Harvard Professor's Controversial Claim Regarding 'Comfort Women'

By (James) Sungbin Cho

Published Date: 2021 / 03 / 14


A statue commemorating ‘Comfort Women’ in Berlin, Germany (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
[Photo Credit: AP Photo/Markus Schreiber]

On November 28, 2020, J. Mark Ramseyer, Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies in Harvard Law School, published an article about Imperial Japanese military sexual slaves before and during World War II, known as ‘Comfort Women’ or ‘위안부’ in Korean. In his article, Ramseyer stated ‘Comfort Women’ as prostitutes, and also portrayed sexual abuse as a spontaneous act, not a coercive war crime. Publishing inaccurate and false opinion officially could be a detrimental problem as some groups can use false sourcesas evidence to dispute the claim of the Korean government and testimonies from 15 living ‘Comfort Women' that forced sexual slavery happened and Japan committed the war crime. In response to this article, on February 4, 2021, the Korean Association of Harvard Law School (KAHLS) and other 9 other groups published a statement that criticized Ramseyer and his “factually inaccurate and misleading” arguments with “deficient presentation of the historical record.”

The issue was intensified as 6 Japanese professors signed a public endorsement of Ramseyer and his assertion about ‘Comfort Women’ on February 8. They argued that Ramsyer’s article was “the latest target of American ‘cancel culture’” and “an eminently scholarly effort rooted in a remarkable breadth of source material—a great achievement deserving of praise, not censure.” To refute arguments from Japanese professors, on February 17, Andrew Gordon and Carter Eckert, both Havard professors, published their statement that Ramseyer’s article does not have any reliable sources nor citations and selectively uses documents and materials to deliberately exclude other perspectives, arguing that “it is not our responsibility to conduct a full examination of the integrity of a paper published by a journal.” The criticism continued internationally as many historians over the world demanded the retraction of Ramseyer’s article. For example, on February 17, a Korean organization called Justice for the 'Comfort Women' published the letter that was “signed by over 1012 feminist scholars, students, alumni, and organizations around the world (United States, Korea, Japan, Philippines, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, etc).” Economists around the world, including Eric Maskin who won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2007 for his paper about Game Theory, assisted the public's criticism of Ramseyer and his logic in his article, showing Ramsyer’s misleading and incoherent application of Game Theory to justify ‘contracts’ between Japanese soldiers and ‘Comfort Women.’

With this worldwide criticism, Ramseyer admitted his wrong claims and examples about ‘Comfort Women’ in his article, saying “[he doesn’t] have any Korean contracts” and no one is going to find it. He said he was “puzzled and troubled” for this public and global criticism of his article, saying he “did in fact make a mistake here.”

It is important to remember that not only taking care of victims of crime and preventing the crime but also acknowledging that such crime actually occurred by a certain group is necessary to restore one’s wounds from brutal and inhumane crime and pursue the ideals of human rights. Ramseyer’s article does not help anyone to achieve this goal as it can be used to justify the crimes of Imperial Japan’s military. In fact, it only deepens the scars that ‘Comfort Women’ had to endure for almost 100 years, disregarding their rights. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, everyone in this world, including ‘Comfort Women,’ “are born free and equal in dignity and rights” and we are “endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”

Works Cited
Gersen, Jeannie Suk, et al. “Seeking the True Story of the Comfort Women.” The New Yorker, www.newyorker.com/culture/annals-of-inquiry/seeking-the-true-story-of-the-comfort-women-j-mark-ramseyer.

Gordon, Andrew, and Carter Eckert. “Statement by Andrew Gordon and Carter Eckert Concerning J. Mark Ramseyer, ‘Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War.’” DASH Home, 17 Feb. 2021, dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/37366904.

Journal, The Asia Pacific. “‘Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War’: The Case for Retraction on Grounds of Academic Misconduct.” The Asia-Pacific Journal: Japan Focus, apjjf.org/2021/5/ConcernedScholars.html.

“KAHLS Statement in Response to Professor J. Mark Ramseyer’s Article ‘Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War.’” Korean Association of Harvard Law School, 10 Feb. 2021, orgs.law.harvard.edu/kahls/statements/.

Michio, EZAKI, et al. Open Letter in Support of Professor John Mark Ramseyer. 8 Feb. 2021, harc.tokyo/wp/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Open-Letter-In-Support-of-Professor-Mark-Ramseyer-February-2021.pdf.

Ramseyer, J. Mark. “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War.” International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, 1 Dec. 2020, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0144818820301848#.

The United Nation. Universal Declaration of Human Rights. www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/index.html.

고일환 . “게임이론 노벨상 수상 경제학자도 램지어 비판 대열 합류.” 연합뉴스, 고일환, 25 Feb. 2021, www.yna.co.kr/view/AKR20210225017300072.

이영섭 . “하버드 한인 학생들, '위안부는 매춘부' 교수 규탄.” 연합뉴스, 이영섭, 5 Feb. 2021, www.yna.co.kr/view/AKR20210205159700009.

정성호 . “미 경제학자도 램지어 논문 비판...연판장 돌리자 578명 동참.” 연합뉴스, 정성호, 24 Feb. 2021, www.yna.co.kr/view/AKR20210224050000091.

정의기억연대 . “하버드법대 존 마크 램자이어 미쓰비시 교수의 일본군‘위안부’ 관련 논문에 대한 전 세계 페미니스트 성명.” Womenandwar.net, 17 Feb. 2021, womenandwar.net/kr/notice/?uid=1263&mod=document.

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