Monday, August 30, 2021

Foreign Influence and Academic Integrity - the Comfort Women


Foreign Influence and Academic Integrity By Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki, Emeritus Professor in the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University, and a past President of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, April 22, 2021, Australian Institute of International Affairs.

The risks of improper foreign influence on academic research have become a topic of growing concern in many parts of the world over the past year or so. Much of this concern has focused on efforts by China to restrict the freedom of expression of academics and students abroad as well as at home, or to obtain access to research findings. Anxiety about the role of China is very well-founded, but this issue clearly goes further than any one country. Many national governments or overseas interest groups seek in one way or another to exert their influence on research being carried out beyond the boundaries of their own nation.

Professor Morris-Suzuki uses as an example the Government of Japan's activities to influence the discussion and academic work on the Comfort Women--sex slaves to Imperial Japan's military and colonial administrators. Most of these women and girls were forced into this service. The government currently contends that no official Japanese participated in coercing anyone. This is contrary to fact.

Japan's government and its supporters have cultivated a network of history denialist groups that want to change the history narrative of aggressive industrialization and imperialism to one of innovative opportunity cut short by the victimization of the West. The war was forced upon Japan and war crimes were inventions of the Allies.

Morris-Suzuki focuses on the flawed Mark Ramseyer journal article that claims the Comfort Women were simply commercial prostitutes. She points out how this Harvard Law School professor ignored traditional scholarship and current documentation. It is alarming that he is promoted and defended by the Japanese government and well-known rightists as an example of the assault on free speech. As a result, she believes this is the "worst crisis of academic integrity" in her lifetime.

Japan's "weaponization of research" is a model followed by many. Scholars are not necessarily being paid to say something, but support is forthcoming to those who are already sympathetic. Money amplifies denier history, that she likens to Holocaust denial. What was once ignored backwater arguments are now promoted above rigorous scholarship and historical truth.

Morris-Suzuki was asked for specific examples of Japanese pressure. She could not cite any other than to say that implicit pressure is exerted by Japan. A good example of this, however, was the title and description of her presentation by the Australian Institute of International Affairs. Nowhere is there mention of Japan or Comfort Women or Ramseyer. AIIA protected itself by simply giving an anodyne title of foreign influence suggesting the talk is about China. 

Only those who attended the event would know, and they were few.

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