NEW YORK – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is once again stirring Asia’s cauldron of national rivalries and historical resentments. This time, he has instructed a committee of historians to reexamine the official apology delivered in 1993 to World War II-era sex slaves held in Japanese military brothels. It is clear from various recent statements that some of Abe’s closest advisers believe that the apology was not in order, so the committee might well conclude that Japan was never officially involved in prostitution, and that its “sincere remorse” should therefore be withdrawn.
What perverse reason could Abe have for pursuing such an outcome?
Glossing over, or denying, dark chapters of national history is not unique to Japan, of course. There is no room for Stalin’s mass murders in the kind of “patriotic” education favored by Russian President Vladimir Putin. And the Tiananmen Square Massacre, to name but one bloody event in China’s recent past, has been officially forgotten.
Still, Japan is a democracy, with freedom of expression. The official apology made in 1993 was prompted by a Japanese historian’s discovery of documents showing that the Imperial Japanese Army had been directly involved in setting up, though not necessarily in running, what were known as “comfort stations.” One of the official reasons was that widespread rape of Chinese women by Japanese soldiers was provoking too much resistance among the local population.