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Who Were the ‘Comfort Women’?

In response to:

The Smooth Path to Pearl Harbor from the May 22, 2014 issue

To the Editors:

For me, Rana Mitter’s excellent review of Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy by Eri Hotta was an eye-opener. It revealed much that I, and probably many others, didn’t know about Japan’s past, such as the refusal by the Treaty of Versailles diplomats to include a racial equality clause and the diversity of views within Japan’s noncentralized leadership.

May I draw your attention to one little error in the review? Comfort women were not prostitutes. Prostitutes sell sexual favors in return for money or some other benefit. Although “comfort woman” and “prostitute” are the same word in Japanese, in practice they had vastly different meanings during the Japanese occupation of eastern Asia in the 1930s and 1940s. Comfort women were the umpteen thousands of local women and girls forcibly abducted and confined to “comfort stations” where Japanese soldiers gang-raped and tortured them daily.

Jean Morrison
Thunder Bay, Ontario

Rana Mitter replies:

I entirely take Ms. Morrison’s point. “Comfort women” is itself, of course, a euphemism for women who were subjected to horrific abuse during the war years.

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