Rafu Staff Report
BUENA PARK — The Buena Park City Council has been asked to approve a monument to the Korean “comfort women” of World War II, but some council members were reluctant to get involved in the controversial issue.
The proposal was brought up at the council’s July 23 meeting, but no vote was taken.
A comfort women monument was approved by the Glendale City Council last month — after hearing from dozens of speakers at an emotionally charged meeting — and unveiled last week. Proponents said that Japan’s military forced as many as 200,000 women from Korea and other countries into sexual servitude, while opponents denied or downplayed the charges, claiming that the women worked voluntarily as prostitutes.
The Buena Park City Council was addressed by six proponents and one opponent. City Clerk Shalice Tilton reported that the city received 35 letters and emails against the monument.
Mayor Elizabeth Swift clarified, “Some of the emails that we got seemed to indicate that people thought minds have already been made up on this topic, whereas this topic has never been discussed by this council … This is a study session item. It’s not appropriate for us to take any specific action.”
Joe Pak, field representative for Assemblymember Sharon Quirk-Silva (D-Fullerton), said that his boss “supports the Glendale City Council’s action in favor of memorial monument to learn from the past history and prevent human trafficking so the history will not repeat.”
David Han of Young Leaders of Orange County said, “The victims ranged in age from 12 to 20, meaning most of the girls here, my sister, your daughters, as well as your granddaughters, may have been subject to this forced sex slavery. And the horrible thing about this is it wasn’t just a one-time thing. It was up to 20 times per day over a course of many months … 75 percent of the people died …
“The United States Congress has passed House Resolution 121, which states that the Japanese government should formally acknowledge, apologize and accept historical responsibility for the coercion of women into sex slavery. We the future generation are absolutely horrified by this human rights violation … The construction of the memorial would not only mark a historical step for the City of Buena Park but also allows us to reconcile with our history and march on towards a brighter future.”
Charles Kim, a U.S. Army veteran, said, “I don’t want to talk about this issue anymore. It’s painful to even talk about it. It’s really painful when you actually meet these women. They’re dying every day. Where is their honor? … I have three daughters. The girls who were taken by the Japanese Imperial Army were 16, 17 years old. I know you have grandchildren. I have three daughters. Can you even imagine you daughters volunteer to become a sex slave? It doesn’t make sense at all …
“We want to be friends with Japan, China, everybody. That’s what we want, to put a period on this … The Japanese government set aside a private fund to compensate [them]. Many comfort women, they refused to take money. It’s not about money, it’s about honor. They’re human beings. Their rights, their dignity — that’s what we’re talking about.”
Young Kim, field representative for Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton), stressed that the women were either lured by phony job offers or taken by force. Before the vote on the congressional resolution, she said, “We met and heard testimonies … from those women who served in that capacity. And they told us some of the horrible, horrible things that they had to endure. For example, one of the witnesses told us … these soldiers, if they could not do as they pleased, they stabbed you with a knife … This was the kind of tragic life a comfort woman had to endure …
“We want them to have a sense that their life was not in vain, and many of these people, they had to endure trauma and the shame, and because of what they suffered, they choose to conceal their life, their identity, and for the last 60-plus years they lived in hiding. They no longer want to do that because when they leave us and join God, they want the younger generation … to know what really happened.”
Joachim S. Youn of Korean American Forum of California used his five minutes to show part of a DVD about the comfort women.
Andrew Kim of the Korean American Community Foundation stated, “Some believe that this is a fabricated legend, it never happened … With respect to whether the tragedy occurred or regarding the historical accuracy of it, the United States Congress studied the case and they passed a resolution … Resolutions passed not only by the U.S. Congress but also the Netherlands, Philippines, Canada, European Union, and there have been state resolutions in the United States …
“Should the City of Buena Park proceed with our project to build a monument, it will become one of the few contributing cities in the United States to the current movement in restoring justice and honor to the victims. It will be an opportunity to present the city to the world as an unbiased educator of human rights.”
Opposing the monument was Tomoyuki Sumori, who also spoke at the Glendale meeting. He took issue with the other speakers’ testimonies. “During the war, Japanese soldiers numbered one million soldiers. 200,000 comfort women, one comfort woman for five soldiers. Do you think it’s realistic? I don’t think so. And I heard Japan abducted and made these women sex slaves. How much they were paid? They were paid 75 times of pay for the Japanese soldiers …
“Many people said majority of comfort women were Koreans. That’s not true either. 40 percent were Japanese, 30 percent Koreans. The rest Filipinos, Chinese and so forth …
“How can you explain to your children about comfort women … monument on city property? It’s harmful … This is an issue between Korea and Japan. Why the diplomatic issue is brought to the local municipality? … Diplomatic relationship between the two countries … it’s already worst ever. Your decision to put comfort woman on the city property [will] further accelerate the worsening of this.”
Ken Anderson said the focus of the monument was too narrow. “I think these women should be acknowledged, but I’m not sure just a single monument is what we need. We need to tell the whole story … of the invasion, the war, the curse of communism, what freedom means, and how many men and women, working girls or not, gave their lives here on earth to save that portion of land …
“Let’s get something where we can tell the whole story. I urge you to put this off … until we can do it right.”
Mayor Pro Tem Miller Oh, a Korean American, expressed irritation with the emails, saying that he had been “inundated by the Japanese people from Japan … Same thing over and over. They pasted and emailed me again and again.”
Oh responded to allegations that Congress was duped into passing the 2007 resolution. “The U.S. Congress is not as stupid or silly as you think … They know what happened …
“It takes a little courage to say ‘sorry.’ I know it’s hard to say ‘sorry.’ But you need to be brave to say ‘sorry’ [about] what you’ve been doing wrong. That’s all it takes.”
Councilmember Fred Smith said he wasn’t sure if the city should get involved: “One [side] says they apologized, the other says it wasn’t an apology. I wasn’t there, and neither was the City of Buena Park … We have a lot of Korean people in Buena Park … We also have a lot of Japanese people … a lot of every race there is. I don’t know if it’s the city’s place to put up a monument …
“If we looked at any genocides that happened in the world, we wouldn’t have room in Buena Park … We could fill the whole city with monuments.”
Smith added, “We should do a proclamation, but going as far as putting any kind of a statue or monument up … with our tourists that come through, people don’t understand. If we’re going to do something like that, I think maybe we should put it in some kind of museum.”
Councilmember Arthur Brown noted that he has his own grievance against Japan. “My father was a prisoner of war, a civilian. He provided slave labor for the Japanese government for the whole war, I think it was from 1942 to 1945. And I can’t sue the Japanese government because I’m prohibited from it.”
But regarding the comfort women, he said, “I want to know a lot more about this … I’ve been overwhelmed with information. I’m not ready to make a decision tonight.”
Councilmember Steve Berry commented, “We’ve recognized individuals more so than a cause, and I’d like to continue with that philosophy. I wish that there was a person that we could recognize, an immigrant who had overcome adversity and faced unique circumstances and succeeded in America and lived in Buena Park.”
Berry also recommended that city monuments be non-controversial. “If we were asked by Trayvon Martin’s family to put up a memorial on behalf of their son, would it be right? … Would it also cause so much controversy in the community that people might vandalize it? … Would the city have to pay to replace it, maintain it? Yes. Would we be saying something good to the community? Possibly. There’s no right answer. It’s a ‘he said, she said’ kind of scenario …
“I think there’s an opportunity that every person in this community can put up on their own property anything they want, as controversial as they want. This memorial that you’re asking for can be put up on any business owner’s property in this community. Any resident can put it up.”
Swift said she believed the Korean side’s historical accounts. “Did it happen? Of course it did. Things like this happen throughout history. I taught AP [advanced placement] world history … I taught 10,000 years of history and a lot of history is very ugly … It happened in many other places in many other times … Women have just really been so ill-protected throughout the centuries.”
Citing recent reports from Mexico, Swift pointed out, “This topic of sex slavery and human trafficking is contemporary. Don’t think for one moment that this never happened again.”
At the same time, she said, “I don’t think it’s our place as the City of Buena Park to provide civic space for this statue … As a former teacher, I was thinking what really provides education for people is lesson plans that teachers can grab a hold of and immediately put in place … I’m sure there’s standards that this would address because we deal with World War II in both U.S. history and world history. There’s lots of opportunities to really educate the public.”
Swift added that the lessons could connect the comfort women with human trafficking today. “Kids are frustrated when they just hear atrocities of the past and there’s no real tangible way to act on it … [It would be] much better to effect a more positive outcome for current, contemporary people.”
The mayor was not inclined to pursue the matter further, but Oh said it should be discussed again and Brown said he would need 30 days to do research.