Kim Jong-Un must be having a hearty laugh right now.

Not even three weeks after he fires off yet another middle finger missile test into the Pacific, Democrat lawmakers are falling all over themselves to give him concessions. According to a letter sent to President Joe Biden signed by 23 members of Congress, among them Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., the progressive wing of the party wants Washington to declare “the end of war” with North Korea and embark on a “new era of peace.”

There is nothing to joke about President Moon Jae-in’s agenda to achieve Korean reunification at all costs.

In this scenario, the key to protecting America’s national security from the wildly unpredictable despot in Pyongyang rests atop the trilateral alliance of the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. But the strength of this alliance is itself under attack by many of the same activists urging Biden to send fruit baskets and hugs to North Korea.

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo used to be fairly strong and at least functional, but in Biden's term, things have taken a nosedive.

Their differences have nothing to do with any current political, social, or cultural issue, but instead, harken back to South Korea’s seemingly endless grievances from more than 76 years ago during Japan’s occupation of the peninsula. All these matters were previously settled in the 1965 treaties normalizing relations between the two countries, and then reinforced with a 2015 agreement on “final and irreversible” resolution brokered by Washington. Still, a number of cases continue to wind their way through the courts threatening property seizures against Japanese companies and demands by former “comfort women” who worked in military brothels.

There is a pressing need for a strong trilateral alliance, not only to contain North Korea but also manage tensions with China. Thus, it is very interesting that Washington defaults to neutrality and even encouragement of South Korean activists, when in fact the U.S. is in possession of an exhaustive factual record of this period's history which tells a much different story.

As part of the overall effort to shed light on numerous open questions dating back to World War II, Congress in 1998 passed the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, followed by the Japanese Imperial Government Disclosure Act in 2000. These two laws created an official government Interagency Working Group (IWG), which is tasked with locating, identifying, inventorying, and recommending for declassification classified U.S. records relating to Nazi German and Imperial Japanese war crimes.

Since 1999, the IWG has declassified and opened to the public an estimated 8 million pages of documents, including 1.2 million pages of OSS records; 74,000 pages of CIA name and subject files; more than 350,000 pages of FBI subject files; and nearly 300,000 pages of Army intelligence files. The IWG has issued two interim reports to Congress (in October 1999 and March 2002), as well as a book.

According to the principal dispute claim held up by South Korean pressure groups, many of them intertwined with North Korean interests, the Japanese military had forcibly “enslaved” something in the order of 200,000 women in the military brothel system. Japan has apologized repeatedly for all the suffering caused by wartime prostitution but questions both the figure and the terms of mobilization and employment of comfort women. If there were ever a place to set the record straight about what actually happened, it would be among the 8.5 million pages of declassified documents released by the IWG, which has been described as the “largest single-subject declassification in U.S. history.”

There was just one problem – the documents meticulously examined and released by the IWG failed to reveal any evidence supporting South Korea’s comfort women claims.

The authors of both the final report issued by the IWG in 2007 and its corollary report, “Researching Japanese War Crimes: Introductory Essays,” went to great lengths to explain that they had undertaken all efforts to track down and source archival documentation on comfort women. None of these efforts produced the sought-for evidence.

“The new IWG records will be least useful for researchers exploring the Japanese military’s use of ‘comfort women’ during the war,” wrote IWG historian James Lide in the essay's report. “Other than a handful of documents that record individual accounts of Japanese troops kidnapping women and girls, none of the declassified materials contains any references to this issue.”

The researchers were explicitly instructed to pursue this issue, and the OSS at the time would have been highly motivated to collect evidence of this kind against Japan in its millions of pages of intelligence reports. Yet there simply was no historical trace giving credibility to what would have been “a massive, complex, and resource-intensive effort to forcibly kidnap, detain, and manage a population of 200,000 women.”

This absence of any meaningful documentation is an extraordinary fact, and one that is blissfully ignored by the South Korean activists.

Many people had hoped that the IWG would unearth records that would help them document Japanese atrocities. In the preface of the IWG report, acting Chair Steven Garfinkel wrote, “To these people, I state unequivocally that the IWG was diligent and thorough in its search for relevant records about war crimes in Asia.” But even thorough research cannot make a false claim appear genuine.

As we re-enter these endless cycles of South Korean leaders and pressure groups demanding apologies from Japan, it would be helpful, at the very least, if Washington could push back and remind our allies in Seoul that their narrative of this history is simply not supported by the facts.

Duggan Flanakin is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT). The views expressed are his own.


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