U.S. Demands Apology for 'Comfort Women'

The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a non-binding resolution demanding that Japan apologize for forcing women into sex slavery during World War II. U.S. Rep. Mike Honda of California talks about why he sponsored the resolution.

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CHERYL CORLEY, host:

I'm Cheryl Corley and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Michel Martin is away.

Coming up, life lessons and a mortuary and the Mocha Moms weigh in on food and friendship.

But first, they were called comfort women, the name given to the roughly 200,000 girls and women who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese military during World War II. The Japanese government has never officially apologized for the sexual enslavement of women from Korea, China and the Philippines and other areas. However, the United States House of Representatives demanded one yesterday, passing a non-binding resolution by voice vote. Congressman Mike Honda was the main force behind the resolution and is with us today. Congressman, welcome.

Representative MIKE HONDA (Democrat, California): Thank you very much.

CORLEY: Well, Japan says it's already apologized, did so in 1993, and also established a fund which collected private donations and offered payments to some of the women involved. In your opinion, why isn't that enough of an effort?

Rep. HONDA: Well, let me make three points. Number one, the word prostitution is probably a misnomer. They were forced into sexual servitude, but it was a systematic military operation where they did in fact capture, kidnap, coerce girls and young women into sexual slavery. And the government of Japan has been insisting that they have apologized several times over.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm.

Rep. HONDA: Individuals have apologized such as Prime Minister Koizumi and the current prime minister, Abe. They have aligned themselves to the comments that was put together by then-Deputy Cabinet Secretary Kono, who, after two years of study when historians found documents proving that the (unintelligible) had existed, came out with this comment.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm.

Rep. HONDA: The comment that was originally made by Deputy Secretary Kono was a good one, but he had no force of law in terms of the position or the process. He was, one would consider, the equivalent of the chief of staff to the president.

CORLEY: So you're saying that these were personal statements. So why is it so important to get an apology some 60 years after the fact?

Rep. HONDA: The corollary I would draw would be the apology that the Japanese-Americans here in this country were able to get from our own government, who set aside our constitutional rights in 1942 when President Roosevelt had signed Executive Order 9066 that allowed the military to remove Japanese-Americans, citizens or non-citizens alike, from their homes, from the communities into American-style concentration camps. Sixty years later, we as a community debated among ourselves whether we should sue the government for an apology based on the setting aside of our civil rights.

We did. It took us 10 more years, but 1980, after the Congress had passed H.R. 442 and President Reagan signed it into law, did we feel that there was a unambiguous apology and setting the record straight. Japan has not done that officially. And they continue to double talk and white-wash the history of their activities and constantly attempt to change their history books in the junior high school and high school level. That in itself indicates that there is no sincere and historical responsibility being taken by the government of Japan. This is what we're seeking.

CORLEY: Mm-hmm. Congressman, what about the idea that this type of resolution puts a strain on the relationship between the United States and Japan, a country which is among Washington's closest allies?

Rep. HONDA: Well, there's no mistaking, there's no question that Japan is a strong ally and a very progressive country, a democratic country. However, the political leadership has not ever seen it fit under the current party, seeing fit to do so. The relationship will always be strong. The relationship is really dependent upon how they themselves will behave towards this issue and as a result of our own vote. The Japanese government is reeling under their own weight of their own behavior in Japan itself. So this has no or very little bearing upon our relationship between Japan and the United States.

CORLEY: Congressman Mike Honda represents California's 15th Congressional District. He was the main force behind a non-binding resolution which calls for Japan to apologize for forcing women into wartime sexual slavery.

Congressman, thank you so much.

Rep. HONDA: Thank you very much for this opportunity.

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