Over the past couple of days Twitter has been abuzz with debate over the recurring issue of "comfort women" -- the predominantly Korean women coerced into prostitution by the Japanese army during the Second World War -- and their claims for acknowledgement and compensation. This time round, Hiroko Tabuchi of The New York Times was on hand to provide translations of some of the arguments against the women's claims and their comments reveal part of the uglier side of Japan -- the part that those of us involved in one way or another with trying to give Japanese culture a boost always find thoroughly dispiriting.
This brings up the awkward morality of the Old Testament "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation", which I'm going to just lay aside here, partly because the Old Testament is full of crap no one needs to listen to, and secondly because this is a quote from a self-confessed "jealous God" who was probably a bit upset at the time. It's pretty obvious, I think, that we don't need to punish children for their fathers' crimes in every situation.
In the case of the comfort women, there are two points that put this argument on shaky foundations though. The first is that many of these women are still alive now, and who is going to acknowledge, apologise to and compensate them if not the country in whose name their mistreatment was carried out? Secondly, many of the men who carried out this mistreatment, whether directly or indirectly, are still alive, and many of them (and their families) have done very well thank you very much since the end of the war.
It's certainly an argument you can make that as modern Japan didn't commit these crimes, it shouldn't be held responsible for paying. However, I think that as these arguments so frequently find themselves accompanied by denials and diversions of other sorts, the people making them secretly know that if the comfort women's stories are accepted as true, the moral weight of acknowledging and compensating the victims would indeed lie on their shoulders. To play a little whataboutery of my own, one needs only to look at Germany to see a very different approach (the Contingent Refugee Act of 1991, for example, removed many immigration barriers to Jewish people, leading to a large influx of Jewish people from former Soviet states that had previously been ravaged by the Nazis).