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In the Fight to Vindicate the Comfort Women, Ordinary Americans Upstage U.S. Tokyo Ambassador Caroline Kennedy
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Last month I recounted how a top U.S. law firm had agreed to help shadowy Japanese interests try to portray the so-called Comfort Women – the sex slaves grotesquely abused by the Japanese Imperial Army in World War II – as no more than common prostitutes. As I pointed out, the case is totally toxic and no respectable law firm should have anything to do with it. The article has generated nearly 90,000 clicks, 5,500 Facebook shares, and countless supporting comments.

Now comes news that the law firm at the center of the firestorm, Chicago-based Mayer Brown, is withdrawing from the case. As reported in the Los Angeles Daily News, pressure from outraged Forbes readers helped tip the balance. Mayer Brown was probably also reacting to coruscating criticism from such well informed legal experts as Ken White, a prominent Los-Angeles-based criminal attorney, and Marc Randazza, a First Amendment lawyer.

There is an important lesson here: although early hopes that the Internet would prove a powerful tool for good have been dashed, it still can be harnessed to further the cause of truth. In particular it can still help the ordinary decent American public win out at a time when many elite Americans have gone AWOL on Japanese neo-fascism.

This is where Caroline Kennedy comes in. The daughter of John F. Kennedy, she now serves as President Barack Obama’s ambassador to Japan. Few Americans have ever enjoyed a greater opportunity to address latter-day Japan’s Jekyll and Hyde complex. Unfortunately she has evidently been persuaded – no doubt against her better instincts – to show “mutual understanding” on various contentious U.S.-Japan issues, not least recent outrageous suggestions that the Japanese may “unapologize” for Imperial Japan’s treatment of the Comfort Women. In plain terms, she has been all but silent.

More about Caroline Kennedy in a moment. First let’s complete the point about Mayer Brown. The firm’s Los Angeles office was somehow persuaded to represent two Japanese-Americans who contend that they will suffer “irreparable injury” from “feelings of exclusion, discomfort, and anger” if a statue in a park in Glendale, California is not removed. The statue was funded by Koreans and memorializes the Comfort Women’s rather more acute pain. The Japanese-Americans are joined in the suit by an organization called the Global Alliance for Historical Truth-US.

Although it is, of course, not unusual for even the most respectable of U.S. law firms to press bogus lawsuits, two aspects of the Comfort Women suit have proved particularly embarrassing for Mayer Brown:

The involvement of the Global Alliance for Historical Truth-US. Incorporated as recently as February 6, the alliance gives its address as a UPS office and is little more than a legal fiction. The really controversial part is that its name has been evidently chosen so it would be confused with a very different entity, the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia. This latter is a long-established, entirely respectable scholarly group founded by Chinese-American professors that is on the other side of the Comfort Women argument.
The toxic wording of the lawsuit. The essence of the suit is that the Comfort Women were common prostitutes. Here is the offending paragraph: “During World War II and the decade leading up to it, an unknown number of women from Japan, Korea, China, and a number of nations in Southeast Asia, were recruited, employed, and/or otherwise acted as sexual partners for troops of the Japanese Empire in various parts of the Pacific Theater of war. These women are often referred to as comfort women, a loose translation of the Japanese word for prostitute.” This paragraph makes no concession to the incontrovertible historical fact – admitted even in a statement of apology by the Japanese government in 1993 – that thousands of innocent women forced into sexual servitude. In the case of Dutch women captured in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), a post-war court operating on Western rules of evidence sentenced one Japanese army officer to execution and eleven Japanese citizens to imprisonment on Comfort Women allegations.
As for Caroline Kennedy, in late February she was handed a perfect opportunity to bring some intellectual honesty to the Comfort Women debate. This came when the New York Times, in an article headed “Japan to Revisit Apology to Wartime Sex Slaves,” reported that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government was considering cancelling the 1993 apology. The report was published a week after Mayer Brown had filed the Glendale suit. While it would not have been appropriate for Kennedy to have criticized Mayer Brown directly, she could have announced that any move by Japan to “unapologize” would be viewed with dismay in the United States. The implications would have been hard for any decent person at Mayer Brown to overlook.

That said, we should not be too hard on Caroline Kennedy. No matter how capable and wise she may be (and no matter how many doors a famous name may open for her), she can do little without the support of embassy officials in Tokyo. Unfortunately most of her staff are, to put it politely, conscious apologists for the Japanese establishment. Their job, as they see it, is to tamp down American anger anytime anything provocative emerges from Japan. They reflexively oppose any instinct by an ambassador to stand up for truth and decency, and it would take a uniquely strong ambassador to ride roughshod over them.


This is not to say that U.S. ambassadors have not occasionally tried to break free of their minders. Indeed in a widely reported tweet in January, Kennedy protested Japanese cruelty to dolphins. For anyone who knows the Tokyo diplomatic world, however, Kennedy’s dolphin intervention is a case of “close but no cigar.” The difference between dolphins and Comfort Women is that the former don’t have relatives who might claim for massive compensation. In Tokyo money is what matters, and the U.S. embassy has for generations connived with the Japanese establishment in heading off all efforts by Imperial Japan’s victims and their families to seek monetary redress for World War II atrocities. Apart from the Comfort Women, other notable victims of this policy have been U.S. servicemen who have never received more than derisory compensation for brutal treatment in Japanese POW camps.

(Republished from Forbes by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Economics • Tags: Japan, Korea 
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