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  • Writer's pictureSu Lee

Harvard Professor Ramseyer Publishes "Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War"

In December 2020, Professor J. Mark Ramseyer, a corporate-law specialist in Japanese Legal studies at Harvard Law, published an article called 'Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War'. in the peer-reviewed journal International Review of Law and Economics.

Ramseyer applies game theory to explain the contractual relationship that existed between the Japanese government officials and the Comfort Women and claims that Comfort Women "chose prostitution."

Ramseyer's article legitimizes Japanese ultra-nationalist rhetoric used by right-wing politicians to airbrush and undermine the government's role in the system of sexual slavery.

The article is not only about the original conflict between Japan and Korea in historical denialism, but also about academic integrity. While Ramseyer claims academic freedom, thousands of scholars and professors from around the world have spoken up about the horrifying manipulation and inappropriate use of evidence that, from a purely academic point of view, would warrant the "canceling" of his work.

For example, the main evidence Ramseyer used was from a young Japanese girl who was sent to Borneo. Ramseyer writes, "When Osaki turned ten, a recruiter stopped by and offered her 300 yen upfront if she would agree to go abroad. The recruiter did not try to trick her; even at age 10, she knew what the job entailed.

Amy Stanley, a professor at Japanese history at Northwestern University, and her colleagues have traced back this original testimony in the book the Ramseyer cited and proved that the girl had resisted, and railed against the brothel keeper for lying about what the job would entail. Michael Chwe, a professor at U.C.L.A, and a thousand other economists have signed Chwe's public statement denouncing Ramseyer's use of game theory. Furthermore, Chwe writes that not only is Ramseyer's game theory shallow and basic, game theory is not itself an adequate justification for coercive situations.

Harvard Law's Asian-American student group organized an event to discuss Ramseyer's article. Lee Yong-soo, a surviving Comfort Woman, was invited to speak through an interpreter. In her speech, Lee directly criticized Ramseyer's unethical paper but also pointed out that the international attention Ramseyer's article has garnered is beneficial for the overall Comfort Women's fight for justice.

Resources for further reading:

'Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War'

Article by J.Mark Ramseyer, published December 1st, 2020

Statement by

Andrew Gordon, Professor, Department of History

Carter Eckert, Professor, Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations,

Harvard University

Open Letter by Tessa Morris-Suzuki

Professor Emerita in Japanese History,

College of Asia and the Pacific,

Australian National University

Open Letter to Eric Helland,

Editor-in-Chief of IRLE

By the "Concerned Scholars"

Amy Stanley (Professor of History, Northwestern University)

Hannah Shepherd (Junior Research Fellow, Japanese & Korean History, Trinity College, University of Cambridge)

Sayaka Chatani (Assistant Professor, Department of History, National University of Singapore)

David Ambaras (Professor of History, North Carolina State University)

Chelsea Szendi Schieder (Associate Professor, Faculty of Economics, Aoyama Gakuin University)

Letter by Concerned Economists Regarding “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War” in the International Review of Law and Economics

'The Abuse of History: A Brief Response to J. Mark Ramseyer’s "Contracting for Sex"'

""Seeking the True Story of the Comfort Women""

Article by Jeannie Suk Gersen, Professor at Harvard Law


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