Japanese Officials Lobby Palisades Park, New Jersey to Remove Memorial for WWII ‘Comfort Women’
Japanese consular and political officials have lobbied and visited authorities in the New Jersey town of Palisades Park in an unsuccessful effort to have a memorial to sex slaves– many of them Korean– raped by Japanese soldiers during World War II, removed.
The New York Times reports that officials at the Japanese consulate in New York began e-mailing Palisades Park city leaders last month to request a meeting.
“I called the secretary and said, ‘What is this about?’ And she said, ‘It’s about Japanese- U.S. relations,'” Palisades Park mayor James Rotundo told the Times.
A delegation led by consul general Shigeyuki Hiroki then visited the town of 19,422 on the other side of the Hudson River from Manhattan, a town where more than half the population is of Korean descent.
The Japanese, said Rotundo, wanted a brass plaque on a block of stone, dedicated in 2010 to the sex slaves, removed. It reads:
“In memory of the more than 200,000 women and girls who were abducted by the armed forces of the government of Imperial Japan, 1930s- 1945. Known as ‘comfort women,’ they endured human rights violations that no peoples should leave unrecognized. Let us never forget the horrors of crimes against humanity.”
Mayor Rotundo says the consul general told him that the Japanese government would plant cherry trees, donate books to the public library “and do some things to show that we’re united in this world and not divided” if the town removed the memorial.
“I couldn’t believe my ears,” deputy mayor Jason Kim, a Korean-American, told the Times. “My blood shot up like crazy.”
Town officials rejected the Japanese request. Then, on May 6, four members of the Japanese Parliament arrived in Palisades Park. They were much less diplomatic, said Rotundo, and tried to argue that the comfort women were not forced into sexual slavery but rather “paid to come and take care of the troops.”
Mayor Rotundo again rejected the Japanese request to remove the memorial.
Korean-American leaders say the Japanese effort to erase the horrific memory of their country’s wartime atrocities is backfiring.
“They’re helping us, actually,” Chejin Park of the Korean American Voters’ Council told the Times. “We can increase awareness of this issue.”
Park said that Korean community organizers in five states have expressed interest in building similar memorials. The Palisades Park monument is currently the only one of its kind in the United States.
In Asia, tensions between Japan and South Korea have heightened after a bronze statue honoring comfort women was erected across the street from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul last December.
Japan says that formal apologies and an offer of a $1 billion victims’ compensation fund should be enough to bury the comfort women issue. But the victims’ families rejected the money because it came from private, not government, sources.
Unlike the Germans, who have a profound national sense of shame about their WWII Nazi atrocities that lingers even to this day– unfairly so, many would argue, the Japanese prefer to sweep their wartime barbarism under the rug, or even deny it, much as Americans deny their wartime atrocities in WWII and subsequent conflicts. Where German school textbooks, for example, examine the Holocaust and Nazism in excruciating detail, Japanese texts gloss over or omit episodes every bit as horrific as the worst crimes of Nazi Germany. Japanese leaders have even denied their country’s war crimes and said that there was no evidence that comfort women were forced into sexual slavery.
“We have heard how quick Western politicians are to condemn Holocaust deniers, which is good, because that has to be done,” Joseph Wong of the Chinese Canadian National Council told the Toronto Star, slamming the double standard in the West when it comes to recognizing German and Japanese war crimes.
“But on the other hand, Western politicians are so silent when they encounter these denials from Japanese right-wing politicians who say the rape of Nanking was justified and these comfort women, these sexual slaves, were willing victims,” he added.
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