Harvard Professor Sparks Outrage for Claiming Korean ‘Comfort Women’ Were Willingly Employed in Japan

comfort women

A Harvard Law School professor has stoked controversy over claims that Imperial Japan had employed “comfort women” under contracts during World War II.

J. Mark Ramseyer, who teaches Japanese legal studies, argued that those women — most of whom were Korean — were recruited and not taken by force to become sex slaves, contrary to previous reports on the subject.

Ramseyer made his claims in a paper titled “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” which is set to be published in the journal International Review of Law and Economics next month.

The scholar wrote similar claims in an article for Japan-Forward in January, noting that the slavery of Korean comfort women are “historically untrue.”

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Image Screenshot via Harvard Law School

Ramseyer’s argument is predicated on the notion that “prostitutes follow armies everywhere.” But he says many of those who trailed Imperial Japanese soldiers had venereal diseases, which can be debilitating.

And so in the 1930s, Japan supposedly allowed brothels that would keep such diseases in check, keeping the military force healthy. Brothels that agreed to contractual terms were then designated as “comfort stations.”

These outlets hired Korean prostitutes, Ramsayer claims. In the process, they used variations on contracts that licensed prostitutes in Japan were already operating under.

“Tokyo brothels paid new prostitutes an upfront fee that typically ranged from 1000 to 1200 yen. In addition, it paid her room, board and a fraction of the revenues she generated,” Ramsayer writes.

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Critics are disputing Ramsayer’s claims. On Thursday, the Korean Association of Harvard Law School, which claims to be committed to a “fair presentation of diverse perspectives,” described them as “factually inaccurate and misleading.”

“Professor Ramseyer’s arguments are factually inaccurate and misleading. Without any convincing evidence, Professor Ramseyer argues that no government forced women into prostitution,” the association said, according to Yonhap News.

“Professor Ramseyer’s deficient presentation of the historical record is demonstrated by his bibliography. Korean perspectives and scholarship, both rich sources of material on this topic, are almost completely absent in his work.”

The Harvard College Korean International Students Association (KISA) will also release a petition with demands to Ramseyer, university administrators and the journal publishing his paper. They want the professor to apologize “to comfort women for whom his claims may have reinforced painful trauma” and “to the Harvard University community for injuring the institution’s reputation and standards for academic soundness.”

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Ramseyer uses the title “Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies.” Because of this, some scholars believe that he may be sponsored by the Japanese corporation.

Yuji Hosaka, who teaches political science at Sejong University in Seoul, suspects that Mitsubishi had donated money to Harvard to give Ramseyer the title. Ramsayer told The Crimson that Mitsubishi may have donated $1.5 million to Harvard in the 1970s to back the position, but noted that there are “no strings” attached to his professorship today.

In response to the backlash, Ramseyer acknowledged his “responsibility to the students at the Law School” and is reportedly willing to speak with them about his paper. He added that he does not intend to pursue further research on the subject.

While many fellow scholars disagree with Ramseyer’s claims, some pointed out that he is protected by academic freedom. “His academic freedom entitles him to express whatever views he wishes without any form of university-based sanction,” said Noah R. Feldman, another Harvard Law professor who also criticized Ramseyer’s paper.

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Feature Images via PxHere (left) and Harvard Law School (right; screenshot)

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