Dozens of demonstrators gathered outside Johnston Gate Saturday afternoon in a protest organized by the Korean American Society of Massachusetts against Harvard Law professor J. Mark Ramseyer, calling for him to apologize for his recent controversial paper on “comfort women” and for the publishing journal to retract the article.
Ramseyer’s paper “Contracting for sex in the Pacific War,” which will be published in the International Review of Law and Economics, stoked international controversy last month by claiming that sex slaves under the Imperial Japanese military, known as “comfort women,” were voluntarily employed. Many of the comfort women were from Korea, and Ramseyer has faced significant backlash in South Korea since the paper was widely publicized in late January.
In front of Johnston Gate, the main entrance to Harvard Yard, members of the organization handed out South Korean flags and posters, in addition to collecting signatures for a white paper condemning Ramseyer’s article. Protest organizer Do Kim said more than 100 protesters attended the event.
In the white paper, the demonstrators demanded an apology from Ramseyer “for distorting historical facts”; for Harvard to hold Ramseyer accountable for “failing to meet research integrity”; for the IRLE to retract the article in question; and for the Japanese government to acknowledge and apologize for its “past atrocity.”
The protesters also chanted for Ramseyer’s removal from the Law School, repeating “Dismiss Ramseyer!” and “Ramseyer out!” The group also repeatedly sang “Arirang,” a folk song considered to be the anthem of Korea.
Seo Yong Ae, president of the Korean American Society of Massachusetts, gave a brief, impassioned speech in Korean during the protest, proclaiming the comfort system “clearly and apparently a war crime, sex slavery, and child abuse.”
Former Suffolk County assistant district attorney Linda Champion, who attended the protest, said the Ramseyer’s paper struck a chord among Koreans.
“It just hit a nerve with so many people that it was important for them to come out to express to Harvard University it was not okay for someone to bear a name as prestigious as Harvard and to write propaganda,” Champion said.
Ohio State University student Madison Ryan said she flew out from Columbus, Ohio, to attend Saturday’s protest. Ryan said she is a member of OSU’s chapter of WeHope, a Boston-based student organization aimed at raising awareness about the comfort women issue.
“We’re fundraising to build a statue here in Boston,” Ryan said, referring to a proposed comfort women memorial. “In order to get that statue erected, we need to prove that this is something that people here do care about.”
June Kim, a sophomore at Boston University, said she attended the protest with her parents to show support for the rights and history of comfort women.
“They need to be heard. Their story needs to be recorded, and it can’t be changed,” Kim said.
After the protest concluded, organizer Gil Lee said he was disappointed that not many Harvard students attended, adding that many students at the University have been silent on this issue.
“If Harvard students [show up], a lot of others will take more interest,” Lee said. “Especially with the Ramseyer case, a lot of questions we get is, ‘What do Harvard students think?’”
Lee added that his organization hopes to work with WeHope to build a comfort women memorial “right in front of Harvard.”
“I don’t know whether that’s going to work,” he acknowledged.
The protest drew attendees from several states and Korean American groups. Several protests have sprung up across cities in South Korea, but the protest at Harvard is the largest demonstration on the controversy in the United States to date.
On Feb. 17, the Federation of Korean American Associations of the North East held the first major protest in the U.S. in New Jersey with representatives of six states’ Korean American associations, FKAANE president Judy Yoo said in an interview Thursday.
Scholars and activists worldwide have also put together virtual petitions in place of in-person protest, in light of the current pandemic.
A late February petition by “concerned economists” organized by University of California, Los Angeles political science professor Michael Chwe has garnered more than 3,200 signatures to date, including Nobel laureates, Harvard affiliates, economists, historians, and others.
The letter calls for the journal to retract Ramseyer’s article and “take all necessary corrective measures” to address any factual concerns that have been raised. Though defending academic freedom, the authors of the letter wrote that Ramseyer’s article — which draws on game theory — must acknowledge the “truth of the embedded historical claims that form its empirical basis.”
Yuji Hosaka, professor of political science at Sejong University in Seoul, also penned a letter March 1 pointing out Ramseyer’s “critically erroneous statement.” The letter was signed by 36 individuals, including comfort woman survivor Lee Ok-seon, two members of the National Assembly of Korea, and human rights lawyers.
Hosaka addressed his statement to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow, the IRLE editor Eric A. Helland, and the Speaker of the National Assembly of Korea Park Byeong-seug. He said in an interview with The Crimson conducted in Korean that only the IRLE and the National Assembly of Korea have confirmed their receipt of his letter.
Ramseyer did not respond immediately to a request for comment on the protest. University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain and Law School spokesperson Jeff Neal declined to comment Sunday.
Andrew Davis, spokesperson for the journal’s publisher Elsevier, wrote in an email Thursday he cannot comment on the journal’s ongoing investigation into the article. The journal delayed print production of the issue, but publication of Ramseyer’s article is still considered final.
—Staff writer Ariel H. Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.