Enforced military prostitution in the Asia-Pacific War
As we have seen, the Japanese army was initially stationed on the Asian mainland in order to protect Japanese trading interests after the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 and the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5. Taiwan was annexed in 1895 and Korea in 1910. In the Manchurian Incident of 1931 some Japanese officers set off explosives on the Manchurian railroad as a pretext for attacking the Chinese. Over the following years the Japanese army gained control of more and more Chinese territory, culminating in the Nanjing Massacre (also known as the Rape of Nanjing) of 1937 and subsequent war with China (Fogel 2000). There was an international outcry over the murder, torture and sexual violence perpetrated by the Japanese military. Some see the military prostitution system as a response to the criticism Japan had received over the sexual violence perpetrated in Nanjing. This view, however, elides the fact that Japanese governments and the Japanese military had been engaged in the management of soldiers’ sexuality throughout the modern period, and that the first military brothels were set up well before 1937 (Driscoll 2005: 191—225). The memory of the violence of the Nanjing Massacre is one of the continued sources of tension between Japan and its East Asian neighbours, as is the history of enforced military prostitution (also known as the military sexual slavery system, or by the offensive euphemism, the military comfort women system ‘JUgun ianfu seido’) (Barraclough in this volume).
There was a continuum of official involvement in the military brothels. Some were directly managed by the army; some were managed by private entrepreneurs but regulated by the army; some were private but catered to soldiers. Military doctors conducted medical inspections, distributed condoms to soldiers, and issued regulations on the soldiers’ use of the brothels. However, these military brothels were not simply about managing the sexuality of soldiers and preventing the spread of sexually transmissible diseases. The practices of sexuality reinforced racialised hierarchies and reinforced the conceptual divisions between ‘us’ and ‘them’ which made militarism and colonialism possible. The bureaucratic management of sexuality through the military administration was the epitome of state rationalisation of practices which are often thought to be relegated to a putative ‘private sphere’. National identity was honed through the encounters on the battlefield and in colonised spaces. Soldiers thus learned about the proper objects of their hatred and aggression through these embodied practices (Mackie 2003: 111). As in other armed forces, military training fostered aggression, with an intimate relationship between masculinity, violence and sexuality (Suzuki 2001: 98-111).
Perhaps 100,000 women were enslaved by the Japanese army and enforced into sexual slavery in military brothels — some estimates are as high as 200,000. The majority of these women were from the Japanese colony of Korea, but everywhere the Japanese army advanced, local women were captured and enslaved; and Japanese women could also be found in the military brothels. The women were transported from one battlefront to another, and survivors were discovered by the Allied troops throughout Asia and the Pacific at the end of the war (Tanaka 2002; Yoshimi 2002; O’Herne 2008; Soh 2008).