Comfort Women Monument Unveiled in Glendale

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By J.K. YAMAMOTO and MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Staff Writers

Bok-dong Kim, who spoke of her experiences as a comfort woman, sits next to a statue representing the young Korean women who were victimized. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

GLENDALE — With hundreds of onlookers pressing in for a look, the City of Glendale on Tuesday unveiled a monument in Central Park dedicated to the Korean “comfort women” of World War II. 

Participating in the dedication of the life-size statue of a young girl — seated next to an empty chair representing the victims who have died — were the Glendale City Council, Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress, and a former comfort woman, 87-year-old Bok-dong Kim, who was affectionately referred to as halmoni (grandmother) by her supporters.

“As I look at it, it reminds me of my young age when I was abducted,” Kim said through an interpreter, adding, “ My only hope is that before we die — we don’t have much time left — Japan comes forward and offers official apology and reparations.” 

After the unveiling, Kim sat in the empty chair and held hands with the statue. Both Kim and the statue were given leis, and Kim received a miniature version of the monument. 

The inscription reads, “In memory of more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes in Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, East Timor and Indonesia, to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 and 1945. 

“And in celebration of proclamation of ‘Comfort Women Day’ by the City of Glendale on July 30, 2012, and of passing of House Resolution 121 by the United States Congress on July 30, 2007, urging the Japanese government to accept historical responsibility for these crimes. 

“It is our sincere hope that these unconscionable violations of human rights shall never recur.” 

H.R. 121 was originally drafted by Rep. Mike Honda of San Jose, who was not present at Tuesday’s ceremony but addressed participants via video during a reception before the ceremony.

NCRR recording secretary Janice Yen recalled Honda speaking about the issue at an event in the late 1990s, before the story of the comfort women was widely discussed. 

“He came to speak about what an atrocity it was, so we’ve known about it for quite some time, but there hasn’t been a whole lot of publicity about it until now,” Yen said.  

Over strong objections from Japan and local Japanese residents, the City Council approved the monument on July 9. International interest in the issue was reflected by the dozens of journalists covering the ceremony. Other monuments to the comfort issue have been dedicated in New Jersey, and the Glendale statue is a replica of the one that stands across the street from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

No members of Congress attended, but statements of support were read by Qiao Li on behalf of Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and by Young Kim on behalf of Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton). Kim noted that efforts to erect similar monuments are under way in Orange County and elsewhere in the U.S.

There was little protest or demonstration from either side at the unveiling, although one man, C.Y. Kao, brought a large picture of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with a swastika superimposed on it. 

Bok-dong Kim said a full apology and recognition by the Japanese government of what happened would go a long way toward easing the lingering pain of herself and women like her. Addressing Abe, she remained steadfast that an apology is essential.

“If you, as the prime minister, are representing a country, you have to make an apology for the past, even if it was committed by the former emperor of your country,” she insisted. 

Calling the unveiling “a moment of pride for the City of Glendale,” Councilmember Ara Najarian said, “I heard Grandma Kim explain the pain and the horrors that she and many other young Korean girls went through … We are hoping that today’s monument will be a part of the healing process … This is one small step that we, the people of the City of Glendale, can do to honor the memories of those who have perished and those still alive who have survived the tragedies of the Korean comfort women.” 

Speaking as the grandson of an Armenian genocide survivor, Councilmember Zareh Sinanyan said, “I understand the pain, I understand the horror that the victims  … The best way to resolve conflicts … the best way to heal wounds … is to acknowledge them … My people, my grandfather, were subjected to a horrible, horrible crime … To this day, because no apology has come, no proper acknowledgement has come … the wound is deep, it’s festering, and there can be no moving forward without it.” 

Councilmember Laura Friedman stated, “This is a very special day for all of the people of Glendale to be the first city on the West Coast to host a Korean comfort woman memorial. We had a lot of pressure at City Council to not install this memorial. We had hundreds and hundreds of emails opposed to this memorial. But history and truth cannot be denied, they cannot be suppressed, and this monument is a testament to that.

“It’s also a testament to the will of the Korean people in Los Angeles to tell this important story, to make sure that nothing like this happens again. Today the City of Glendale stands united with its Korean population, it stands united with the truth, it stands united with the victims of sexual violence around the world, and the innocent victims of any war that has taken place.” 

Kathy Masaoka speaks for Nikkei for Civil Rights & Redress with other members standing behind her. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

Councilmember Frank Quintero, who recently visited the monument in Seoul, thanked everyone who worked on the project and emphasized that Japanese Americans have been “in the background, working with us … Mike Honda, a Japanese American, introduced a measure in Congress that was successful in dealing with this issue … The Japanese American community of California, Americans of Japanese descent born in the United States … they are with the community … with the City of Glendale. I want to thank them very much.” 

Kathy Masaoka spoke on behalf of NCRR, which was established to fight for redress and an official apology for Japanese Americans incarcerated without due process during World War II. “We learned many lessons during the 10-year campaign … We also learned about others who were facing similar discrimination both in this country and in Japan. In 1988, we were invited to support Koreans and other minorities in Japan who were fighting the fingerprinting required of all aliens, even those born there.  

“We met ordinary Japanese activists and citizens who were supporting efforts to remove this law, and later were asked to support the Chinese slave laborers who were suing the Japanese government for their treatment in the Hanaoka mines during World War II. Again, the government denied any responsibility and instead placed total blame on the company that ran the mine, Kajima, which did have some responsibility.” 

Masaoka pledged that NCRR “will continue to support the Korean comfort women’s demand for an apology and individual reparations from the Japanese government and understands how important both the apology and reparations are. Japan has said that they settled all claims when they paid reparations as part of the peace treaties after the war, but these did not go to the comfort women. The United States also stated that they settled all of its issues with the Japanese American community with the Evacuation Claims Act of 1948, which paid individuals 10 cents on the dollar for loss of property, but only if they had receipts — and most did not.  

“Some say that Japan has paid reparations through the Asian Women’s Fund, but only 285 women from South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines have gotten money. Most consider it charity since the funds come mainly from private sources and (are) not a sincere acknowledgement of responsibility by the Japanese government. And although various prime ministers have expressed some kind of apology, it has not been directly to the comfort women, nor has it been strong enough to prevent other officials from denying their existence, and some have even justified it … 

“When the U.S. government passed the Civil Liberties Act 25 years ago, it helped to heal the pain of those who had suffered in America’s concentration camps and showed that this country can admit its mistakes. When Japan sincerely apologizes and pays reparations to each of the comfort women before it is too late, it will help these survivors heal and show that Japan has learned from its past. 

“This monument to the comfort women is also a reminder to all of us that the abuse and trafficking of women into forced prostitution or domestic slavery continues today, even in this country.” 

Inside the Glendale Central Library, a display about the comfort women is on view to tell the stories of the women involved, from countries including South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. 

Jean Chung is president of Action for One Korea, an organization she founded to work toward the reunification of North and South Korea. She said the U.S. is a stakeholder in the comfort women issue, despite the fact that the U.S. had little direct involvement, mainly due to the postwar decision not to pursue war crimes charges against Japan. 

“There was a threat of communism at the time, and Japan was a potential buffer against it, so they decided not to punish Japan,” Chung explained. “Because of that, the U.S. is involved.” 

Chung added that the social humiliation suffered by the comfort women essentially kept them for discussing their ordeals until South Korea experienced wide-scale democratization in the late 1990s. She said lingering nationalist tendencies in both Korea and Japan have made the issue a difficult one to analyze objectively for many people. 

“The older generation in Korea feels we should hate everything about Japan, but here in the United States, we can see history remotely as a third party, so we have to be the foundation for reconciliation,” she said. “We can’t fight forever.”

Janice Yen of NCRR looks at the exhibit on comfort women in the Glendale Central Library. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

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16 Comments

  1. There are two comfort woman issues. One is caused by the Japanese army, and the
    other is caused by South Korea which is currently on-going.

    To me the latter is more important since a lot of women and children are still f
    orced to be sex slaves; they’re forced to be sacrificed as comfort women and to
    abandon their happiness, hope and life. Yes, it’s still an on-going issue, and t
    o me stopping the crime and protecting children and women are more urgent than d
    iscussing the history issue.

    Please read the report from the university of Rhode Island as a start in order t
    o understand the background of the modern comfort women problem.

    Modern day comfort women – University of Rhode Island.
    http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/modern_day_comfort_women.pdf

    This gives one case of a Korean girl; she was abducted at age 14 from her villag
    e in South Korea, and was repeatedly raped and exploited by soldiers of the Sout
    h Korean army. An American soldier brought her to the U.S. through a sham marria
    ge, where she was then trafficked within the U.S. on a massage parlor circuit.

    Obviously she was forced to be a sex slave or comfort woman. They destroyed her
    life completely when she was at age of 14, and she was never able to get it back
    in her life.

    Can’t you accept this? This sex slave crime has been existing for over a half ce
    ntury, and it’s still on-going. Who does this? South Korea. I believe we should
    stand against it.

    The sex slave or comfort woman issue is still on-going, and you should have more
    knowledge about it. Please visit:

    https://www.facebook.com/ModernComfortWomen

  2. Takasumi A Kojima on

    Why look at other countries when we’ve got a war on women here in America? Just look what right-wingers are doing to women here. It’s so easy to point our finger at other countries and their atrocities while ignoring our own short comings.

  3. I think This is not only comfort women problem.
    In politics, Might be involved. want the votes of Korean

  4. Thank you Glendale! We must be reminded of the ugliness of mankind, especially when denied. Unless the Japanese government takes steps toward real responsibility for its past organized crimes against innocent young girls, Japan will continue its course of bad faith. My grandfather told me how the Japanese army would simply kidnap young unwed girls in Korea to serve as forced sex slaves during WWII. Let this ugliness never be repeated anywhere, anytime. While we should hardly expect those associated with evil to apologize, it is right to unveil ugly truths so that we can learn from the past and try to hold evildoers accountable, even if they never do so in any meaningful sense. Thanks especially to Japanese Americans for standing up against those of their own ancestry, in the name of what is RIGHT.

  5. Did you know that some Korean “comfort girls” were earning approximately ONE MILLION dollars(US) per year?

    According to Japanese Prisoner of War Interrogation Report No. 49, “comfort girls” made 750 yen in an average month. So, their average annual earning was 9000 yen.
    9000 yen from 1944 is worth about 900,000 dollars(US) today.

    Report No. 49 can be found at
    http://texas-daddy.com/comfortwomen.htm

    Please read this important document written by the United States Office of War Information Psychological Warfare Team attached to U.S. Army Forces India-Burma Theater in 1944.

  6. Dear Glendale Residence,

    What would happen if Japanese people decide to sue your city of Glendale?

    Does the city pay for the court fee using American taxes?

    I hope Glendale keeps a good relationship with South Koreans, so Koreans would cover this court fee.

    From Tokyo, JAPAN

  7. The Korean hypocrisy is sickening. Korea inherited the comfort women system from the Imperial Japanese Military, and both Korean and US soldiers utilized their sexual services during the Korean War. Like some of the comfort women who followed the Japanese troops to the war zones, some of those Korean War comfort women were victims of illegal human trafficking.

    Korean soldiers rampantly raped Vietnamese women during the Vietnam War, and more than 10,000 babies were born from the Vietnamese rape victims. When will Korea apologize and compensate for the violation committed by the Korean soldiers?

    Korea turns a blind eye to its present day sex trafficking. My then 5 year old daughter was almost kidnapped in Seoul in 1988, the year of the Olympics in Seoul. I was told that abduction was not uncommon then. This past June, I heard news of a young women from Thailand forced into sex slavery in Korea by false promise of employment. You can google and find about the news.

    Prostitution remained legal in Korea until 2003, and that year, sex industry still earned 4.1% of Korea’s GDP. Since 2004, many sex business operations moved overseas. There are estimated 50,000 Korean sex workers in Japan, and every month, I hear news of round-up arrests of Korean sex workers and their Korean brokers. It is also well known that 90% of the sex workers arrested in the LA area are Koreans and one fourth of the sex workers in the US are Koreans.

    Koreans are shameless liars. “JC” for example, comments that s/he heard from his/her grandfather about kidnapping of young Korean girls by the IJA, but JC’s comment reveals s/he is not only a liar but also ignorant. 80% of the local council members in the Peninsula were Koreans, and 80% of the policemen were also Koreans in the Peninsula. Despite the alleged rampant abductions by the Japanese military, not a single riot occurred and not a single police report was submitted. Every Korean person, including JC’s grandfather, knew comfort girls were sold by their families, recruited by false promise of employment by Korean brokers, or kidnapped by Korean men. Many Korean newspaper articles reported arrests of Korean kidnappers. Korean newspapers also had advertisements of comfort women recruitment. JC’s grandfather must have seen them.

    Korean lies and hypocrisy are truly sickening. Koreans waste their time energy and money lying and expressing hate towards Japan and people of Japanese descent, but ordinary Americans too will soon know about the issue of comfort women, as the theory of Korean women forced into sex slavery has been already refuted in the academic world. The monument erected in Glendale will then become a statue of Korean shamelessness.

  8. Korean fathers and mothers sold their daughters to brothel operators. So there was coercion. However, it was not the coercion imposed by the Japanese military and/or government but by the brokers and pimps who played the intermediary role with brothel operators.

    By building this kind of memorial and telling lies with metal plates, you American are injuring Japan’s reputation and hurting us.

    False Accusations of Comfort Women
    http://www.howitzer.jp/korea/page03.html

  9. Well paid prostitutes, or coercion, or forced participation, it does not matter. Rape is still rape and crime is still crime. Just because a tyrant pays you for forced services, it does not excuse the crime, nor does it resolve a label. The choices were to rebel and die, or do the duty and get paid. Not much of a choice there, is it? Some did refuse and were executed, others wanted to stay alive. Which would you choose? I’m not saying all were original angels either as some did do it willingly to serve, but we’re also talking about an empirically brainwashed mindset that was literally bankrupt in the humanity department too. On top of that, War has a tendency to generate abuse in many different forms and take advantage of gullible scared women. World history is filled with the ownership of women like slaves and forcing them into submission. Only those still using the intelligence of a primitive ape would want to remove the Glendale Statue.

  10. humanrights tiananmen64 on

    I am very shocked because I found two news as follows.
    http://iamkoream.com/comfort-women-for-u-s-military-sue-south-korean-government/
    http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/08/05/national/politics-diplomacy/asahi-shimbun-admits-errors-in-past-comfort-women-stories/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=asahi-shimbun-admits-errors-in-past-comfort-women-stories
    The first one says that 122 Korean women claimed that “we were the U.S. military comfort women”, and sued the class action lawsuit on June 25, 2014. It means that the US military and the Korean Government itself are very deeply committed to this Korean “comfort women” matter during and after the Korean War, as an assailant of violence against women.
    The second one says that on August 6, 2014, the Asahi Shimbun, pro-Korean and liberal news paper in Japan, admitted to serious errors in many articles on the “comfort women” issue, retracting all stories going back decades that quoted a Japanese man who claimed he kidnapped about 200 Korean women and forced them to work at wartime Japanese military brothels. It means that as far as the present-day Korean Peninsula is concerned, no hard evidence had been found to show the Japanese military was directly involved in recruiting women to the brothel system against their will. It rejects such a story that the Japanese government would kidnap young girls as young as 14 years old from various countries including China and Korea and send them to their soldiers in the battlefield to “comfort” them. Is this memorial based NOT on historical facts, but on political propaganda to bully Japan and the Japanese?
    Anyway, a memorial on public land would be better to address the general case of comfort women not the one specific to the Japanese treatment of Korean women. I am sure that more cases can be found in the many wars the USA has fought.

  11. Search Web「Prostitutes in South Korea for the U.S. military」
    U. S. Military and Syngman Rhee rule.

    In September 1945, United States Armed Forces occupied Korea, including Imperial Japanese comfort stations. The women in comfort stations were also taken over. In 1946, the United States Army Military Government in Korea outlawed prostitution in South Korea.
    Under US Military rule, Korean society treated prostitutes with humiliation that included stoning and cursing from children. However, by 1953, the total number of prostitutes amounted to 350, 000. Between the 1950s and 1960s, 60 percent of South Korean prostitutes worked near U. S. military camps. During the Korean War, it was the South Korean Army that controlled Wianbu units performing sexual services for United Nations and South Korean soldiers.
    The children born to American soldiers and South Korean prostitutes were often abandoned when soldiers returned to the U.S. By the 1970s, tens of thousands of children had been born to South Korean women and American soldiers. In South Korea, these children are often the target of racist vitriol and abuse, being called “western princess bastards” (Yanggongju-ssaekki), “darkies”, or “niggers” (Kkamdungi). It was difficult for South Korean prostitutes around the U.S. military bases to escape from being stigmatized by their society, thus their only hope was to move to the United States and marry an American soldier. Trafficked Philippine women also had the same dream. Some American soldiers paid off the women’s debt to their owners to free them in order to marry them.However, most U.S. soldiers are unaware of the trafficking. Some soldiers have helped Philippine women escape from clubs. In 2009, juicy bar owners near Camp Casey who had political muscle, demanded that U.S. military officials do something to prevent G.I.s from wooing away their bar girls with promises of marriage. In June 2010, U.S. forces started a program to search for soldiers who had left and abandoned a wife or children. Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War, a research of prostitutes by Grace M. Cho who was the daughter of a G.I. and a South Korean woman, was awarded the best 2010 book on Asia and Asian America by the American Sociological Association.

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