- - Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who speaks to a joint session of Congress on Wednesday, and the Japanese government have heard many demands for apologies for atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in World War II, and among the most deserving are from the thousands of women, mostly Korean, who were pressed into sexual slavery to serve the lusts of Japanese troops during World War II.

Japan offered a half-hearted semi-apology by the chief secretary of the Cabinet in 1993 after decades of demands. Even designating such a relatively minor government official to make the apology, such as it was, was rightly taken as further affront. Advocates here are pressing for a direct admission of guilt for a great crime and an explicit expression of remorse for forcing the innocent into debauchery.

The demands Mr. Abe faces now on Capitol Hill come from Korean-American groups and others who want “a more forthcoming concession to the women assigned to Japanese military brothels during the war.” Rep. Mike Honda of California, a Democrat and an American of Japanese ancestry, on Tuesday introduced an 87-year-old comfort-woman survivor to the House of Representatives, saying “It is time for Prime Minister Abe to be clear and unequivocal, and issue an irrefutable apology.”

Hiroshige Seko, one of the prime minister’s top aides, says Mr. Abe wants Americans to understand that “he’s neither a revisionist nor an extreme hawk,” but stopped short of offering an apology. The very term “comfort woman” is the euphemism designed to obfuscate the meaning of what the women were forced to endure, stripped of their dignity, privacy and self-respect.

Mr. Abe’s heart seems to be in the right place. The Japan Times reports that when he got a question about the comfort women after a speech Monday at Harvard, he replied: “When it comes to the comfort women issue, my heart aches when I think about those people who were victimized by human trafficking, who were subjected to immeasurable pain and suffering beyond description.”

That was something, but not the strong, clear “we did it and we’re ashamed of ourselves” apology the advocates want. Mr. Abe has on earlier occasions denied that Japanese government or military authorities actually recruited women for sexual services, blaming private operators who “recruited” the women to work in their brothels. Mr. Abe says he is trying to improve the social status of women in Japan, to encourage more of them to enter the workforce, and that’s welcome news, but misses the point by a mile.

Only 53 Korean comfort women survive, testimony to the inevitable harvest of the passage of the years, but a plain and heartfelt admission would go far to redress an old wound. Seven years ago the House adopted Resolution 121, “expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Japan should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as ‘comfort women’ during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II.”

Governments everywhere gag on apology, calculating that an admission that the government makes a mistake dilutes respect for its authority. But Prime Minister Abe’s address to Congress on Wednesday would be an appropriate occasion to deliver the apology too long delayed.

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