Were Japanese comfort women hired as nurses?
Posted by ampontan on Saturday, June 21, 2008
THE JAPANESE-LANGUAGE arm of the Kyodo news agency reports that Kanto Gakuin University history professor Hayashi Hirofumi and a group of researchers have discovered in the U.K. National Archives a notification issued by the Imperial Japanese Navy immediately after the war ordering military hospitals to hire Japanese comfort women as auxiliary nurses. The Japanese document was decoded by Allied forces.
Those are the facts contained in the article. Kyodo continues by offering speculation.
Prof. Hayashi and the other researchers think it is likely that if the comfort women were hired as nurses, the Allies would have considered them to be civilian employees of the military. Therefore, since the comfort women were supposedly employed by the military at war’s end, the researchers believe this is important historical data supporting the view that the military was deeply involved in the control of the comfort women during the war.
The researchers also think that making the comfort women into nurses suggests the possibility that the authorities wanted to conceal their existence from the Allied forces.
In conclusion, the article says there have been previous reports that the comfort women had been turned into nurses, based on testimony from former military personnel and an account in a book by an Australian journalist, but this is the first time documentary confirmation of the order has been found.
The article does not provide the date the notification was issued and says nothing about how many comfort women actually were hired as auxiliary nurses at military hospitals.
Prof. Hayashi has been digging for documents related to the comfort women for some time, as his English language website shows. He wrote the Structure of Japanese Imperial Government involved in Military Comfort Women System while at a university in California in 2001. Here is an excerpt:
The first (concrete example) is (a) 1938 Home Ministry document regarding (the) dispatch of a staff officer of the 21st Army stationed in the Southern part of China to Tokyo in order to recruit comfort women. This staff officer, accompanied by a section chief of the Ministry of War, requested the Police Bureau of the Home Ministry to recruit women. The Police Bureau then (issued a notification) in the name of the Chief of the Bureau to prefecture governors to select appropriate managers for the recruitment and to offer assistance to them in this matter. The Office of Army General Staff itself was also deeply involved in this operation. Each prefecture accordingly selected appropriate managers to gather women, who would have to be issued necessary identification papers before they were sent to China. These tasks were carried out by the police. So the order came down from the governor to the chief of police bureau and then to chiefs of police stations that mobilized a number of police officers.
The speculation and this excerpt give rise to some questions.
The notification ordering that the comfort women be hired as nurses refers to Japanese women. It’s not possible to speculate on the motives of the Imperial Japanese Navy, but would they really worry after the war was over what the Allies would think about the Japanese military telling Japanese government authorities to recruit Japanese women as military prostitutes?
What prompted them to issue this notification?
Why would the Allies care in 1945 how the Japanese military dealt with Japanese citizens during the war?
Prostitution was not against the law in Japan at that time. And as the excerpt from the 2001 paper suggests, the women were recruited, not abducted.
When I wrote this, the Japanese-language Kyodo article had been published more than 20 hours before. Yet I could not find a translation on their extensive English language website, nor anywhere else on the web.
That is not to say one won’t appear, or has been published and I couldn’t find it. (The Japan Times in particular loves these types of articles.)
But why wouldn’t an English-language version appear? Does Kyodo think overseas readers aren’t interested in comfort women who were Japanese nationals? Are Japanese women who were recruited and hired for the job, rather than abducted, insufficiently newsworthy? Does it complicate the preferred narrative?
As an aside to those who like to believe that the Japanese nation either doesn’t discuss this issue or wants to pretend it never happened, the article ran on page three of the Nishinippon Shimbun this morning.
UPDATE: Thanks to reader Lyons Wakeman for providing a link to a Japan Times story.
Don’t look to that newspaper for integrity in journalism, however. They bend over backwards to obscure the fact that the women in question were Japanese, inserting it only parenthetically in an easily overlooked passage in a quote from the document itself. (The Japanese-language Kyodo article made it clear in the first sentence.) And they still insist on the term “sex slaves”, even though some of these women were obviously prostitutes.
And how’s this for a weaselly construction? “The document may well be the first seemingly official text to indicate…”