Harvard Law School professor J. Mark Ramseyer faced global criticism for his controversial academic paper “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War.” Although Ramseyer’s paper was supposed to be published on the International Review of Law and Economics in March, the issuance has been delayed due to the widespread controversy.
In his paper, Ramseyer claimed Korean “comfort women,” girls and women who were coerced to be sex slaves for the Japanese military before and during the World War II, voluntarily went to Japanese brothels under legitimate contracts.
In January 2021, an abstract for Ramseyer’s paper was featured in a Japanese newspaper notorious for its nationalist views with Ramseyer’s permission. The newspaper added Korea tried to vilify Japan by promoting memorials of the “comfort women.” The article was later publicized in South Korea and provoked national anger.
Members of the Korean American Society of Massachusetts gathered in front of the main entrance to Harvard Yard on March 7. Protesters demanded Ramseyer an apology and retraction of his paper, some even calling for Ramseyer’s removal from Harvard Law School.
Student associations in Korea also took action to denounce Ramseyer’s paper. Ewha Nabi, a student association at Ewha Womans University that aims to restore the dignity of “comfort women” in Korea, shared the efforts they made to counter Ramseyer’s paper.
Seo Min-young, the director of Ewha Nabi, explained that Ramseyer wrote “comfort women” joined voluntarily, had legitimate contracts for their work, and received more money than general prostitutes. Seo refuted Ramseyer’s argument based on statements from Yoshiaki Yoshimi, a renowned professor of Japanese history at Chuo University, Japan.
According to Yoshimi, no such contracts as those specified in Ramseyer’s paper exist. Yoshimi further indicated the need to consider the wartime circumstances and the drastic power imbalance between the colonizer and the colonized countries.
“Ramseyer is basically denying the liability of Japan for ‘comfort women,’ and imputing that responsibility to innocent individuals,” Seo argued.
Seo made clear that this was not the first time a scholar tried to blur Japan’s culpability for the “comfort women.” Due to the continuous hatred and distortion of history surrounding the matter, Ewha Nabi and student associations in other universities have participated in numerous press conferences and protests since 2019.
“In order to counter the arguments from ‘comfort women’ hate groups, analyzing their logic and intentions is necessary,” Seo explained. “As the director of Ewha Nabi, I will make sure I study the issue thoroughly and provide webinars to keep people informed of the matter.”
The wide criticism was issued not only from Koreans, but also from international scholars as well. Harvard Law School professor Noah Feldman refuted Ramseyer’s claim based on his studies on “comfort women” and contract theory.
Feldman was joined by Carter Eckert, a professor of Korean history at Harvard, who expressed that Ramseyer’s paper was "woefully deficient, empirically, historically, and morally.” Eckert and a fellow professor revealed that they are preparing a critical response to Ramseyer’s article.
Likewise, Alexis Dudden, a University of Connecticut professor of Japanese and Korean history, claimed that she was shocked after reading Ramseyer’s article. According to Dudden, his paper was poorly sourced and was a fatuous piece of scholarship.
“Ramseyer’s paper is conceptually misguided because he is not understanding not only the context but also what actually happened,” Dudden said.
Ramseyer’s position as Mitsubishi professor of Japanese legal studies later brought about suspicions that he may have been sponsored by the Japanese conglomerate, Mitsubishi Group.
Ramseyer was further doubted for connections with the Japanese government. He had been awarded the Order of the Rising Sun in 2018, a Japanese government award for people who promote Japanese culture abroad.