Paul Greenberg

A couple of years ago, the Japanese consul general at New Orleans dropped by to straighten me out about the Rape of Nanking - a six-weeks-long orgy of rape, murder, torture and general barbarity that a Japanese textbook had just referred to as "the Nanking Incident."

Useful things, euphemisms. It was as if a German text had referred to the Holocaust as the Auschwitz Incident.

My distinguished visitor, the Hon. Masaru Sokato, had already written an indignant letter to the editor in response to my editorializing about the tendency in today's Japan's to gloss over the atrocities that country committed during the late unpleasantness known as the Second World War.

Mr. Sokato followed up his letter with a personal visit, explaining that the new, enlightened and properly penitent Japan would never minimize the war crimes committed by the bad old Japan.

I was reminded of his assurances on reading a headline in the paper just last Friday: "Japanese leader: No proof / women forced to have sex / Lawmakers push to mute '93 apology for brothels."

It seems that, back in 1993, the Japanese government had apologized to the Comfort Women - the hundreds of thousands of mainly Korean and Chinese women forced to service Japanese troops during the war.

That was shortly after historians had unearthed official Japanese documents showing how military authorities worked directly with private contractors to force women into the brothels.

As good old Jake Burden noted in Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men," there's always some clue left behind. Some document that surfaces years or decades later and blows the official cover. Like a government contract with the Imperial Army, or Kurt Waldheim's initials on a slip of paper authorizing an execution.

A group of Japanese parliamentarians - 120 of them at last count - now want to revoke their government's apology to the Comfort Women. Their leader explains that it was all a misunderstanding. The military brothels were only an example of free enterprise in action, a kind of Halliburton delivering sexual services.

To quote the Hon. Nariaki Nakayama: "Some say it is useful to compare the brothels to college cafeterias run by private companies who recruit their own staff, procure foodstuffs, and set prices. Where there is demand, businesses crop upŠ."

Why, sure. The law of supply and demand. Adam Smith and all that. Ain't nobody here but us entrepreneurs. The whole business was as wholesome as a college cafeteria.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.