'Comfort women' resolution was milestone
By Warren Iwasa
The editorial supporting the passage of House Resolution 121 ("'Comfort women' deserve a real apology," Aug. 1) refers to the measure as a "nonbinding resolution." Richard Halloran's subsequent commentary piece did likewise ("Party crashes, Japan loses momentum," Aug. 5). In addition, Halloran said the measure, whose passage did not please Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, addresses one of the "'demons of history' left from World War II."
The nonbinding resolution, passed by the U.S. House on July 30, asked that the government of Japan "formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Force's 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."
The Advertiser editorial supported the factual basis of the resolution and took Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, to task for failing to acknowledge his country's infamous wartime brothels.
However, the editorial slights the resolution — which expresses no less than the sense of the U.S. House of Representatives — by saying, "Perhaps it is merely a symbolic gesture." More properly, the resolution should be regarded as a milestone. For it signals a new honesty in our bilateral relations with Japan.
Though nonbinding, the image-tarnishing measure was vigorously opposed by the Japanese government. In mid-July, a group identified as the Committee for Historical Facts bought a full-page ad in The Washington Post in a fumbled attempt to hinder its passage.
Hawai'i's two representatives, Neil Abercrombie and Mazie Hirono, did support HR 121. But because the measure was passed by voice vote, there is no record of the voting. Neither Abercrombie nor Hirono bothered to go on record as supporters by joining the resolution's 167 co-signers.
A day after the resolution was passed, Abercrombie issued a curious statement explaining — and backing away from — his vote. On the one hand, he stated he had voted in favor of the resolution because "I believe that the 'comfort women' system of forced military prostitution was one the most brutal, degrading, and shameful government actions in modern history." On the other hand, he claimed the resolution didn't go far enough: "If this (resolution) offered any genuine justice and healing for the unimaginable wounds suffered by these women, I could embrace it wholeheartedly."
Abercrombie was not wholeheartedly pleased because, in his view, the resolution is inadequate: It does not encourage "practical recompense for the women who were victimized."
As Abercrombie knows, or should know, the flawed 1951 Treaty of Peace with Japan does not provide for compensation to the victims of Japan's wartime brutalities. The Japanese government has denied numerous claims for compensation using the treaty as an excuse. American POWs, like the so-called comfort women, have also failed in their attempts to gain "practical recompense."
Inouye was not pleased by the measure's passage, according to Halloran, because he questioned the "propriety of the U.S. condemning another nation when the U.S. was not involved."
"How would the U.S. government have reacted," Inouye asked, "if the legislature of some other nation had condemned our historical actions in World War II?" The senator was referring to the 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, most U.S. citizens, who were interned during the war.
The answer to the senator's hypothetical question is simple and unequivocal. In 1988 — 46 years after President Roosevelt's Executive Order 9066 authorized the racist and unjust internment — Congress passed the Civil Liberties Act, the federal law that provided the sort of "practical recompense" envisioned by Abercrombie for the victimized women.
Halloran tells us the senator, along with unnamed Japanese persons, "warned" that the resolution would harm U.S. relations with Japan.
It is worth asking who or what is the Japan referred to here. Is Japan to be understood as Prime Minister Abe? Or is it the Liberal Democratic Party, the party in control of the lower house?
Surely, the Japan referred to here isn't the Japanese electorate, which on July 29 ousted from Japan's upper house enough of Abe's fellow Liberal Democrats to turn over its control to the Social Democratic Party. The outcome of the recent elections in Japan was a rebuke to Abe and his positions, including his evasive responses to HR 121.
The passage of HR 121 will have an impact on our relations with Japan. In addition to asking Japan to confront its wartime demons, it is an invitation to Japan to call up demons that continue to haunt U.S.-Japan relations. We Americans still have to acknowledge — and apologize and accept historical responsibility for — the senseless killing of Japanese civilians that occurred when President Truman sanctioned the world's first nuclear-weapons atrocity.
Warren Iwasa is a Honolulu resident. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.