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Memorial a tribute to WWII 'comfort women'

Updated: 2013-08-01 03:00
By Chen Jia in San Francisco and Liu Yiyi in Glendale, California ( China Daily)

US monument wins praise despite objection from Japanese official

The US West Coast unveiled its first public memorial to World War II-era "comfort women", in Glendale, California, on Tuesday.

The 499-kg statue of a woman in Korean dress sitting next to an empty chair has won high praise from both Korean-Americans and Chinese-Americans, who consider it a moving tribute to the tens of thousands of Asian women who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during the war.

Memorial a tribute to WWII 'comfort women'

Kim Bok-dong, a victim of the Japanese military during World War II, sits in the empty chair of the "comfort women" memorial during the unveiling ceremony in Glendale, California on Tuesday. The statue is a tribute to Asian comfort women who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese troops. [Liu Yiyi / China Daily]

"We received thousands of protest e-mails, but history cannot be denied. This is a testament to the history and to the will of Korean people," city Councilwoman Laura Friedman said at the unveiling ceremony.

"We are proud to be the first city on the West Coast to have the memorial. We care about the Korean population in the US," she said.

"The comfort women were innocent victims of the war. The sexual abuse was horrible."

City officials rejected an unexpected request from the Japanese consulate-general in Los Angeles days ago to not display the statue in a public park.

A similar onslaught from Japanese lobbyists who tried to get a monument to comfort women removed in New Jersey took place last year.

Peter Li, a professor emeritus at Rutgers University, said the recent actions by Japanese politicians reflect "a total rejection of any responsibility" by Tokyo for the establishment and administration of the comfort women system.

"This is morally abhorrent," he said. "The Japanese government should unambiguously assume responsibility and admit its wrongdoing."

No legislation officially apologizes for the enslavement of the comfort women or offers official governmental compensation for the victims, he said.

Li said the Japanese are good at expressing their regrets for the suffering that occurred, but they do not assume responsibility, which is rightfully theirs.

Also on Tuesday, three Chinese women in their 80s joined with 174 local supporters in Osaka, Japan, to request disciplinary action against Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, whose recent remarks on comfort women seriously damaged their sense of dignity and caused them mental anguish, Xinhua News Agency reported.

Li Xiumei, 86, a surviving Chinese comfort woman abducted by the Japanese military, and the two other women now live in Shanxi province.

The Chinese victims said this Japanese mayor, though born in peacetime, has hurt them with his insensitive message that defends Japanese military aggression.

According to the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WW II in Asia, Japanese ultra-rightists voted down an official apology resolution in 1995 after then-prime minister Tomiichi Murayama of the Socialist Party made a personal apology to victims.

Kathy Masaoka, co-chair of the Japanese-American organization Nikkei for Civil Rights and Redress, said: "What the Japanese military did in World War II also influenced Japanese-Americans' human rights and freedoms in the US. The Japanese government owes an apology to everyone who was a victim of what they did in the war."

The apology was important, as the victims will finally be able to heal their deep wounds, she said, adding that learning from the past is the only way to move forward.

Contact the writers through chenjia@chinadailyusa.com

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