Glendale is keeping its ‘comfort women’ statue

It looks like the controversial statue of a “comfort woman” sitting in Glendale’s Central Park in California will be staying put.

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s June ruling that the City of Glendale – in which the statue was erected in 2013, as a tribute to sexual slaves from several Asian countries taken by Japanese soldiers during World War II – does not have to remove the memorial despite a lawsuit filed by a Japanese American group.

Glendale City Council approved the statue in July 2013. The bronze statue, of a young Korean girl sitting next to an empty chair, reads: “In memory of more than 200,000 Asian and Dutch women who were removed from their homes in Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, East Timor and Indonesia, to be coerced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan between 1932 and 1945. … It is our sincere hope that these unconscionable violations of human rights shall never recur.”

The Global Alliance for Historical Truth (GAHT), the group opposing the city’s approval of the monument, was led by Koichi Mera, a Los Angeles resident. GAHT maintained that it “disagrees with and is offended by the position espoused by Glendale” and said the comfort woman statue damaged U.S.-Japan ties.

The court ruled that the city’s installation of the statue “concerned an area of traditional state responsibility and did not intrude on the federal government’s foreign affairs power.”

“Glendale’s establishment of a public monument to advocate against ‘violations of human rights’ is well within the traditional responsibilities of state and local governments,” wrote Judge Kim McLane Wardlaw, using examples of local governments’ support of memorials for the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide.

GAHT could not be reached for comment, but it issued a statement following the decision that said it “is in mind to appeal to a higher court against this decision.” The group denies that the comfort women were sex slaves and said their history is backed only by “unilateral guess.”

The history of the comfort women has long been a source of conflict between Korea and Japan. According to historians, an estimated 200,000 women were taken by the Japanese army against their will during the war. Surviving comfort women in South Korea, as well as activists, have sought after a formal apology from Japan ever since – the Glendale statue, for example, is a replicate of one sitting outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.

Last month, California’s State Board of Education voted to include the history of comfort women – namely, their role in the war as institutionalized slaves “forced into sexual service by the Japanese Army” – in state high school textbooks.

Earlier this year, the two governments came to an agreement in which, if South Korea agreed to put the issue to rest, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would formally acknowledge the “involvement” of the Japanese army in its use of sexual slaves and provide $9 million to a foundation to support former comfort women.

The agreement was met with disapproval from many, including a number of the surviving comfort women and, stateside, by the Korean American Forum of California (KAFC), a prominent community advocate group behind the comfort women issue. KAFC said in April that the agreement helps Abe’s attempts to “whitewash the history,” includes only South Koreans – not those affected from the other countries – and fails to address a need for Japan to “accept historical responsibility … and educate the next generation … so that the same tragedy will never repeat itself.”

Glendale is not the only city that is home to a comfort women memorial – others include Southfield, Michigan, and Union City, New Jersey. The next planned is for San Francisco, where its board of supervisors unanimously approved a memorial last year.