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Thu Feb 18, 2021, 02:46 PM

Two Harvard professors request publication on Korean comfort women be suspended

February 17, 2021
Statement by
Andrew Gordon, Professor, Department of History, Carter Eckert, Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations,
Harvard University

Earlier this month at the request of the editor of the International Review of Law and Economics, we began to write a critical response to the article “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” by Professor J. Mark Ramseyer, at that point released online by the journal with plans for formal publication in March.

As historians of Japan and Korea, what initially appalled us was Ramseyer’s elision of the larger political and economic contexts of colonialism and gender in which the comfort women system was conceived and implemented, and the multiple and brutal ways in which it affected and afflicted the women on a human scale. But as we began to look into the article, its evidence, and its logic, we encountered a different and prior problem of the article’s scholarly integrity. We write to explain that problem...

The entire statement which is only three pages can be downloaded here:


The Ramseyer article and now this critique have been headline news in South Korea and in the Korean community here in the US. There have been small demonstrations in various Korean American communities expressing their objections to Ramseyer's article. There is an interesting discussion in the statement of the origins of the term "comfort station."

The word used from 1938 for “comfort stations” (the places the women were put to work) was wianso in Korean, ianjo in Japanese (the same Chinese characters are used in both cases: 慰安所 ). The term for “comfort woman,” in use from that year, has two of the same syllables/characters, translated as “comfort”: wianbu in Korean, ianfu in Japanese; 慰安婦 in Chinese characters..."

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Reply Two Harvard professors request publication on Korean comfort women be suspended (Original post)
soryang Feb 2021 OP
Mike 03 Feb 2021 #1
Mike 03 Feb 2021 #2
soryang Feb 2021 #3

Response to soryang (Original post)

Thu Feb 18, 2021, 03:46 PM

1. Quite interesting

The obfuscation of this issue created by the lack of any discussion of whether he has seen actual
or sample contracts, and the lack of any citation to such contracts, is for us the most egregious
violation of academic integrity in the article. But there are numerous other serious problems:
citations that are wholly unrelated to claims made in the text (just one is noted above); claims in
the text of the article entirely at odds with the documents cited to support those claims; selective
use of documents and other materials to the exclusion of evidence to the contrary. Some of our
historian colleagues, including those far more knowledgeable than we on these issues, are
compiling an extensive list of such problems. They will be shared with the journal in due course,
or may have been shared by the time of this statement, and we believe our colleagues will make
that list public.

How important it is that historians scrutinize the work of others.

WW2 seems to have spawned a lot of "denialistic" "historical" work, but it's definitely not the only event to do so. In researching the Yugoslav wars of the 90s I've also come across a lot of suspicious (or, to be precise, wrong) claims, but never in peer-reviewed papers.

Thank you for posting this. Now I want to learn more about the debate surrounding the Ramseyer article.

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Response to soryang (Original post)

Thu Feb 18, 2021, 03:56 PM

2. Here is a good article providing more background on this story:

Harvard Professor’s Article Sparks Outrage Over Its Depiction of Japanese Military Brothels

While U.S. scholars and politicians criticized the article, it was defended by far-right activists in Japan – and South Korea.


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Response to Mike 03 (Reply #2)

Thu Feb 18, 2021, 05:01 PM

3. Thanks for your link and comments, Mike 03.

Relations between S.Korea and Japan are in a delicate state at this point. I'm not surprised that the Moon administration isn't going to jump into this dispute at the current time, that isn't his style. I don't think there is any question what his position would be. Any conservative or right wing politicians taking up for the Japanese revisionist perspective at this point will just be further undermining their already precarious position in the face of upcoming mayoral elections in Seoul and Busan and the general election in 2022.

That being said, while I am biased in favor of the South Korean democratic party's successes at the polls, I do have a genuine historical interest in this area of history and have watched numerous historical documentaries, interviews of Korean professors, and read a fair number of academic articles on wartime claims, revisionism etc., as they pertain to Korea and Japan. Had I known that the Japanese revisionist view would be taken seriously in the US, I would have made a greater effort to preserve the documentation and images that I have seen in videos recorded in archives and museums in Asia, the old newspapers, etc., that clearly depict Japanese crimes against humanity in Asia, and particularly, those connected to the forced labor issue, and sex slaves issue involving Korean women. However, I'm not writing for academic journals.

South Korean academics who undertake the Japanese revisionist view typically receive or have received financial incentives, directly or indirectly, from Japanese institutions according to Professor Hosaka Fuji, Sejong University professor. In addition to this is the historical connection of many private South Korean universities, and grade school/ high school academies to Japan, as they were founded during the Japanese occupation. The founders and their successors retain the Japanese revisionist outlook to current days, and their receipt of funding in recent times from Japanese foundations are documented. These institutions in South Korea are a source for the conservative sympathy for Japanese revisionism.

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