Justice and peace can never be achieved just through the kindness and conscience of people of good will. For millions of victims of World War II, especially those who suffered the atrocities committed during Japan’s invasion of neighboring Asian countries, bitterly sought justice can only be secured through laws and courts.
A US appellate court on Aug 4 ruled to uphold dismissal of a lawsuit against the city of Glendale, California, which demanded the removal of a memorial statue dedicated to the approximately 200,000 Asian “comfort women” which were forced into sex slavery by the invading Japanese Army during World War II.
The statue, erected after the proclamation of “Comfort Women Day” by the city of Glendale on July 30, 2012, and the passing of US House of Representatives Resolution 121 on July 30, 2007, depicted a girl in Korean garb, a comfort woman, sitting next to an empty chair.
In recent years, Japanese right-wingers and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet have acted provocatively – adhering to the “nationalization” of China’s Diaoyu Islands, visiting the controversial Yasukuni Shrine which honors convicted war criminals among other war dead, and endorsing a reinterpretation of Japan’s Pacifist Constitution for the right to collective self-defense – actions that fueled international concerns that Japan might return to its militaristic past.
The statue in Glendale, said the organizers, will remind the Japanese government to face up to its wartime crimes, accept historical responsibility and seek reconciliation with its Asian neighbors.
Most importantly, it will help raise awareness in the international community so atrocities of this kind never happen again.
After the statue went up in 2013, Michiko Shitota Gingery, a Japanese-American, filed a lawsuit against the city of Glendale calling for removal of the 1,100-pound bronze sculpture, alleging it exceeded the city’s authority, infringed upon the federal government’s power to conduct foreign affairs and disrupted the US relationship with Japan. She was backed by several members of Japan’s House of Representatives.
I can’t help but question Gingery’s intention. I met several surviving comfort women – who are now in their 80s and 90s – in San Francisco last year when they flew from Korea to tell their stories at a meeting of the board of supervisors of San Francisco. The supervisors were meeting to discuss whether the city of San Francisco should agree to the construction of a comfort women memorial.
What the women suffered at a very young age was a nightmare. They are living testimonials to Japanese wartime crimes, violation of human rights and atrocities inflicted upon innocent civilians.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, in Pasadena, wrote in the ruling Thursday that the statue’s intent was to advocate against “violations of human rights” and therefore was “well within the traditional responsibilities of (US) state and local governments.”
“Here, by dedicating a local monument to the plight of the comfort women in World War II, Glendale has joined a long list of other American cities that have likewise used public monuments to express their views on events beyond our borders,” Wardlaw wrote.
In the 23-page ruling, Wardlaw upheld the finding in late 2014 by the US District Court for the Central District of California about the case that “plaintiffs had not plausibly claimed that Glendale’s actions were preempted under the foreign affairs doctrine,” and “the District Court properly dismissed Plaintiffs’ preemption claims.”
During World War II, the Japanese army forced more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women to act as sex slaves for their soldiers.
Over the decades the Japanese government has continued to deny the existence of “comfort women” and called the issue a “fabrication.”
Anyone who denies, distorts or glosses over a history of savagery and aggression should find no place among the peace-loving people of the world.
Instead, we should always remember history’s truths, memorialize the dead and comfort the wounded.
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