See the full letter here. Below provides the cover, table of contents, and the introduction of the letter (see the full letter for footnotes).
“Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War”: The Case for Retraction on Grounds of Academic Misconduct
A response by:
Professor of History, Northwestern University
Junior Research Fellow, Japanese & Korean History, Trinity College, University of Cambridge
Assistant Professor, Department of History, National University of Singapore
Professor of History, North Carolina State University
Chelsea Szendi Schieder
Associate Professor, Faculty of Economics, Aoyama Gakuin University
Table of Contents
To Whom It May Concern:
1. Failure to Acknowledge an Absence of Evidence
2. Use of Evidence from Primary Sources
› Mischaracterization of Yamazaki, Sandakan hachiban no shōkan
› Mischaracterization of testimony of Mun Ok-ju
› Selective Use of Evidence from U.S. Military Sources
› Mischaracterization of Japanese Home Ministry Documents
› Mischaracterization of Shina 1938 and Gun’ianjo 1938 on Recruitment
› Mischaracterization of “Korean Comfort Station Manager’s Diary”
› Mischaracterization of primary source from Takei 2012
› Misrepresentation of Kitashina, 1938
3. Use of Secondary Sources
› Selective citations to Kim and Kim, Shokuminchi yūkaku: Nihon no guntai to Chōsen hantō
› Mischaracterization and selective citation of Hata, “Shōwa shi no nazo o ou” in Seiron, June 1992
4. Inaccurate and Inappropriate Citation Practices
February 18, 2021
To Whom It May Concern:
We, the undersigned, are a transnational group of historians of Japan and its empire. Our research and publications cover the history of prostitution, the history of gender, the history of migration and empire, the history of the Pacific War, and the history of colonial Korea. What is written here is our work, but it was made possible due to the efforts of a much wider network, including historians and colleagues around the globe, who generously contributed their expertise. We base our findings below on our experience reading and interpreting Japanese historical documents, as well as our common investment in producing responsible scholarship.
We became aware of Mark Ramseyer’s article – a revisionist account of the “contractual dynamics” of the comfort station system, published in the International Review of Law and Economics (IRLE) – when we encountered media coverage about it, based on a Japanese language article in the Sankei Shimbun summarizing the journal article. Initially, coverage was confined to Korean and Japanese language media reports. In the process of our investigation, we also found and read Ramseyer’s English language article about the Comfort Women issue in JAPANForward, “Recovering the Truth about Comfort Women,” which had been published on January 12th, two weeks before the Sankei Shimbun piece. In his JAPANForward piece, Ramseyer asserted that “claims about enslaved Korean comfort women are historically untrue” and “pure fiction.” As historians of Japan and its empire, we were shocked by this claim, because there has been an overwhelming amount of academic work that supports survivors’ testimony that they were held captive in “comfort stations” (ianjo) that were patronized by the Japanese military during World War II.
When we turned to Ramseyer’s peer-reviewed article in the academic journal IRLE to evaluate its argument, what we found further alarmed us: distortion, misrepresentation, misdirection, and omission of historical sources. As historians, we appreciate that scholars engage in different interpretations of the past, and we believe that well-grounded historical research, however unpopular, potentially offensive, or politically inconvenient, merits respect and thoughtful discussion. However, we contend that this article does not fall into this category. Its inaccuracies are more than superficial errors; they completely undermine the article’s claims. Indeed, if the sources were portrayed accurately the argument would collapse. For this reason, we believe that the article should be retracted.
In this letter, we lay out the distortions and misrepresentations of sources that we have found in Ramseyer’s article. While many of us also have problems with the framing and logic of the argument, which we and other concerned scholars have documented elsewhere, this letter is not intended to address those issues; it is about the use of sources and what we believe to be problems with academic integrity, not the merits of the argument or its political, legal, or moral ramifications.
Ramseyer’s article argues that the “comfort station system” relied on a contractual framework through which brothel keepers and women agreed on the appropriate compensation for the women’s work. The brothel keepers wanted to prevent women from “shirking” in a difficult and dangerous job. The women, meanwhile, were mindful of the reputational consequences of working in a brothel and wary that they might be cheated. The result, according to Ramseyer, was a system of “credible commitments” in which women were paid large sums of money upfront for short terms of service in brothels. Meanwhile, they were incentivized to “work hard” by the prospect of paying off those substantial cash advances and leaving service early.
There are two factual claims that are fundamental to this argument. One is that there were contractual agreements between women and brothel keepers that paid women large cash advances. The other is that the women in brothels could leave early if they earned out by paying off their loans and debts. Neither is supported by the evidence Ramseyer uses; in fact, in some cases the evidence he cites directly contradicts these claims.
Below, we have categorized the problems we have found with the article under four headings: “Failure to Acknowledge an Absence of Evidence,” “Use of Evidence from Primary Sources,” “Use of Evidence from Secondary Sources,” and “Miscitation.” We have cited our sources in footnotes and an appendix to this letter. Unless we indicate otherwise, all translations from Japanese are ours.
Finally, in preparing this letter, we have consulted the American Historical Association’s “Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct,” which reads, in part:
Professional integrity in the practice of history requires awareness of one’s own biases and a readiness to follow sound method and analysis wherever they may lead. Historians should document their findings and be prepared to make available their sources, evidence, and data, including any documentation they develop through interviews. Historians should not misrepresent their sources. They should report their findings as accurately as possible and not omit evidence that runs counter to their own interpretation. They should not commit plagiarism. They should oppose false or erroneous use of evidence, along with any efforts to ignore or conceal such false or erroneous use.
Nevertheless, we understand that there can be a range of opinion about what constitutes academic misconduct, and we also know that standards are not always consistent between disciplines. We believe that some of the examples below — including the mischaracterization of Osaki’s and Mun Ok-ju’s testimony, the failure to acknowledge the absence of relevant sample or actual contracts, and unmarked citations to nationalist blogs and historically revisionist websites — transgress standards of scholarly integrity that are widely shared across all academic disciplines. Other examples may, for some readers, fall into a gray zone of irresponsible scholarship, the misuse of sources, or sloppy citation practices. We document those here for the record, but invite readers to come to their own conclusions.