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Remarks of Chairman Lantos on H. Res. 121, the “Comfort Women” resolution, during House debate

Jul 30, 2007
Press Release
Mr. Speaker, let me first commend my friend and our distinguished colleague, Congressman Mike Honda of California, for introducing this very important resolution and for all his hard work to give voice to the so-called “comfort women.”

Mr. Speaker, the true strength of a nation is tested when it is forced to confront the darkest chapters in its history. Will it have the courage to face up to the truth of its own past, or will it run from that truth in the foolish hope that truth will fade with time?

The Government of Japan’s unwillingness to offer a formal and unequivocal apology to the women forced by its army to be sex slaves during World War II stands in stark contrast to Japan’s positive role in the world today. Japan is a proud global leader and a valued ally of the United States – which makes its unwillingness to account honestly for this part of its past all the more perplexing.

The U.S-Japan relationship, Mr. Speaker, is the bedrock of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region. Our alliance and friendship are based on mutual respect and admiration, and together we have helped promote our shared values of democracy, economic opportunity, and human rights throughout Asia.

Yet Japan’s refusal to make an official government apology – once and for all – to the women who suffered as so-called “comfort women” is disturbing to everyone who values the U.S-Japan relationship.

No nation can completely disregard its own past, neither the actions of a few nor the actions of many. Inhumane deeds should be fully acknowledged – a spotlight shined on the whole truth. This is essential to national reconciliation and it helps the victims to heal. Withholding that acknowledgement only compounds the cruelty.

Post-War Germany, with the most horrendous crimes in its history, made the right choice. Japan, on the other hand, has actively promoted historical amnesia.

The facts, Mr. Speaker, are plain: There can be no denying that the Japanese Imperial military coerced thousands upon thousands of Asian women, primarily Chinese and Koreans, into sexual slavery during the Second World War.

The continued efforts by some in Japan to distort and deny history and play a game of blame-the-victim are nauseating. Those who posit that all of the “comfort women” were happily complicit and acting of their own accord simply don’t understand the meaning of the word “rape.”

On June 14th, members of the Japanese government took out a shocking advertisement in The Washington Post that attempted to smear the survivors of the “comfort women” system, including those who bravely testified before our own House Foreign Affairs Committee.

The ad suggested that these women, who were forcibly and repeatedly raped by soldiers, were engaged in “licensed prostitution that was commonplace around the world at the time.” This is a ludicrous and infuriating assertion.

Our resolution calls on the Government of Japan officially to acknowledge and to apologize for the appalling acts that Imperial Japan committed against the so-called “comfort women.” It seeks admission of an appalling truth. Failure to do so would signal to others around the globe that such horrors can be perpetrated again, and treated just as cavalierly as they have been in this case.

But most importantly, Mr. Speaker it speaks out for the victims of this monstrous system, who were terrorized and brutalized by men at war. It gives voice to these courageous women whom others have tried to silence through shame, bigotry, and threats of further violence.

It is appropriate that this House stand up for these women, who ask only that truth be honored. The world awaits a full reckoning of history from the Japanese government.

I strongly support this resolution and I urge all of my colleagues to do the same.