Rafu Staff Report
FULLERTON — After hearing passionate pleas from proponents and opponents, the Fullerton City Council on Tuesday voted 3-2 for a resolution recognizing the plight of “comfort women” and the global problem of human trafficking.
Requested by the Korean American Forum of California (KAFC), the resolution puts the council on record as agreeing with HR 121, passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007, which states, in part, that:
“The government of Japan should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as ‘comfort women,’ during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II.”
Unlike a measure that was passed in Glendale and rejected in Buena Park last year, the resolution does not approve a monument, but does support the Fullerton Museum Center Association “as they consider options for the display of a peace monument.” The monument would be donated by KAFC, as was the case in Glendale.
Mayor Doug Chafee stressed, “This not a vote on the monument itself … We are simply adopting a resolution recognizing the tragedy … I hope this is not misunderstood.”
Rep. Ed Royce (R-Brea), who co-sponsored the House resolution with Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) and others, recalled hearing testimony from two former comfort women who “still struggle with the ordeal they went through.”
“For the victims, it becomes very important that their story be told … It’s hard to get the future right if you get the past wrong,” Royce said, adding that he found the monument in Glendale to be “a very moving representation of one of these young girls. An empty chair represented other girls who went through this ordeal and never survived.”
During public comments, the council heard from 13 people, with seven for and six against the resolution. The chamber was filled with members of the local Korean and Japanese communities.
Joachim Youn, president of KAFC, praised the “courage of politicians, activists and citizens who have worked hard to raise awareness of the issue.” He said that the proposed monument reflects the U.S. government’s official position on the issue and noted that a federal judge recently dismissed a lawsuit filed to have the Glendale monument removed.
Of the surviving “grandmas,” two of whom recently visited Southern California, he said that others must take up their cause because “they are too old and weak to fight for themselves.”
Rhonda Shader of the Women’s Club of Fullerton said that when her organization “became aware of largest human rights violation of our time, we knew we must do what we could locally to acknowledge it … so that it never happens again.”
Joyce Capelle, CEO of Crittenton Services for Children and Families, said that her group is “trying to change the language used to depict teen prostitutes,” who are “recruited at 11, 12, 13, and have absolutely no choice in the matter … They are truly victims of human trafficking.”
She noted that in the 1880s, the Florence Crittenton Mission helped “Chinese girls literally kidnapped and forced on a ship to the West Coast to serve in brothels … They did not speak the language and had no one to speak for them … It’s a very old problem, and it will not ever end unless we acknowledge our own responsibility as leaders and as a community … to decry all forms of sex trafficking as a hideous crime.”
A statement of support was also given by the YWCA of North Orange County.
Tom Sumori of True Japan Network, who had sent the council booklets containing “iron-clad facts from the Japanese side,” claimed that a widely read Asahi Shimbun report about comfort women later proved to be incorrect.
He argued against the resolution, saying, “This issue is very controversial. Korea says one thing, we say another. We’ll never agree upon it because it’s so complicated, it happened so many years ago.
“I’m afraid your approval only serves to create tension among residents of all concerned, including Americans. Can you say for sure that monument saying ‘sex slaves’ is educational? How can you explain to your children? … It’s not peace monument. I think this is peace-disturbing monument. You should be very careful of this proposal.”
Calling the issue “purely diplomatic,” Sumori said that U.S. cities should not get involved. “Let two countries solve it.”
Terumi Imamura, who has served as an interpreter for Japanese elected officials who visited Glendale to protest the monument, said that a U.S. government document describes comfort women as “nothing more than a prostitute or professional camp follower. This is public information in national library in Washington, D.C.”
She continued, “When you talk about human rights, there is a lot of terrible things in the world … That’s what the war does … Japan has not fought a war for the last 69 years, but there’s other countries that have wars and human rights are violated. What I’m trying to say is I know the history of United States. This country has worked so hard for the human rights, women’s equal rights, peace. You went through all that. You know how important this is. You don’t need a reminder.
“This statue is in Glendale, the plaque is in Garden Grove, and you want to build one in Fullerton? How many statues do you need to be reminded? These statues does not do any good, doesn’t bring anything good but dividing people.”
Byungsoo Min, who did not speak as a representative of any organization, recalled a recent visit to the Japanese American National Museum, where he saw a barrack from the Heart Mountain camp in Wyoming and learned how Japanese Americans were imprisoned “without any trial for the crime never committed.”
Regarding monuments to interned Japanese Americans, comfort women and others, “it doesn’t matter who committed the human rights violation,” said Min, who stressed, “It’s not a Japanese and Korean situation. What happened happened … We are merely joining Jewish Museum of Tolerance, Armenian massacre memorial … (in a) decent human outcry so it will never be repeated.”
Min, 81, recounted his days as a student in Japanese schools in occupied Korea. “When I was a sixth-grader, there was a school assembly … Three eighth-grade Korean girls were standing at the podium. The Japanese principal introduced the three young children (as) volunteers to serve the Japanese government … They sobbed profusely, not knowing what they are going to do … It really did happen.”
Phyllis Kim, spokesperson for KAFC, said that while there may have been errors in its 1982 article, Asahi Shimbun nonetheless “made a very strong comment and demand to the government of Japan requiring or demanding the acknowledgement and apology for the crimes Japanese government committed during wartime against these women.”
She disagreed with statements that the monument would be divisive. “Remembering what happened during World War II, for example, reminding what happened during the Holocaust, doesn’t divide people, it unites people … The German chancellor, when he went to Poland apologizing to victims of the Holocaust, that touched everyone’s heart … It is not to bash or not to blame or criticize the current Japanese people; it is to acknowledge what happened in the past, and only by correctly remembering what happened in the past we can avoid making the same mistake.”
Kim said it is important to “have an honest discussion” with children about sexual slavery because “it’s still happening, a serious problem we are facing in our community now … We are talking about our daughters, we are talking about our children in our community.”
She added that it is an international issue because comfort women came not only from Korea but also China, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Burma and even Japan.
Amy Watanabe, a social worker, said she is an advocate for children’s and women’s rights but objects to the monument because it is “harmful due to the subject’s controversial nature and the inaccuracy of the facts” and “encourages division and prejudice.”
She added, “The City of Buena Park wants harmony between people and not division, and thus declined to put up the statue … There are many Americans who believe in fairness and are willing to stand for the harmonious coexistence of people from all backgrounds.”
Masayuki Onoda, who was born in a U.S. concentration camp during World War II, said, “To bring this so-called peace monument here … is just going to cause more prejudice and hate against one race or one people.”
Mayor Pro Tem Greg Sebourn, who voted for the resolution, commented, “It’s not so much the Japanese government or the Korean government; it’s about humanity as people and the damage and effect it causes … It’s very emotional for me. I’m a father of two daughters. It’s a lot to take in … I see this as really a testament to surviving and to loss … a fitting monument for Fullerton, something I would take my two daughters to see.”
Councilmember Jennifer Fitzgerald, who also voted for the resolution, said, “We can take a stand against current human trafficking that happens in Fullerton and Orange County … Our silence tonight would condone these atrocities … I would be proud as well to encourage our museum to accept the peace monument.”
Councilmember Bruce Whitaker, who voted against the resolution, said that he had received scores of letters from both sides and noted that Fullerton has sister-city ties with both Fukui in Japan and Yongin in South Korea. “I’m concerned about any position that we take as a city that would project anything other than friendliness to our allies … I don’t know if it’s constructive at all to go back and try to intervene in a long-running conflict …
“Dealing with geopolitical issues like this, it was appropriately handled by our U.S. Congress … They’re the ones that handle foreign affairs. It doesn’t seem appropriate for us to intervene and point the finger at the great-grandchildren of those who may have committed atrocities during World War II … It’s a slippery slope. At what point do we weigh in on the Turks and Armenians, the plight of American Indians, the Aborigines, the slaughter of Cambodians?”
Whitaker read from a letter from a local Japanese American: “It’s not fair to blame our first-generation pioneers who came as far as back as 1900 for atrocities committed by Japan during World War II … Not one monument recognizing the Japanese American farming industry has been erected in Orange County.”
Councilmember Jan Flory, who also voted against the resolution, said that Japan has taken steps to atone for its actions, such as signing on to an international convention for the suppression of trafficking of women and children and establishing the private Asian Women’s Fund for former comfort women. “I think that there has been a strong recognition of what occurred in Japan … This issue is fraught with landmines, in my opinion … I don’t feel comfortable with a resolution that requires the government of Japan to do something which, in my opinion, has already been done.”
Noting that she had heard from the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles that morning, she said, “There’s a great deal of concern it would greatly damage … the sister-city relationship and international cultural exchanges. In the case of the City of Glendale, the city was faced with a lawsuit and its relationship with its sister city, Higashiosaka, has become very strained …
“Our Fullerton museum in the fall of 2015 will be having an exhibit comfort women. I will be attending that … I think that will say it all.”
While he was “very proud that members of the Korean community asked me to place this on the agenda,” Mayor Chafee — who had also spoken with the consulate — said that the wording of the Glendale monument was “a little bit too strong” and that he wanted the city to “take a different leadership role” by “recognizing the tragedy of human trafficking, including sexual exploitation and violence, taking a strong stand against human trafficking wherever it may occur.”
Chafee voted for the resolution, saying that any decisions about a monument will be left to the museum. “That is really their call.”