Harvard Law professor of Japanese Legal Studies J. Mark Ramseyer reportedly sent a thank you message to a supporter this week whose email denigrated Koreans’ “national character” and called Ramseyer Japan’s “only hope.”
Ramseyer is already under fire in Korea for a paper that claims — against the historical consensus — that sex slaves under the Imperial Japanese military, known as “comfort women,” were voluntarily employed.
“Comfort women” is a term used to refer to women and girls from Imperial Japan’s occupied territories — many of whom were of Korean origin — that were sexually enslaved by the Japanese military before and during World War II. Ramseyer drew international backlash last month with his article, “Contracting for sex in the Pacific War,” that claimed that those women were gainfully contracted to Japanese brothels.
In a now-deleted post Tuesday, Twitter user @tukiyoni_saraba — whose account features many pro-Japanese nationalist tweets — posted a screenshot purportedly showing email correspondence with Ramseyer in Japanese.
“It seems like the Koreans are continuing their relentless attacks,” the Twitter user wrote to Ramseyer. “Over there, they have an unusual national character of attacking you to the very end if you display weakness.”
The supporter wrote that they hoped Ramseyer would not “lose to” Korean people, further describing the professor as the “only hope” of the Japanese people.
The supporter concluded by asking Ramseyer to “keep at it.”
According to the screenshot, Ramseyer responded by writing, “Thank you very much for sending me the kind and heartening letter. I will do the best I can!”
A former colleague of Ramseyer’s at Harvard’s Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies provided The Crimson with a separate email exchange in which Ramseyer appears to confirm the legitimacy of the thank-you note sent to the Twitter user.
“When people send me emails thanking me for what I’m doing and offering me encouragement, I send back a polite message thanking them for their letters of support,” Ramseyer wrote to his colleague, who requested anonymity to provide private email communications.
Ramseyer added in the email to the colleague that the thank-you message he sent is his “stock message” to supporters.
Law School professor Jeannie Suk Gersen tweeted Thursday that she found it “hard to imagine” Ramseyer would respond positively to the supporter’s message.
“I’m finding it hard to imagine a [Law School colleague] would write appreciatively back to a person expressing views to him about Koreans as a category,” she wrote in the tweet.
When asked about the legitimacy of the messages Thursday evening, Ramseyer declined to comment.
Many South Korean activists previously alleged that the Japanese government had influence over Ramseyer’s work.
In a Feb. 5 interview with The Crimson, Ramseyer declined to deny that he has ties to the Japanese government, saying, “Now why would I do that?”
In a follow-up emailed statement, he wrote that any connections to the Japanese government had “absolutely” no influence on his work.
Ramseyer’s comfort women article has drawn condemnation at and beyond Harvard’s campus. Harvard affiliates have staged an event with a surviving comfort woman, withdrawn donation plans, and penned petitions, while scholars worldwide have written rebuttals, with some demanding the article’s withdrawal. The International Review of Law and Economics, the journal set to print Ramseyer’s paper in its March issue, has since delayed the issue’s publication to investigate concerns around the article.
University of Pennsylvania law professor Jonathan Klick, an editor of the IRLE, wrote in a Thursday statement the journal is “currently awaiting” a response it requested from Ramseyer regarding criticisms of his paper.
Ramseyer’s paper in the IRLE is not his only work on imperial Japanese history that has recently been called into question.
On Feb. 18, the European Journal of Law and Economics published an article by Ramseyer studying Koreans living in Japan in the early 20th century. Five days later, however, an editor’s note was posted above the article stating that the journal editors are investigating “concerns” around the paper.
Ramseyer is also amending his chapter in the Cambridge Handbook of Privatization — which is expected to be published in August — after the editors received “very insightful” suggestions, he wrote in an email to The Crimson on Feb. 20.
Cambridge University Press spokesperson Matt Gallaway confirmed that the chapter in question is currently being reviewed by Ramseyer as well as an ethics committee.
The Korean American Society of Massachusetts plans to stage a protest on Saturday in front of the Smith Campus Center.
Gil Lee, a spokesperson for the organization, said the protest will call for the University to take action, as well as the IRLE to retract the article.
Harvard leadership has remained silent amid the uproar over Ramseyer’s paper, except Amy Fantasia, a speechwriter for University President Lawrence S. Bacow. Fantasia wrote in an email to Volunteer Agency Network of Korea — a South Korean NGO which emailed Bacow — that Ramseyer is protected by academic freedom, and that his views “are his own.”
VANK posted Fantasia’s response online, and University spokesperson Jonathan L. Swain confirmed it was Fantasia’s message.
In an email to The Crimson on Feb. 14, Ramseyer wrote that he was assembling a “short package” of material responding to the criticisms around his paper. He wrote on Feb. 17 that he would have the package ready “in a few days.”
He has declined to answer questions about the “package” since mid-February, however, and has not released any material publicly.
—Staff writers Dohyun Kim and Alex M. Koller contributed translations to the story.
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—Staff writer Simon J. Levien can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @simonjlevien.