Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Journal Delays Print Publication Of Harvard Law Prof Mark Ramseyer’s Controversial ‘Comfort Women’ Article Amid Outcry

Harvard Crimson, Journal Delays Print Publication of Harvard Law Professor’s Controversial ‘Comfort Women’ Article Amid Outcry:

RamseyerThe International Review of Law and Economics will temporarily delay print publication of Harvard Law professor J. Mark Ramseyer’s controversial paper claiming sex slaves in Imperial Japan, known as “comfort women,” were voluntarily employed, the journal told The Crimson Friday.

The journal initially issued an “Expression of Concern” earlier this week in response to mounting backlash, announcing that concerns over the article’s “historical evidence” are currently under investigation.

“Comfort women” is a term used to refer to women and girls from Japan’s occupied territories, including Korea, who were forced into sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II.

Against the historical consensus, Ramseyer claims in his paper, entitled “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War," that comfort women were not coerced and instead voluntarily entered into contracts with Japanese brothels. His article stoked public outcry across South Korea after his abstract was re-printed in late January in the nationalist Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun.

Since, students and scholars at Harvard and beyond criticized his paper as lacking historical context and evidence.

Multiple individuals and groups have penned open letters and petitions, totalling at least 10,000 signatures, demanding various responses from the journal, Ramseyer, and Harvard. Some argued the article should be withdrawn from publication, while others advocated disciplinary action against Ramseyer.

Inside Higher Ed, Harvard Law Prof Rejects Historical Consensus on ‘Comfort Women’:

Law professor is accused of ignoring extensive historical evidence in claiming that the "comfort women" were not sex slaves but instead were willing and well-compensated prostitutes.

A substantial body of scholarship exists exploring the ways in which the imperial Japanese military forced or coerced women and girls into an organized system of sexual slavery to service Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. Control over the historical narrative regarding the euphemistically named "comfort women," most of whom were Korean, remains an issue of contention between the governments of Japan and South Korea, as conservative Japanese politicians have embarked in recent years on efforts to deny state responsibility and rewrite textbooks.

Enter into this politicized arena J. Mark Ramseyer, the Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, who wrote an op-ed in a Japanese newspaper describing the “comfort-women-sex-slave story” as “pure fiction.” He also published an article in an academic journal, the International Review of Law and Economics, characterizing the comfort women as prostitutes, in effect rational economic actors who were able to negotiate and command high wages for their sexual labors.

"Together," Ramseyer concludes the journal article, "the women and brothels concluded indenture contracts that coupled a large advance with one or two year terms. Until the last months of the war, the women served their terms or paid off their debts early, and returned home."

Ramseyer's claims, bearing as they do the Harvard imprimatur, have become the subject of an international controversy. Scholars have cried foul, accusing Ramseyer of overlooking extensive evidence that the "comfort women" system amounted to government-sponsored sexual slavery, not a contract between consenting parties. ...

Alexis Dudden, a history professor at the University of Connecticut who said she’d been solicited to write a rebuttal to Ramseyer’s article, described his article as "academic fraud" analogous to Holocaust denialism.

"There has been so much scholarship produced in the 30 years since the first survivor came forward and it’s almost as if Professor Ramseyer's decision is to just ignore all of the debate — as if he’s the first person to come into this — and give a withering condemnation of all opinions different from his as lies," said Dudden, an expert on modern Japanese and Korean history.

“To say, ‘well, the Koreans were in it for the money’ — which for me would be the tagline for what the Ramseyer article is saying — is just a dog whistle to a political ideology in Japan that is powerful,” Dudden added. “So many who would drag us back to the 1990s are standing up, saying a Harvard professor said, ‘This is all a lie. These are prostitutes and they made money and they could go home if they wanted to.’ That’s not scholarship.”

Jeannie Suk Gersen, a law professor at Harvard University who has published on Korean comfort women, said on Twitter that she disagrees with Ramseyer "as deeply as it’s possible to disagree."

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