Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Palisades Park monument to 'comfort women' stirs support, anger [video]

Palisades Park monument to 'comfort women' stirs support, anger [video]


The stone with the copper plaque in front of the Palisades Park library is only a few feet tall, but its dedication to the “comfort women” — Asians reportedly forced into sexual slavery before and during World War II — is gaining widespread attention.

The marker in Palisades Park honors 'comfort women' who were used as sex slaves in World War II. But many Japanese feel it's an unfair portrayal.
Lobbying efforts have even reached the White House in the form of petitions created on its “We the People” website.

One of those petitions, asking President Obama to remove the monument, has gained so much momentum that after about two months on the site, there are more than 32,000 signatures — meeting the threshold of 25,000 signatures within 30 days that merit an official response.

There is also a petition asking the president to preserve the monument as a “symbol of the bloody history of Korea.” That has gathered 4,270 signatures.

The monument was built with the help of Bergen County in 2010 but remained relatively unknown until a group of Japanese officials visited Palisades Park in May, and the mayor said they asked that the monument be removed. Days later, key officials from South Korea also paid a visit and endorsed the town’s firm refusal to make any changes.

A statement from the Japanese Consulate in New York later confirmed the visit from its countrymen but distanced itself from the controversy. And this week, the consulate said it didn’t initiate the White House petition and wasn’t encouraging anyone to sign it.

Surprised by attention

Meanwhile, Palisades Park Mayor James Rotundo said Wednesday that he was surprised by the attention the monument has brought to his town of about 20,000 people, more than half of whom are of Korean descent. But he doesn’t appear concerned.

Rotundo said he knew about the petitions but said the federal government does not have jurisdiction when it comes to the monument.

“There are a lot of things going on in this world that the White House is involved in,” the mayor said. “This monument is not an issue the White House should be involved in.”

A White House official, who asked that his name not be used, wouldn’t speak directly about the Palisades Park monument, but recent responses to petitions have acknowledged the federal government’s limited jurisdiction over certain issues.

The spokesman said the “We the People” website was started to engage people and spur them to ask the government for action on a range of topics. He said the site receives about 1,000 petitions a week.

He said petitions that cross the threshold are reviewed by the “appropriate policy staff” and receive a response. He said response time varies and that he couldn’t comment on a response before it was issued. According to the site, only 78 petitions so far have received a response.
The petition asking for the stone’s removal was created on May 10, days after the Japanese visited Palisades Park.

A person using the name of “Yasuko R.” created it and said the accounts of Japanese soldiers kidnapping and forcing women to be their sex slaves in Korea, China and Japan are lies that have “disgraced people of Japan for decades.”

“Over the past few years it has come to light that many of the original charges were false or completely fabricated,” the petition reads. “Yet despite this new information, the United States continues to lend credence to the original false charges by memorializing the comfort women in a monument in New Jersey and a street name in New York. Not only is this perpetrating historical untruths, but it also leads to unnecessary racial conflict and suffering of people of Japanese ancestry.”

The petition is signed by people from different parts of the country, including California, Oregon, Florida and New York, as well as Tokyo and other parts of Japan.

Petition organizers and supporters typically use only their first names.

A separate but related petition was created on June 21, asking that the Obama administration repeal HR-121, a resolution passed by the House of Representatives in 2007 that demands that the Japanese government acknowledge and apologize to former comfort women and states that the nation should educate future generations about the women and the “horrible crime” against them. The petition has garnered 12,858 signatures.

The petition urging Obama to preserve the monument was created by “Soojin S” on June 12 and contains support from people in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, as well people from South Korea.

Palisades Park Deputy Mayor Jason Kim, the first Korean-American on a council in New Jersey, said he welcomes the petitions — all of them.

“It’s great because it makes more noise, and there’s more education and more awareness,” he said. “This is what the monument is all about; we learn from history, so we don’t make the same mistakes.”

Palisades Park was the first town in the United States to create a monument dedicated to the more than 200,000 comfort women who were “abducted.”

Inflammatory word

Mindy Kotler, director of the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Asia Policy Point, said the word “abducted” can inflame the Japanese and that “coerced” is a better word. “Not all the women were abducted,” she said.

Kotler, who has studied the comfort women issue, said the Japanese elite feel the monument is an attack on them. She said it’s “standard thinking” among businessmen, government officials and politicians that Japan was tricked into the war and that the country isn’t culpable of any war crimes.

Those people “feel the biggest war crime was the dropping of the atomic bomb,” she said, “and that the real victims of World War II are the Japanese.”

Kotler said she doesn’t know who created the anti-monument petition but that the most power conservative group in Japan put on its website step-by-step instructions on how to sign the petition.

Last month, a second memorial was raised in Nassau County, N.Y. That stone, made of red granite, sits in Veterans Memorial at Eisenhower Park in Westbury.

New York City Councilman Peter Koo, a Democrat from Flushing, has also begun efforts to build a memorial and to rename a street in Queens in honor of the women.

“We are shooting for November for the council to vote on it,” James McClelland, Koo’s chief of staff, said of the street renaming. “We will be meeting with the Korean community members to decide on an exact location.”

McClelland said he was aware of the petitions, but said it won’t deter Koo from moving forward. He said the councilman met with two Korean women who said they were comfort women.

“Councilman Koo has firsthand knowledge on what these women went through, and he will move forward,” McClelland said.

Theresa Muttel · Top Commenter · Passaic High School
The Japanese feel that they were "victims" of World War II, that they were tricked into going into war. What a laugh. How can they explain their actions with the March to Bataan, the rape of Nanking where they killed the old people, women and babies (where they threw the babies up and caught them on their bayonets) and THEIR SNEAK ATTACK ON PEARL HARBOR. Now they deny the truth about the "comfort women". They are the ones who have to apologize to these women. They should take a good long hard look of Japan 50 years ago and their mentality back then.
Reply · 3 · · July 12 at 6:26am

Theresa Muttel · Top Commenter · Passaic High School
I meant the Japan of 70 years or so ago.
Reply · · July 12 at 6:29am

Gerry Bevers · West Texas A&M University
I do not think the majority of Japanese feel that way since Nanking and other crimes are mentioned in Japanese history books. I think most Japanese could accept the monument if it told the true story of the Comfort Women instead of the Korean nationalist version. I believe the monument was set up more to embarrass Japan than to remember the Comfort Women. Most Americans don't know the real story of the comfort women or that South Korea also had its own "comfort women" stations for Korean and UN troops, something the people who created the monument conveniently forgot to mention.
Reply · · July 13 at 7:32am

Paula Elizabeth Dallorso
What does this have to do with the United States. Put the monument up in Korea.
Reply · 1 · · July 12 at 7:01pm

Gerry Bevers · West Texas A&M University
The problem with the "Comfort Women" monument is that the inscription is factually inaccurate. First, no one knows how many comfort women there were. Second, The Japanese Government did not "abduct" 200,000 women. Some members of the Japanese military may have abducted some women in some of Japan's newly conquered territories, such as the Philippines, but in countries like Korea and Taiwan, which were integrated into the Japanese Empire at the time, the women were generally recruited by Korean and Taiwanese pimps or forced into prostitution by economic hardship. Many poor families sold their daughters to pimps as indentured servants, which was legal at the time. Some Korean or Taiwanese women may have even been abducted or tricked by Taiwanese or Korean pimps, but not by the Japanese government.

Also, Korea set up its own "comfort Women" system after the war to service Korean and US troops. In October 1959, a Korean newspaper reported that there were 261,089 "comfort women" working in Korea at the time and that 66% of them had a veneral disease. If the Koreans had thought Japan's comfort women system was so bad, why did they set up their own "comfort women" stations for Korean and UN troops? Yes, Koreans also used the term "comfort woman" to refer to a prostitute, especially a military prostitute. Why weren't the comfort women under the South Korean government mentioned on the monument?
Reply · · July 13 at 7:19am

Tae Yun Ha
Gerry Beavers does not live in New Jersey. He is an disgruntled expat with a history of mental illness and suicide attempts.

The memorial is upto taxpayers of PP, NJ. They wanted the memorial and it is their freedom to do what they want with their taxes.
Reply · · July 15 at 3:15pm

Tae Yun Ha
Gerry Beavers does not live in New Jersey. He is pro Japan anti Korea expat in Asia.

The memorial is upto taxpayers of PP, NJ. They wanted the memorial and it is their freedom to do what they want with their taxes.
Reply · · July 15 at 3:22pm

Gerry Bevers · West Texas A&M University
They are free to set up a monument, but they are not free to inscribe it with a made-up history. And my name is Bevers, not Beavers.
Reply · · July 15 at 7:48pm
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James F. Kellinger · Top Commenter · Rutgers University-Newark
"Mindy Kotler, director of the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Asia Policy Point..." who knows absolutely nothing about this, should find something else to be an "expert" on. There are plenty of people with actual knowledge of this issue that The Record could quote. The world is overrun with lobbyists looking for power.
Reply · · July 14 at 12:45am

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