A Man with a Flashlight


Under-reported story of the week
May 1, 2007, 2:02 am
Filed under: The East, World War Two

You may have heard of the role that “comfort women,” a euphemism for sex slaves, played in World War Two in the Empire of Japan. Young girls from Japan, China, Korea, Taiwan, and other countries were forced to work in military brothels. The issue has flared up from time to time – most recently in April, when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe renewed the claim that the brothels were not the responsibility of the military, but that of private contractors.

This week, the Associated Press reported that Japanese-operated brothels which catered to American personnel in the winter of 1945-1946, with the approval of the U.S. military, may have used forced prostitution as well. To wit:

An Associated Press review of historical documents and records — some never before translated into English — shows that American authorities permitted the official brothel system to operate despite internal reports that women were being coerced into prostitution.

…A Dec. 6, 1945, memorandum from Lt. Col. Hugh McDonald, a senior official with the Public Health and Welfare division of the occupation’s General Headquarters, showed that U.S. occupation forces were aware the Japanese comfort women were often coerced.

“The girl is impressed into contracting by the desperate financial straits of her parents and their urging, occasionally supplemented by her willingness to make such a sacrifice to help her family,” he said. “It is the belief of our informants, however, that in urban districts the practice of enslaving girls, while much less prevalent than in the past, still exists.”

I say may because the AP seems to overplay its evidence somewhat. Its “internal reports” (plural) become “a memorandum” (singular). And the memorandum it quotes does not demonstrate that forced prostitution took place.

It does, however, show that the military suspected it was taking place. And that is pretty damning in itself. The brothels were closed down, but that was months later, and as the AP points out, it was probably because they were fueling an outbreak of VD.

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