THE Japanese Imperial Army marched on its stomach, but rested at pit-stops across Asia, where women were pressed into sexual service. Tokyo said yesterday that it would co-operate with a United Nations investigation into this shameful episode in the country's history, an episode echoedin Serbia's use of rape as strategy in Croatia and Bosnia.
However, if Tokyo does not desist from the delaying tactics it has successfully employed for so long, victims who survived the war will all have died of old age. Japan's record of covering up its role in the scandal - denying complicity until written evidence was discovered by an independent researcher - provides little basis for trust in Tokyo's good faith.
Japan is prepared to offer unofficial funding to help heal wartime wounds, but hides behind agreements reached in defeat to deny responsibility for wartime atrocities. Tokyo does not need to await a UN investigation to appreciate the scale of the crimes of its forces, and should not need outside help to identify the war criminals who have shared in the country's growing affluence.
The very term 'comfort women' is an offensive way to describe victims of systematic and repeated rape. The former Yugoslavia is full of such comfort women, as are the mass graves left behind by Serbian forces. As the ghost in the Japanese military machine returns as the skeleton in closet, even faceless bureaucrats should blush at Tokyo's shame.
Japan may be forgiven for having difficulty in coming to terms with its past: The late Emperor Hirohito's wartime role presents a particular challenge to Japanese sensitivities. But such national soul-searching should take place after the victims have been fully compensated, and received apologies from the highest level. Only when Japan atones for its past crimes will Tokyo begin to enjoy trust, as well as power, in Asia, and around the world.