Glendale ‘comfort women’ statue rekindles old racial tensions
By Katie Madden 08/07/2013
Over the decades, stories of innocent young victims of brutal sexual enslavement during World War II have slowly been erased from public memory.
Last week, steps were taken in Glendale to ensure that no one forgets what was done to these girls and young women with the unveiling of the West Coast’s first statue commemorating the plight of comfort women, or young women and girls captured in Korea, China and other Asian nations occupied by Imperial Japanese forces who were then turned into sex slaves for use by combat soldiers on leave from the fighting.
The 1,100-pound bronze statue, first proposed by the Korean American Forum of California and then advocated by the Glendale Sister City Program, has drawn fire from numerous Japanese and Japanese-American groups, many of which claim the victims many as young as 13 and 14 were really volunteers in Japan's wartime efforts.
Some critics said resurrecting stories about the comfort women only rekindles old racial animosities and are better left forgotten. Other opposition came from people living in Japan, who reportedly sent hundreds of emails to city officials stating the stories of comfort women were fabricated and that the statue unfairly characterizes the Japanese military during the war.
The monument placed in Glendale’s Central Park depicts a young Korean woman who was kidnapped and forced into slavery in order to provide sex to Japanese soldiers. Korea had been occupied by Japan from 1910 to the end of World War II. Comfort women were used there and also during the Second Sino-Japanese War, starting in 1932, and continuing through World War II, beginning for the United States in the Pacific in December 1941 with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The war in the Pacific formally ended on Aug. 15, 1945, after American airmen dropped the atomic bomb Little Boy on the city of Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and a second A-bomb, Fat Man, over Nagasaki on Aug. 9.
Members of the Japanese government have long denied the role of comfort women, as they have refuted some of the acts of brutality committed by Japanese soldiers on innocent civilians in China and in nations throughout the eastern coast of Asia during the war. Last week the Japan Daily Press reported that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced plans to revise Japan’s apologies, including one issued over Japanese use of comfort women, in order “to downplay Japan’s aggressive actions during World War II,” the paper states.
Some historians believe that more than 30 million Chinese people were killed from 1932 to 1945, a number considerably higher than the horrifying toll of 11 million civilians, including 6 million Jews, murdered by Nazis.
Glendale City Councilwoman Laura Friedman said the history of the comfort women has been validated by the Japanese government’s apologies, however belated or reluctant.
“Whatever you believe, it’s indisputable that these women were victims,” Friedman told the Pasadena Weekly.
The cost of the $30,000 monument was covered by donations raised by the KAFC.
“I don’t see the reason for the controversy. In my mind, it’s not a statue that is condemning Japan,” Friedman said. “It doesn’t make any obvious statement about Japan’s behavior. It’s really about these women, these girls, really, and what happened to them. … This is really a monument towards not just peace but for us to remember innocent victims of war and victims of sexual exploitation around the world.”