In a move widely viewed as a public censure of Japan's official policy on "comfort women," the U.S. House of Representatives on Monday unanimously passed a bill demanding Japan's apology on the issue.
The congressional move sent a strong and clear message to the Japanese government that there's no way the country can escape accountability for the sexual exploitation of women by the Japanese military during World War II.
That Japan should take full responsibility for the issue of comfort women is agreed internationally. Japan's obligation to own up to the past has also been verified by relevant United Nations documents and most recently, this week's U.S. House resolution.
The bill highlighted the outcry on Capitol Hill and across the world over recent denials of these crimes by Japanese right-wing politicians.
In a strong reaction to the Japanese denials, Democratic representative Mike Honda of California, an American of Japanese descent who pushed the bill in the House, said while addressing lawmakers before the vote,"Today, the House will send a message to the government of Japan that it should deliver an official, unequivocal, unambiguous apology for the indignity the comfort women suffered."
Honda was echoed by Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee Tom Lantos, who said, "The facts are plain: there can be no denying that the Japanese Imperial military coerced thousands upon thousands of women, primarily Chinese and Koreans, into sexual slavery during the war."
"Inhumane deeds should be fully acknowledged," Lantos said.
"The world awaits a full reckoning of history from the Japanese government," he added.
Moreover some lawmakers warned that if Japan can't be held accountable for the issue, we could "allow it to happen again."
Some U.S. analysts pointed out that the passage of such a bill, which has failed several times before in the House, was partly attributed to the misjudgment of Japan's right-wing politicians.
On July 14, two weeks after the bill passed the House Foreign Relations Committee, a group of Japanese lawmakers, journalists and columnists ran a full-page ad in the Washington Post, publicly denying the sexual enslavement of comfort women.
And days later, Japan's ambassador in Washington wrote to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, urging her to abandon the bill and warning that it could harm Japan-U.S. relations.
However, these actions backfired and sparked a furor among U.S. lawmakers, prompting many who had been ambivalent about the resolution to support it.
Just like the Holocaust, it is common knowledge in the international community that Japan's war-time comfort women system was one of the most extreme kinds of war crime that has ever happened.
Many historians agree that it is one of the two worst crimes committed by the fascists during World War II, the other being the Holocaust.
But some Japanese politicians have neither the sincerity nor the will to take responsibility for these appalling actions by the military. They are without the guts to face up to the past and acknowledge that the brutality ever happened.
Many Japanese politicians often laud their "common values" with the Americans, but the Japan-U.S. disagreement on the comfort women issue shows that there are some "values" on which the two sides are miles apart.
In a world where virtually nobody will deny that the comfort women system was a serious crime against humanity, the actions and words by some people in Japan appear as if they are being transmitted from another planet.
The U.S. House resolution further validates the fact that comfort women existed and now the world is waiting for Japan to choose the right option. Japan must face reality and hold itself accountable for these horrible crimes -- and the sooner, the better.