Academics lambast “Anti-Japan Tribalism” book written by far-right figures  

Posted on : 2019-10-02 17:31 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Book claims forced labor didn’t occur and that comfort women weren’t sex slaves
The Center for Historical Truth and Justice (CHTJ) and the Japanese Military “Comfort Women” Research Association hold an emergency roundtable discussion regarding the book
The Center for Historical Truth and Justice (CHTJ) and the Japanese Military “Comfort Women” Research Association hold an emergency roundtable discussion regarding the book

Academics and experts are lambasting “Anti-Japan Tribalism,” a book that has caused controversy with its extreme distortions of historical facts, including claims that forced labor conscription “did not occur” and that comfort women were “not sexual slaves” to the Japanese military. In an emergency roundtable discussion held on Oct. 1 at the Museum of Japanese Colonial History in Korea in Seoul’s Yongsan District, the Center for Historical Truth and Justice (CHTJ) and the Japanese Military “Comfort Women” Research Association gave a point-by-point rebuttal of the book’s claims. Marking the first response to “Anti-Japan Tribalism” to date by an academic group, the discussion took place before a packed house of around 80 people, suggesting the public’s keen interest in the issue.

“Attacking our current history textbooks as having succumbed to ‘historical masochism,’ far-right intellectuals who proclaimed themselves advocates of a ‘liberal historical view’ in Japan in the early 2000s made arguments denying the [sexual enslavement of] Japanese military comfort women and forced mobilization,” said Kim Min-cheol, a professor of Korean modern and contemporary history at Kyung Hee University’s Humanitas College, in a presentation that day.

“For South Korea’s New Right figures to trot out this tired repertoire is a clear-cut affront to the dignity of the forced mobilization victims who have battled vigorously against the Japanese government and companies since liberation to demand damages, as well as an insult to researchers,” he continued.

The discussion included a rebuttal concerning the forced labor mobilization issue, which served as a motivating factor in Japan’s recent export control measures. Ju Ik-jong, a research fellow at the Naksungdae Institute of Economic Research, stated in “Anti-Japan Tribalism” that assets left behind by the Japanese “accounted for 85% of the Korean Peninsula’s total assets,” arguing that the South Korean side “never really had anything to claim from Japan.” In response, Kim Chang-rok, a law professor at Kyungpook National University, said, “Japan’s Governor-General of Chosen assets were seized from the Korean Empire, so it stood reason that they should be returned, and Japanese private assets were not legitimate assets because they were the products of structural exploitation taking place under the protection of the colonial occupation.”

Kim also took issue with Ju’s claim that the South Korean Supreme Court ruling on conscripted labor overturned the total resolution of all rights to claim damages with the 1965 South Korea-Japan Claims Settlement Agreement.

“It has been confirmed by both the South Korean and Japanese governments and their courts that the individual right to claims did not expire with the agreement,” he said.

“Mr. Ju’s argument would only be appropriate on the assumption that there is no responsibility for the colonial occupation [on Japan’s part], which is the kind of anachronistic argument that even the [Shinzo] Abe administration would not make,” he continued.

Participants also noted that the claims in “Anti-Japan Tribalism” concerning the Japanese military comfort women system have already been academically dismissed. In the book, former Seoul National university professor Lee Young-hoon writes, “A lawful system of private prostitution was mobilized militarily, and the comfort women were not ‘sexual slaves,’ as they had the rights and freedom to strike.”

In response, Kang Sung-hyun, a research professor at the Sungkonghoe University Institute for East Asian Studies, said, “Current research findings have clearly established that while the Japanese military comfort women system may have been modeled on a colonial licensed prostitution system, it transformed into a more oppressive model; that there was widespread forced mobilization against the individual’s will, and the licensed prostitution system was illegal under both Japanese criminal law and international law before the war; that the lives of comfort women were equivalent to sexual slavery; and that not only colonial licensed prostitution systems but also Japan’s own licensed prostitution system should viewed from a perspective of sexual enslavement.”

Political motives of book’s authors

Presenters also noted the political motives of the authors of “Anti-Japan Tribalism.”

“Most of the writers are members of the New Right, and the alternative, Kyohak, and state-designated historical textbooks they spearheaded were discontinued for their whitewashing of collaboration and dictatorship and their inadequate content,” noted CHTJ Secretary-General Park Su-hyeon, adding that this was “basically a death sentence in academic terms.”

“Their aim, like that of the Japanese far-right group Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, is to increase popular influence in order to rally conservatives and strengthen their own position,” Park said.

Kim Chang-rok said, “Lee Young-hoon used the label ‘historical novelist frenzied with hatred’ to denounce the writer Jo Jung-rae, but I have to ask to whom that term is better suited.”

By Kim Ji-hoon, staff reporter

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