Written by Alexa M. Ray, May 2016.
Koichi Mera’s Comfort Women Not “Sex Slaves” is a self published text from 2015 that presents the convoluted comfort women topic from the perspective of a Japanese-born right wing activist living in the United States. Mera, a former employee of the World Bank and adjunct professor of Business at the University of Southern California, begins this piece by describing his motivations for writing this book and explains that the recent construction of several comfort women monuments around the United States, notably in California, has angered him and consequently “breaks down the hitherto friendly relationship between the Korean and Japanese communities within the city, the state or the United States” (vii). While the supposed purpose of this book is to depict the comfort women situation from the rightist perspective–that the comfort women were prostitutes–Mera introduces this topic by explaining a topic that diverges from the original subject of study which in this case is an attempt to discredit Seiji Yoshida’s book depicting the Comfort women. Later, Mera tries to invalidate the creation of comfort women statues around the world and this becomes a main argument in his book. Although the installation of comfort women statues around the world is an emerging subject of debate in both Japan and the United States, Mera constantly links the creation of new comfort women status to the idea that the Japanese government is still being punished for the actions it committed seventy years ago. While I have never seen this connection made in history textbooks before, it is a point that Mera draws back on frequently, perhaps in an attempt to strengthen his untenable arguments.
Mera proceeds to use an array of questionable evidence, ranging from Japanese newspaper advertisements to interviews with relatively unknown public figures, to assert his opinion that a comfort woman was “nothing more than a prostitute or ‘professional camp follower’ attached to the Japanese army for the benefit of the soldiers” (23). While Mera’s unreliable choice of evidence and superfluous claims are troublesome in and of itself, the most questionable aspect of this piece is Mera’s repeated denial of the atrocities that the comfort women experienced. Mera continues to make unverifiable claims when he argues that the Japanese Asahi newspaper was responsible for bringing forth the comfort women issue in daily vernacular. Mera clearly expresses his frustration over the general public’s knowledge of the comfort women by writing “this [the comfort women] was not an issue for a long time since the end of the war in 1945. The current comfort women controversy started with the reporting by Asahi Newspaper on August 11, 1991” (1). However, any individual versed in the Comfort women controversy is aware that this issue has been brewing for well over 25 years.
Throughout his piece, Mera acts as if Japan is an innocent bystander to the atrocities that the Japanese government committed during World War II. While Comfort Women Not “Sex Slaves” highlights a very touchy subject, Mera’s lack of substantive evidence as well as his indifference to the individual narratives of former comfort women, make this a trying piece to relate to. Throughout the book, Mera expresses his opinion that “all searches have come up empty” (7). Mera vehemently believes that the Asahi newspaper is to blame for the relatively recent emergence of the comfort women issue. Besides Mera’s lack of accountability in depicting the comfort women predicament, he concludes his book by stating “there are so many reasons for claiming that the comfort women were not sex-slaves” (100). While the denialist ideology Mera expresses is already troublesome, the evidence and flippant remarks he makes to support his points undermine his case.
Although Mera’s piece is already controversial in the viewpoints he disseminates throughout the piece, it is his use of evidence and commentary that is most disconcerting. To begin with, Mera’s choice of title, Comfort Women Not “Sex Slaves,” does not align with the beliefs Mera espouses throughout the book. Mera consistently diminishes the exploitation of these women and addresses a comfort woman as “nothing more than a prostitute.” If he has such a lowly opinion of these women, what prompts him to include the terminology “comfort women” in his title, a reverent term that has been used for roughly 20 years to encompass the many traumatic experiences thousands of young women experienced. While this in itself is perplexing, the greater issues of this piece are its lack of continuity and insubstantial evidence.
Koichi Mera includes two contentious individuals as a testament to his dubious views. Upon researching two figures Mera included in his book, Stephen Garfinkel and Michael Yon, the results were quite interesting. I could find no substantial evidence of Garfinkel’s work with the anti-comfort women movement. However, Michael Yon, an American journalist and former soldier for the United States Army Special Forces who has been hired to publicly support various causes including the anti-Comfort women movement and the war in Iraq, presents a different and very unique reality. Yon only publicly supported the comfort women movement for a short time and during this time participated in an interview with TheLibertyWeb.com, an online news magazine whose “mission is to provide a source of enlightenment, spiritual guidance and insight into human relationships, politics, education, philosophical ideas and economic views to help foster well-being and build a better world.” While TheLibertyWeb.com certainly has the prerogative to conduct an interview, Mera includes an out-of-date interview between Yon and an unspecified reporter at TheLibertyWeb.com, as Yon does not stand behind these sentiments in the present. While the evidence Mera uses has no credibility and lacks continuity, this change of heart found in Michael Yon’s testimony could also point to Mera and his use of inaccurate evidence. While Mera uses Yon’s interview as a key piece of evidence to support his views, my own research reveals that at the time Mera’s book was published, Yon was no longer a proponent of the anti-Comfort women movement. While it is unknown why Yon had this change of heart, it is of greater importance to note that Mera included an interview which was no longer valid. Ultimately, by the time Mera’s book was published, Yon would not have wanted to be known as a supporter of the anti-Comfort women movement. One can also surmise that Yon would not have appreciated such a prominent role in Mera’s inflammatory piece of propaganda. Mera’s inclusion of an out-of-date article reaffirms the fact that he not only uses fallacious sources, but also draws upon materials that lack validity.
Mera’s treatment of the Kono Statement remains troubling. Relaying the contents of the Kono Statement, he states that “the Kono Statement admits the direct involvement of the military”(9) and implies that the Kono Statement has corrected the wrongs committed by the Japanese military in regards to the comfort women. He adds that the Japanese military only forcibly recruited women in Indonesia where “several military personnel removed Dutch women from the internee camp, and forced them to be comfort women” (9). Mera notes that “those directly involved in the forceful recruitment were tried in the B-C War Crimes Court after the war, and sentenced” (9). However, the story is much more complex than the one Mera portrays in his book. Acclaimed anthropologist C. Sarah Soh disproves Mera’s simplistic views by writing “The Batavia trial thus recognized the ‘forced prostitution’’ (to use the Dutch government’s terminology) of thirty-five Dutch women as a war crime. However, it ignored similar suffering by a much greater number of native women in Indonesia, not to mention female victims in other Asian countries… The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, commonly known as the Tokyo war crimes trials or Tokyo tribunal, did not punish any Japanese leaders for the abuse of comfort women, even though U.S. military intelligence units had gathered relevant information.” Through Soh’s extensive research of this topic, she completely disproves Mera’s claims, as the Japanese military recruited both Dutch and indigenous women of the Dutch East Indies, and although there was some punishment, it was minimal in comparison to the grave actions the Japanese military committed.
Ultimately, Mera’s unjustified claims and lack of qualified evidence speaks volumes. In a world filled with scholarly literature, pieces such as Mera’s Comfort Women Not “Sex Slaves,” are not believable and do not properly represent the different experiences of former comfort women. While the objective of a historian should be to present historical events as honestly as possible, Koichi Mera completely bypasses any sense of logic or historical accuracy in his book in an attempt to absolve the wartime Japanese state of any responsibility.