-san

https://www.jstor.org/stable/41493135?seq=1

I like the article you link at 11:03 lj, and it appears fairly even handed.
... Conversely, the absence of Japanese stands out. Korean and Chinese are the dominant languages; there are no Japanese captions (nor, equally tellingly, is there any English). Is there a similar absence at the prison in Lushun, one wonders, where Ahn was executed and where Japanese tourists tend to dwell in larger numbers? This outlines a productive frame of broader inquiry: What is the bigger snub? To repeatedly rub Japanese noses in their historical misdeeds, or to render them non-persons in the course of the retelling?

The exhibition’s architects tactfully overlook Ito’s work on the Japanese constitution, too, though this is not altogether unreasonable. But what exactly had he been doing in Korea in 1909? What was Korea then: an independent entity with full sovereignty, or a colonial vassal subject to the personal domain of a colonial governor? Ahn thought Korea was slipping away and sought to stem the tide of Japanese imperial expansion—by force. It is upon this point that South Korea’s grand narrative turns. Origins are tricky, inherently difficult to accurately pinpoint, but, if literature on modern nationalism has it right, then contemporary South Korea finds its roots somewhere in the struggle against Imperial Japan. As such, one is allowed to define those who “struggled” against Japan as foundational figures of modern Korea, and so it is for Ahn....

It was forced, wj, what it wasn't was prostitution

Perhaps I'm mistaken. But my distinct impression is that most prostitution is forced. Perhaps there are high end call girls who are in it voluntarily. But most prostitutes are under the (physical) thumb of a pimp. And often have the bruises to prove it.

Thanks Nigel, I thought it was quite interesting, but I found the website title a bit offputting.

I would slightly hesitate at

contemporary South Korea finds its roots somewhere in the struggle against Imperial Japan

Contemporary is doing a lot of work here, and Koreans are also animated by Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea in the 16th century.

https://ijkh.khistory.org/upload/pdf/18-2-02.pdf

This article is a good summary of some of the ideas animating the research (and a great crib for books that I am never going to have the time or language chops to read) This takes us a bit further afield, there is a new Netflix series called Age of Samurai. A friend of mine is a talking head on it, and the info in it is solid, though the recreations are a bit cheesy. Episode 5 talks about Hideyoshi's invasion of Korea (undertaken in order to invade China) (there was also an earlier invasion that doesn't get talked about much in the Yamato era, 200-700, but it is discussed at the Seoul War Memorial museum in detail)

Perhaps I'm mistaken. But my distinct impression is that most prostitution is forced. Perhaps there are high end call girls who are in it voluntarily. But most prostitutes are under the (physical) thumb of a pimp. And often have the bruises to prove it.

I was rather startled by this last night, while on my phone, so decided to delay a response until I could do a bit of research today. The reason for my startlement is that, for example, in the UK we have a vocal campaigning organisation called the English Collective of Prostitutes who frequently take part in discussions on the subject, form part of working groups on proposed changes to legislation, and contribute to academic research. Apart from the issue of trafficking, and prostitution engaged in because of desperate economic need, your characterisation above seemed so utterly out-of-date and stereotyped that I wanted to be better informed before I answered.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/English_Collective_of_Prostitutes

You will see in the above link, under the heading Trafficking, the statement (with citation):

The ECP argues that discredited academic work has falsely labelled most sex workers as victims of "trafficking". Its website provides critiques of such work

This is relevant, because when considering your statement, wj, I realised that (other than perhaps an enormously divergent national situation between the US and the UK - very possible, partly because of State v Federal laws, which makes me reluctant to get into the weeds researching the US situation), perhaps you were mainly talking about people who had been trafficked for the purpose of sex-slavery, who definitely are forced, and whose situation actually seems analagous to the Comfort Women. Which is why there is widespread revulsion about the possibility that, when apprehended, they might be subject to charge under any of the prostitution laws, since their involvement is involuntary. In any case, our prostitution laws are probably rather different to some of yours: as I understand it it is not illegal to charge for sex, but it is illegal "to live off immoral earnings", which applies not to prostitutes themselves but to pimps, brothel keepers etc (although ways can be found to circumvent the issues around the latter). A useful summary of the situation can be found here:

https://www.allaboutlaw.co.uk/commercial-awareness/legal-spotlight/prostitution-the-proposed-legal-models

Apart from all the above, I have for example seen documentaries and series filmed at brothels in Nevada, and in the North Country here, where it is rather clear that the women who are working there are there voluntarily, as a result of a combination of life events and choices which are not dissimilar to those of other people who perhaps have not had what you might call a prosperous, educated, unchaotic background. People make their choices, and should be given the respect of presumed agency, in the absence of other evidence.

In the US, prostitution isn't a federal crime. So, if federal law enforcement wants to get in on the fun, they have to frame it as an assault on sex trafficking and partner with state and local law enforcement. They'll periodically stage what is labeled as sex trafficking crackdowns. Some men will get fined, may be jailed, and humiliated by their pictures appearing on TV and in local newspapers. A few women are fined, jailed, or pressed into rehabilitation programs.

There is some sex trafficking in the US but it tends to be very local and ad-hoc.

Before prostitution was made illegal in the US, prostitutes, and brothel-owners were among the first few women who were financially independent and owners of their own property. Sometimes to the degree that they were the economic and political powers in their communities.

In any case, our prostitution laws are probably rather different to some of yours: as I understand it it is not illegal to charge for sex, but it is illegal "to live off immoral earnings"

In the US, it is illegal to charge for (or to pay for) sex in 49 of the 50 states. The only exception is Nevada, where prostitution is legal** and complete with regulation for health checks, etc.

** Legal, that is, except for 2 counties: Clark County (Las Vegas) and Washoe (Reno). Perhaps to discourage sex tourism? Who knows.

THis might also be of interest

Here is a travelogue about a Japanese temple which has a dedication to An Jung Geun

https://thesoulofjapan.blogspot.com/2013/05/dairin-jin-temple.html

That is certainly interesting.
The perspective seems ideological rather than historical, though (not to say that Korean accounts aren't, too).

...Ito Hirobumi was a champion of Korea, not its enemy. Certain sacrifices had to be made in order to secure Asia for the Asiatic! You cannot have two Emperors and two separate ideologies. One has to come under the other, in order to stand up against White Peril. ...

More on the Ramseyer controversy.

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/mar/08/harvard-professor-sparks-outrage-with-claims-about-japans-comfort-women
...In a separate article for the English-website of a rightwing Japanese newspaper, Ramseyer rejected the widely accepted account of the comfort women system as “pure fiction”, claiming that the Japanese army “did not dragoon Korean women to work in its brothels”.

He added: “Expressing sympathy to elderly women who have had a rough life is fine. Paying money to an ally in order to rebuild a stable relationship is fine. But the claims about enslaved Korean comfort women are historically untrue.”

Prominent academics challenged the veracity of Ramseyer’s research, saying they had found no historical evidence of the contracts he described in his article.

Harvard historians Andrew Gordon and Carter Eckert called for the original article to be retracted. “We do not see how Ramseyer can make credible claims, in extremely emphatic wording, about contracts he has not read,” they said in a statement....

For an historian to make such a claim surely requires definitive evidence. particularly around so contested a topic ?

"Before prostitution was made illegal in the US, prostitutes, and brothel-owners were among the first few women who were financially independent and owners of their own property. Sometimes to the degree that they were the economic and political powers in their communities."

In many states, along about the same time, it was flat illegal for married women to work outside the home. And single women of course were relegated to various all-American exploitations.

Men made the fascist rules.

Glad to see they paid the piper somehow.

I happen to know a sketchy older guy who from time to time has "arrangements" with much younger single mothers trying to supplement their incomes.

Nothing is forced, except the unfortunate circumstance. Both consenting parties like each other, it seems.

I ask him: So why don't you just GIVE them the money as a charitable act without the quid pro quo.

"What would be in it for me?" he comes back Ayn Randily.

Then I ask, "So which one of you in this transaction do you think is in charge?", to which he's clueless.

He's a nominal conservative politically. Hates taxes, but he seems not to mind fees.

I know another older guy, a Trumpian anti-masker, who is single, but he has flown to the Ukraine more than once to attempt hook-ups with young beautiful, too good to be true, and I also expect, to beautiful to be authentically female, Ukrainian women he meets on an online site.

Thus far, to hear him tell it, he hasn't made much headway, as these women show up for assignations with muscled handlers and he has been relieved of plenty of dollars with no return merchandise (this is professional exploitation which out-exploits his assumed amateur, all-American attempts) even once having been roofied and left credit card-less and passport-less in a Ukrainian nightclub parking lot, unconscious to boot.

He's a successful attorney in Denver.

As my mother would have put it, he should have his head examined, but it is so far up Trump's fundament that it's unavailable for therapy.

Just last night, another acquaintance, who is fully on the up and up, and who manages an over-62-year old retirement apartment building, told me on any night of the week, it's possible there are more prostitutes roving the hallways than tenants. The female tenants complain (maybe the management should host some tenant coffee klatches to introduce the tenants to EACH OTHER) He was on his way over there to see if he could at least cajole some repeat offenders to stop throwing their cigarette butts out the windows.

He doesn't want to start evicting, because the building owners are still marketing to fill still available units.

Next he's going to tell me it's a Christian home for wayward sinners.

If only gummint would stop hindering the freedom of capital, hanh?

Not my scene, any of it.

But then, I enjoy my solitude .... and get plenty of it.


'but it is illegal "to live off immoral earnings"'

Really? I quick look around at the Trump phenomenon would conclude exactly the opposite.

Well, that depends on what legally counts as 'immoral'. And 'earned income' is for losers anyway.

For an historian to make such a claim surely requires definitive evidence. particularly around so contested a topic ?

Ramseyer isn't a historian though, he's a legal scholar.

https://www.lawyersgunsmoneyblog.com/2021/01/garbage-people

Admittedly, Ramsayer isn't doing the talk show rounds explaining his theories, but that's because he chose the wrong niche.

Did anyone post this link to an article by one of Ramsayer’s colleagues ?
It appears to be a fair minded and complete demolition of his article:
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/seeking-the-true-story-of-the-comfort-women-j-mark-ramseyer

While I think she's right, it should perhaps be noted that said colleague appears to be of Korean ancestry herself.

A decade and a half of student writing has taught me a lot about the trope of Waving the Bloody Shirt: whose shirt is bloody in which cultures, who that shirt gets waved at, in what circumstances that shirt gets waved, what sorts of things get wallpapered over or ignored in the presence of the bloody shirt.

There's never enough time in a term to give those tropes the critical attention and nuance they demand or to dig them out of the writing entirely, so the orbits of all the other arguments get perturbed by the passage of that cultural trauma through the paper.

I don’t think this quite falls into the waving the bloody shirt category.

https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-story-of-the-comfort-women-in-korean-and-japanese
... This week, three organizations of historians in Japan, encompassing thousands of Japanese academics, issued a detailed statement repudiating Ramseyer’s research, saying that they “cannot recognize any academic merit in Ramseyer’s article.” They wrote, “We cannot suppress our astonishment that this article passed through a scholarly peer review process and was published in an academic journal.” The statement expressed concern that the controversy created by the article might encourage anti-Korean sentiment in Japan. The journal that published the article is considering a retraction....

I don’t think this quite falls into the waving the bloody shirt category.

I tend to agree. This is an academic throw-down that *ties into* a long diplomatic history of waving the bloody shirt. And, to be clear, most waving of bloody shirts comes from actual historical blood, and there is often merit to the grievance and genuine, multigenerational cultural trauma involved.

What I find fascinating is the draw that the trope has for college age adults. The trope works its way into some strange places in student writing. These grudges seep into corners one might not suspect.

Another take.

South Korean Conservatives Fueled Apologism for Japan’s Sexual Slavery

https://foreignpolicy.com/2021/03/15/south-korean-conservatives-fueled-apologism-japan-sexual-slavery/
...But the New Right failed to prevail politically after their champion Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed. After losing in the political arena, the New Right scholars dropped the pretension of being engaged in a scholarly debate. They were instead reduced to protesting in the streets against the comfort women memorial statue and peddling on right-wing YouTube channels the most vulgarized form of their thesis, that colonial rule was good and dictatorship was necessary. (Lee Yeong-hun, for example, has his own channel called “Rhee Syngman TV,” where he extols Rhee’s virtues.)

The intellectual connection between the New Right and Ramseyer is clear, as they share the same thesis regarding comfort women: rather than being slaves who were subject to an uninterrupted stream of abuse, the Comfort Women were in fact—at least to some degree—willing participants of the economic transaction made available through imperial Japan’s war. Indeed, in his 2019 paper regarding comfort women in which he claimed that “documentary evidence for the ‘sex slave’ narrative … simply does not exist,” Ramseyer directly cites Lee Yeong-hun and Park Yu-ha...

Nigel, that's a good article, but there is also a context there that I think is missing. The election of presidents from the left side of the spectrum also occurred within the context of cultural change and the opening of Korea, something that has happened more quickly than in Japan (which had an extra couple of decades), so the pushback is really because the country as a whole has changed and continues to change. And that pushback from the right has gotten more intense in the past decade.

There is a hint of this in Suk Gersen's first article, where she writes
In the days before, a small far-right fringe group in Korea sent multiple e-mails defending Ramseyer to me and all of my faculty colleagues at the law school and in East Asian studies, and also to students who’d criticized him.
which gives the idea more in accord with my take, that this isn't a desire to be more nuanced with history, it is a rejection of any gains by the Korean liberal left.

While the article suggests that the historians on the right are providing a useful corrective, it fails to note that much of the narrative about comfort women emerged only when women who suffered became more vocal about their suffering, which in turn seemed to trigger a lot of male angst. You get that with the summary of the "Comfort Women of the Empire"
"There, according to Park, the comfort women were not merely sex slaves; instead, they formed a “comradely relationship” with the Japanese soldiers, as the women became a “wifelike presence” as “members of the troops,” that did not merely provide bodily comfort but mental comfort by, for example, dressing wounds, sewing torn uniforms, and otherwise assisting the execution of the war effort." It's not hard to see a 'why can't I find a woman like dad married' line buried in there.

The article notes how the admin of Park Geun-hye crystallized some of the complaints, it fails to note that Park is the daughter of Park Chung-hee, the dictator the article describes as presiding over "the darkest days of South Korea’s military dictatorship". This isn't to claim that Park Geun-hye is a chip off the old block, but a lot of the revanchist conservative forces rallied around her (the intelligence services had teams of psy-war experts mobilized to influence Park's election in 2012) not to provide nuance, put to push back. I'm sure that the author knows this, but failing to lay that out makes it seem like these new Right historians are just providing some balance, which is iffy (at least to me) at best. While the liberal narrative of constantly moving beyond the old problems may be an oversimplification, you aren't going to get more nuanced views by simply mixing in folks who seem to have their own agendas.

I agree with all of that, lj - though the article is pretty clear on what's going on, too:
"...But the New Right failed to prevail politically after their champion Park Geun-hye was impeached and removed. After losing in the political arena, the New Right scholars dropped the pretension of being engaged in a scholarly debate. ..."

I get the impression that the liberal historians (and this seemed very much the case with Suk Gersen's critique of Ramseyer) are being over backward to be fair to their opponents' arguments.
I read that as a wish for good faith intellectual challenge, rather than any real respect for the actual new Right.

Park Chung-hee's legacy is a strange one, as despite his abuses, he's still regarded as South Korea's greatest leader by at least a plurality of South Koreans.
(And I suspect the 'darkest days' of military dictatorship probably occurred under his successor Chun Doo-hwan, who is not remembered with any such favour.)

within the context of cultural change and the opening of Korea, something that has happened more quickly than in Japan (which had an extra couple of decades), so the pushback is really because the country as a whole has changed and continues to change. And that pushback from the right has gotten more intense in the past decade.

Consider how hysterical the pushback from the right in the US has been. For what are, by comparison, far smaller cultural changes. Makes it unsurprising that we see the same phenomena in Japan and Korea. (And, for that matter, in India.)

The particular issues that animates their supporters are local. But the underlying situation, visible cultural changes, is the same. And, like it or not, unstoppable. As the Iranians are discovering to their distress -- even though there the right at least has a firm grip on political power.

This is also on point.

https://www.amy-stanley.com/blog-1/on-contract
...After nearly fifty years of shame and silence, Jan O’Herne came forward with her story in 1992, inspired by the example of the Korean former “comfort woman” Kim Hak Sun. (O’Herne, like many of the women who were confined and raped by the Japanese military during the Pacific War, found the term “comfort woman” offensive – she preferred “war rape victim” or “sex slave.”) O’Herne saw her testimony as a demand for justice on her own behalf, but also as an act of solidarity across lines of race and nationality. “Perhaps when a European woman came forward,” she wrote, “Japan would take notice” (142).

As O’Herne clearly recognized, her whiteness, along with her high level of education, made her story impossible to ignore. And to this day, hers is practically the only survivor testimony that denialists do not contest. Instead, they argue that Herne’s situation was tragic, but exceptional. The “Coalition of Three Parties for Communicating Historical Truth,” an ironically named rightwing group, included a paragraph on O’Herne in a 2016 report about “comfort women.” Hers was “an isolated case,” they argued, and the “brothel” where she was confined was promptly shut down by the Japanese command when they learned of its existence. ....

Great stuff Nigel, thank you. Your previous quote had me thinking about the word 'pretension' and wondering at what point is it malign.

I think perhaps it has (at least) two different senses.

One is emphasises aspiration; the other deception - of self, or others.

lj, came across this on the Japanese Wikipedia entries:
https://slate.com/technology/2021/03/japanese-wikipedia-misinformation-non-english-editions.html
It seems that not only comfort women but various other topics have been whitewashed in some places.

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