Comfort Women and the Question of “Apology”

Rumiko NISHINO, Museum director
Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace
【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the eighth issue of the CGS Newsletter.】

Since the Comfort Women Resolution (H. Res 121) was submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives, Prime Minister Abe has repeated his denials regarding the enforcement of the Imperial Japanese Army, while continuing to uphold the Kouno Statement. However, after criticism from the victim nations and the international community, including the US media, Prime Minister Abe suddenly changed his attitude. He “apologized” to President Bush during his visit to the US and President Bush “accepted his apology.” What is the meaning of this strange dialogue between Prime Minister Abe apologizing to President Bush, a non- victim of the comfort women issue, and President Bush “accepting” his apology? What does such an “apology,” which ignores the actual victims, achieve?

The Resolution submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives makes the following four demands to the Japanese government:

● The Japanese government should formally recognize, apologize, and accept, in a clear and unambiguous form, historical responsibility for the Japanese Army’s actions during the colonization and military occupation period from 1930, in which young women in Asia and the Pacific Islands were forced to work as sex slaves, now known as “comfort women.”

● This formal apology must be made as a formal declaration by the Japanese Prime Minister.

● The Japanese government must clearly and officially rectify their claims that there was no sex slavery or human trafficking carried out to provide “comfort women” for the Japanese Army.

● The Japanese government should educate the present and future generations about this horrible crime and follow the recommendations regarding comfort women put forth by the international community.

The crucial point of this Resolution is the “apology in a clear and unambiguous form.” Although the Japanese government has lobbied the U.S. parliament that “we have apologized several times,” the problem is that their “apology” has not been accepted as such by the victims. What is an “apology”? This question asks us how the issue of comfort women can be reconciled.

Apology is an important part of redress. Redress does not solely mean monetary indemnity. Redress is a compensation for suffering of the victims, which has been exacerbated by Japan denying and ignoring its responsibility since the war and the long post-war period. In other words, it refers to the responsibility toward people’s sufferings and cost for the accepting one’s mistakes and correcting them. A former comfort woman from the Phillipines, Ms. Maxima Regala, who participated in the Women's International Tribunal of War Criminals held in Tokyo in 2000, said “Justice has always left us behind.” Apology must involve self-scrutiny of past miscarriages of justice. This self-scrutiny is a responsibility that Japanese society must face up to for the future.