By: Kim Se-jeong

A group of 187 historians from around the world urged Japan, Wednesday, to acknowledge and apologize for atrocities it committed against Asian women by forcing them into sexual slavery before and during World War II.

They said denying or trivializing what happened was unacceptable.

Historians have issued statements on the topic before, but it is unprecedented that such a large number of them have come together in such fashion.

The call came one week after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress in which he chose not to offer an apology.

The list of historians includes Herbert Bix from Binghamton University, a Pulitzer Prize winner; Theodore F. Cook, a professor at William Paterson University; John Dower from Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Ezra Vogel from Harvard University; Bruce Cummings from the University of Chicago; and Peter Duus from Stanford University. Notably, Duus received an honor from the Japanese government in 2012 for his work.

The statement has been delivered to Abe, Yonhap said, quoting Alexis Dudden, a professor at the University of Connecticut.

Almost 200,000 Asian women are believed to have been forced into sexual slavery for Japanese troops between 1940 and 1945. Brothels were scattered across Asia. Yet, Abe has argued the women were prostitutes choosing to work at brothels to earn money, and the Japanese military had no role in orchestrating sexual service for its men.

The scholars denounced Abe’s argument. “Historians have unearthed numerous documents demonstrating the military’s involvement in the transfer of women and oversight of brothels,” the statement said. “Important evidence also comes from the testimony of victims. Although their stories are diverse and affected by the inconsistencies of memory, the aggregate record they offer is compelling and supported by official documents as well as by the accounts of soldiers and others.”

The statement also noted that although there’s a dispute over how directly the Japanese military was involved, “the evidence makes it clear that large numbers of women were held against their will and subjected to horrific brutality.”

The statement said it’s not too late to admit the wrongdoing.

“The promise of equality for African Americans was not realized in U.S. law until a century after the abolition of slavery, and the reality of racism remains ingrained in American society.”

The historians agreed that 2015 would be a good year to apologize.

“This year presents an opportunity for the government of Japan to show leadership by addressing Japan’s history of colonial rule and wartime aggression in both words and action.” This year celebrates the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Japan announced its surrender on Aug. 15, 1945 with Korea winning liberation after 35 years of Japanese colonization.

“The process of acknowledging past wrongs strengthens a democratic society and fosters cooperation among nations.” Also, “Since the equal rights and dignity of women lie at the core of the comfort women issue, its resolution would be a historic step toward the equality of women in Japan, East Asia and the rest of the world.”

Web users in Korea thanked the historians for their stance.

“Wow, I thank the historians for supporting Korea,” wrote a netizen who went by kyh on Naver, a web portal. “There is justice, I believe,” zong wrote.

Some focused on criticizing Abe meanwhile.

“History will remember Abe because he traded history with politics and power,” rsun wrote. Ckck wrote, “You’re not a god. Please stop thinking that you can distort history. That will cause your own destruction.”

Others criticized the Korean government’s failed foreign diplomacy with Japan. “They’re better than the Korean government,” Jaeu wrote. “This is what I would expect from the government not historians.”

SOURCE: THE KOREA TIMES