‘Comfort Women’ Monument Controversy Comes to Queens
Even as the controversy rages over a monument in New Jersey commemorating the wartime rape of Korean “Comfort Women” by the Japanese army in World War II, plans for a similar monument in Queens are in the works, the Queens Chronicle reported.
Japanese officials have asked for the removal of a monument in Palisades Park, N.J., saying that it misrepresents the history — which in turn has infuriated Korean groups, who have vowed to build more monuments to the women from Korea and other Asian countries who say they were abducted by the Japanese army and forced into sexual slavery.
Peter Koo, a Democratic councilman who represents Flushing, is seeking support for either a memorial or a street renaming in Flushing, where there is a concentration of immigrants from Asia.
Koo got the idea for a memorial after attending a symposium held at the Kupferberg Holocaust Resource Center and Archives on the Bayside campus of Queensborough Community College last December. The center brought together two Holocaust survivors living in Queens with two comfort women survivors from Korea. The councilman said he was moved by their stories and decided to create some form of tribute “so the community remembers and it doesn’t happen again.” He pointed out that the plans are only in the discussion stage, but that he already had received some letters condemning the idea.
The Comfort Women issue has been a point of contention between Korea and Japan, the Queens Tribune reported — “Japanese scholars have estimated as many as 20,000 women were involved, while Chinese scholars place that figure as high as 410,000.”
When Koo and other local leaders began attempts to memorialize the comfort women, backlash from Japan arrived in the form of mysterious letters sent to all City Council members. In one letter addressed to Councilman Vincent Ignizio (R-Staten Island), a man named Takuro Tsuzuku from Tokyo wrote that, “The term ‘comfort women’ refers simply to prostitutes in wartime. But Koreans have long been promoting a false version of history that Japan abducted hundreds of thousands of Korean women and coerced them into a sex trade for Japanese soldiers outside of Japan during World War II.”
Scholars like Dr. Laura Hyun Yi Kang of the University of California, Irvine and Dr. Lisa Yoneyama of the University of Toronto disagree with the notion that the Japanese military did not systematically abuse these women, though they argued that the unsettling truth of comfort women has also been misused by Americans to justify a myth of “liberation” for the Japanese people after the war, a liberation that included the decimation of civilian-dominated cities and a military occupation.
Japanese officials have said that they had nothing to do with the letters, and pointed out that the government has officially apologized for the Comfort Women episode. Koreans have said the apologies do not go far enough.
Koo has met with the Japanese ambassador to discuss his plans for a monument, a staffer told the Tribune, and the conversation was “cordial.”
Supporters of the Queens monument plan say the experience of Comfort Women should not be forgotten, the Queens Chronicle reported:
Terence Park, a leader in the Flushing Korean-American community, said Koo’s plans “are absolutely the right thing to do,” adding, “We must learn from history. Remembering what happened lets us go forward in a positive way.”
Also supporting Koo’s plan is Arthur Flug, executive director of the Kupferberg Holocaust Center, because “we can’t forget them. It’s history.”
He added that both the Jewish survivors of the Holocaust and the Korean comfort women at the session were not afraid of dying. “They fear they will be forgotten,” Flug said.