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"Is the Recent Deal on the 'Comfort Women" between S. Korea and Japan a Win-Win? Really?"

Message Nathan Nahm

Japanese Embassy in Seoul and watched from behind a bronze statue of comfort women
Japanese Embassy in Seoul and watched from behind a bronze statue of comfort women
(Image by (From Wikimedia) Sakaori (, Author: Sakaori (   Details   Source   DMCA

In an article titled "'Comfort Women' Deal Is a Win-Win But Japan and Korea Must Do More," posted in Huffington Post (Jan. 6, 2016), Jane Harman makes many good points regarding the so-called comfort women issue. But her praise of the recently announced "agreement" between S. Korean President Park Keun-hye and the Japanese Prime Minister Abe as a "Win-Win" agreement is totally misplaced. The core of any meaningful reconciliation of an ugly past wrong-doing should be a sincere apology and demonstration of a true understanding and acceptance of the nature of the wrong-doing by the perpetrator. But the apology which is supposed to be part of the recent agreement is so false and so outlandishly empty even on the surface that it cannot possibly constitute a true apology.

The apology by the Japanese is supposed to be conditioned on South Korean government's removal of the statue of the comfort women in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. Moreover, the agreement also declares that the "dispute" has been "irreversibly and finally" resolved. Presumably in accordance with this spirit, Prime Minister Abe has declared that since he has now issued an apology, he will never discuss the comfort women issue again, and that the S. Korean government, too, must not mention that issue ever again. Abe added that if South Korean government forgets to act in accordance with this interpretation of the agreement, the S. Korean government will be treated as an outcast by the civilized nations.

But imagine that the German government attempts to make an apology of the Holocaust on the condition that the Holocaust museum in the financial district of Manhattan, for example, must be removed, and that Israeli government should never mention the Holocaust ever again. Such "apology" would never be considered an apology but will instead be treated as a fresh insult on the victims of the Holocaust. Abe apparently thinks that there is a "dispute" of something to give and take between the two countries, and that the only real issue is how much of what each side should give to the other side. And to him, what Japan is expected to give is just one utterance of a certain kind. Once he utters that magic sentence, Japan is to automatically receive what it wants: Everyone forgets, and is forbidden to talk about, what Japan did during World War II, for good.

In point of fact, there is no such dispute of any kind. There is only the historical fact of the horrendous war crimes of systematic gang rape organized and enforced by the Imperial Japanese Army on a large, industrial farming scale. These are such shameful war crimes, and crimes against humanity, that Japan really cannot be accepted as a member of the civilized nations until it accepts its responsibility for these crimes. The only "dispute" about this is to determine what, and how much, Japan has to do to restore the dignity and self respect of the victims so that the victims, in turn, can forgive the perpetrators and allow them to be part of the civilized world. For a reconciliation that will work, the apology Japan must give to the victims is not one speech or one gesture but a state of mind in which the perpetrator truly accepts his responsibility for good. A person or a nation who makes such apology will be ready to mention and discuss his own past wrong-doing ad infinitum, if necessary, and will be willing to join the world's effort to make sure that such crimes will not occur again in the future. What Japan will receive in such reconciliation is clearly greater than what Japan gives because it will be nothing less than the restoration of the moral integrity of Japan as a nation and its freedom from the monstrosity of its Imperial past. Given the attitude of Abe, however, it is abundantly clear that Japan has not taken, and is not willing to take, even one very small step toward a true reconciliation.

From the reactions in the United States, it is also abundantly clear that the US government considers any past war crimes issues and the needed reconciliation between S. Korea and Japan merely a nuisance and huddle in the way of the potential military alliance between S. Korea, Japan and the US. Such view is not only a profoundly wrong moral failure but a diplomatic error that will be potentially very costly to all nations concerned in terms of the most practical real world consequences.

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Nathan Nahm is a retired New York lawyer.

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