Harvard Law Prof Responds to Critics of His "Comfort Women" Claims, Fails to Squelch ControversyHistorians in the News
tags: comfort women, human rights, World War 2, Japanese history, controversy, Korean history
Harvard Law School professor J. Mark Ramseyer published a paper last month rebuking critics of a controversial article he wrote last year that claimed sex slaves taken by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II were actually recruited, contracted sex workers.
But some scholars and activists say the new paper, published by a Harvard Law School center, fails to adequately respond to criticism of his original piece, which drew intense international scrutiny last year.
Ramseyer’s original paper disputed the historical consensus that “comfort women” — a term referring to women and girls forced into sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II — were compelled into sex work against their will. The article, titled “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” garnered international attention after the abstract was re-printed in January 2021 by the conservative Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun.
Harvard History professor Andrew D. Gordon ’74 and Korean History professor Carter J. Eckert — whose response to Ramseyer’s original article was the primary focus of the rebuttal he published last month — wrote in a statement that Ramseyer’s response is a “classic example of misdirection.”
“It accuses us of claims we did not make, repeats unfounded claims of his own, and fails to rebut the central points of our February 2021 statement,” they wrote in a Jan. 25 statement published on Harvard DASH.
Ramseyer grouped criticism of his paper into three broad points: first, that comfort women did not work under contracts; second, that the Japanese military “dragooned” Korean women to force them into work as comfort women; and third, that comfort women were sometimes deceived by recruiters or mistreated by the brothel owners.
But Gordon and Eckert said their original critique never mentioned the “gun point dragooning” of Korean women, calling Ramseyer’s “lengthy discussion” of the issue a “red herring.” Their criticism was actually founded on the “powerful evidence of deception in the recruitment of comfort women,” they wrote.