Comfort women statue causes discomfort for some

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There is not a people or a nation innocent of committing acts of atrocity on others.  How the U.S. ignored the humanitarian needs and ongoing genocide in Iraq and Syria until it was almost too late, for example, will be judged  by future generations. Right now, this  notion of shame is being felt very deeply by some Japanese people, who are angered over how some American cities have allowed “Comfort Women” statues in parks. The monuments memorialize the women and girls, mostly Koreans, who were forced into sexual slavery during World War II by the Japanese military. The Japanese government has apologized, and Glendale has installed a monument, but  some Japanese nationals have taken issue, saying that the Koreans have exaggerated the stories and that many were prostitutes. A lawsuit was filed against Glendale, but a federal court judge recently dismissed it, saying the city was within its rights.   Above is a photo of the Comfort Woman statue in Glendale taken by David Crane. Below is a photo of Bok-dong Kim, who said she once was forced into sexually slavery. From my story (Daily News, July 29, 2013): 

GLENDALE- She was once like the teenage girl now immortalized in bronze, dressed in Korean attire who sits still and silent, with clenched fists on her lap and her feet bare.

For Bok-dong Kim and others once like her, the new bronze statue unveiled in Glendale on Tuesday symbolizes two moments of their lives: when they were “comfort women” — a euphemism for the 200,000 mostly Korean women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II. And when their stories became acknowledged, and victims of sexual slavery could come out from the shadows of silence and shame, to tell their stories freely.

“I am grateful and very appreciative,” said Kim, 88, through an interpreter. “I cannot express my thanks.”

The Glendale City Council approved the monument earlier this month, over the objections of some Japanese-Americans who said during council meetings that comfort women did not exist or their stories were exaggerated. But historians have said that 200,000 women and girls — mostly Koreans, but also Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipina and Dutch (from the then-Dutch colony of Indonesia) — were rounded up and forced into brothels where they were raped by Japanese soldiers.

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The Japanese government issued a formal apology in 1993, but some within the Korean community have said there was a lack of sincerity.

Council members called the memorial a “peace statue,” meant to forge solidarity with Glendale and its sister cities in South Korea. The Korean American Forum of California, a nonprofit human rights organization, funded and built the memorial unveiled Tuesday in a park near the Glendale Public Library.

The memorial depicts a girl in traditional Korean costume sitting on a chair, and from head to toe, she is a symbol: from her fists that represent her resolve for justice to her bare feet which mean she was abandoned by a cold, unsympathetic world. It is a replica of one installed by Korean civic leaders directly across the street from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, where surviving comfort women have held a protest every Wednesday for 21 years.

“We had a lot of pressure at City Hall and hundreds and hundred of emails opposed to this,” said Glendale City Councilwoman Laura Friedman.

But in the end, the council agreed 4-1 that Glendale would become the first city on the West Coast to install a memorial to comfort women.

“The city of Glendale stands united with the Korean community and with sexual victims,” Friedman added.

For Councilman Zareh Sinanyan, who is of Armenian descent, the memorial represents the importance of acknowledging man’s inhumanity to man. The grandson of survivors of the Armenian genocide — which the Turkish government continues to deny was a genocide but which resulted in the deaths of more than a million people, including Greeks and Assyrians — Sinanyan said the lack of acknowledgement means the wounds inflicted on his people remain.

“I’m very happy we’re taking this step to heal a deep wound to Korean women,” Sinanyan said. “I understand the pain the victims have undergone.”

And many from the Japanese community applauded Glendale’s decision.

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, a Japanese-American, expressed support for the proposed memorial in Glendale. And Kathy Masaoka, of the Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, said during the unveiling that Japan must apologize again and make reparations.

Korean artist Bok Lim Kim said the bronze memorial offers a broader, universal meaning.

“Every girl has dreams,” she said. “Dreams of happiness, of peace and of freedom.”

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