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China Daily Global / 2021-03 / 18 / Page006

Outrage grows over wartime sex slave claim

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-03-18 00:00

Free speech no cover for denial of 'comfort women' abuses: academics

US scholars have moved to shut down any suggestion that the concept of academic freedom gives cover for claims by a Harvard University professor that whitewash Japan's wartime sexual enslavement of women from many countries.

Before and during World War II, hundreds of thousands of girls and women were forced into the Japanese military's sexual slavery system. They were euphemistically called "comfort women".

But Mark Ramseyer, Mitsubishi professor of Japanese legal studies at Harvard University, claims that these women willingly contracted themselves into sexual servitude. He penned these views in an article titled Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War, published online in December by the International Review of Law and Economics.

The paper in the academic journal raised a "serious question: Can academic freedom be used as a shield to allow the violation of the academic code of conduct?" Peipei Qiu, a professor of Japanese and Chinese at Vassar College, said at a recent webinar.

One of the most "unacceptable" aspects of the article is that the author "frequently put out assumption as a conclusion", without providing supporting evidence, Qiu said.

Qiu said the article claimed the Japanese military didn't need additional prostitutes because they had plenty, but historical documents-including those produced by the Japanese military itself-prove the opposite. "In the past decades, transnational investigations in multiple countries have demonstrated that extremely large numbers of women were drafted into Japanese military comfort stations by force, by coercion or by deception, and the majority received no monetary payment," she said.

"Research findings like this are all available in English when Professor Ramseyer wrote his article, but he simply ignored them."

Michael Chwe, an economist and professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles, said Ramseyer's paper also used economics, game theory in particular, to "deny an entire historical atrocity-the equivalent of Holocaust denialism".

He wrote an open letter to condemn the article, which was rapidly endorsed by academics around the world. The letter garnered about 1,000 signatures in the first week, Chwe said. So far, nearly 3,500 people have signed the letter, including more than 1,800 economists.

"The main issue is about education. This is something that we all, as educated human beings, should understand and should know about," said Chwe of his reason for circulating the letter.

Flawed assumptions

Richard Painter, professor of corporate law at the University of Minnesota and former chief White House ethics lawyer, said game theory assumes usually rational actors and bargaining power.

In the case of "comfort women", Painter said, those women and girls, some as young as 10 years old, lived in a region that was occupied by Japan in wartime. "How can a professor of law and economics, or any educated person, opine that a woman can enter into a contract in such conditions?" he said.

"Fake scholarship is as damaging as fake news, because when a professor at a renowned university pronounces a fact, the press will pick up on that, particularly if the press wants to push a certain agenda in advancing that narrative," he said.

Alexis Dudden, a history professor at the University of Connecticut, echoed his concerns. "This is an era of disinformation and misinformation, and somebody's dressing up fake news as fact and calling it scholarship," she said.

"That's our responsibility to call out and say: This isn't academic freedom. You don't get academic freedom if you aren't honest with your evidence, and there's no evidence."


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