As the Korean American community in New York City and the metropolitan area grows in size and influence interest in the controversial issue of Comfort Women increases apace. Just recently a memorial in Palisades Park, NJ sparked concern.
 Source: New York Times

Years ago I abstracted and indexed several books on Korean “Comfort Women.” These were females forced into prostitution in Imperial Japanese military brothels during World War II when Korea was a colony of Japan. After the war the victims sought recognition and restitution from successive Japanese governments for sexual slavery.  Most prime ministers ignored them.

In the 1990s it was what I call a “niche topic.” Few knew much about the subject, it was relatively quick to research and get up to speed (with English language sources), and the pace of events and publications weren’t hard to follow. I attended a symposium jointly hosted by the Korea Society and Japan Society in New York City then considered groundbreaking.

Even though I’m now retired I still follow the news. 

Fun stuff

Disclaimer. Many Korean women have milky “moonglow” skin—pearlescent, opalescent, you know it when you see it.  But they nurture tough troops. During military training I soldiered alongside some ROK [Republic of Korea] marines. We tried explaining the tactic of snatching an enemy prisoner to interrogate for intelligence gathering. To them there were two kinds of enemy: live enemy and dead enemy. Glad they’re on our side. 

My one and only trip to Seoul, South Korea was notable for early autumn charcoal-fueled smog and a cooked starfish whose dead suckers still had a death grip on the dinner plate. Also the contact sports. I remember crossing the street thinking that in New York City people on both corners move forward and somehow interweave and slide past each other. Koreans seem to aim straight for each other, barging forward quick-walk with head lowered like bulls. I watched Parliamentary proceedings on TV which often includes punching, wrestling, and chair-throwing—almost like watching Philadelphia’s City Council deemed by Mayor Billy Green to be the “worst legislative body in the free world.” I wouldn’t want to cross these lady MPs.
Lee Jung-hee, centre, a lawmaker of the opposition Democratic Labour Party, is dragged out by the ruling Grand National Party's lawmakers at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea today as the session descended into a brawl.   http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1201404/Female-MP-sent-hospital-South-Korean-parliament-descends-mass-brawl.html#ixzz1ykv1KxFG

Many lucky GI pals brought home a “souvenir” Korean wife. I was still out shopping.        

Decades later New York City is even more blessedly diverse and I entirely enjoy every day that I’m here. Soldier of Fortune magazine, “my bible” as Jay Leno says, runs ads about meeting exotic women. No problem. I just buy a Metrocard and ride the subway. Mamma Cho who runs my local bottle shop presents me with a bottle of Korean Soju liquor every year on my birthday. And the post office would fold-up even faster without Korean postal women.

When friends and I go to Midtown Manhattan’s “Koreatown,” forget the kimchee jokes. I have my own way of picking restaurants. Open the door and inhale—if the spiciness doesn’t knock me over, maybe; if I see round-eye guys dining with Asian gal pals, OK!  My favorite dish is a kind of cold vegetable salad and steak tartar topped with a raw egg, which I order by pointing at pictures in the menu.

We also enjoy a Korean buffet in Palisades Park. I like OB beer for breakfast. Most food items are labeled in English and Korean. When I see something labeled only in Korean the “duck chef” (often female nowadays) jokes that if I can’t read it probably only a Korean would want to eat it! There are always enough other choices. My friend’s grandkids load up on their favorite “Korean” delicacies: ice cream and Jell-O cubes!

Middle-age Korean American women are notorious for their, um, driving skills (which is the polite way to say lack thereof). You see these petite gals looking through the steering wheel of huge SUV’s as they plow along in “Fo’ Lee” [Fort Lee, NJ]. When my friend’s teenage son who lives nearby had trouble taking his driver’s license test he exclaimed in frustration “Just call me Mrs. Kim!”

Serious stuff

When I do follow-up Internet searches on Comfort Women, what springs first to mind is that at least South Koreans and Korean Americans can and do make their voices heard. On the 62nd anniversary of the start of the Korean War, often called America’s “Forgotten War,” the people of North Korea have no such rights. The situation on the Korean Peninsula remains tense. In today’s headlines:

North Korea condemns ‘grave’ use of flag during U.S.-South Korea war games By
Dylan Stableford, Yahoo! News
Smoke rises near the North Korean flag during South Korea-U.S. joint military drills, June 25, 2012. (Lee Jin-

“…North Korea
publicly condemned the use of its flag by U.S. and South Korean forces during a war simulation as a "grave" provocation—and further justification for its nuclear program.

‘It is an extremely grave military action and politically-motivated provocation to fire live bullets and shells at the flag of a sovereign state without a declaration of war,’ the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement on state-run media on Sunday.

South Korea, which said it was the first time North Korea's flag was used during war games, was unapologetic…”

http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/lookout/north-korea-condemns-grave-flag-during-u-south-143445840.html

Full text of New York Times article:

In New Jersey, Memorial for ‘Comfort Women’ Deepens Old Animosity
By
KIRK SEMPLE

Published: May 18, 2012

Two delegations of Japanese officials visited Palisades Park, N.J., this month with a request that took local administrators by surprise: The Japanese wanted a small monument removed from a public park.

The monument, a brass plaque on a block of stone, was
dedicated in 2010 to the memory of so-called comfort women, tens of thousands of women and girls, many Korean, who were forced into sexual slavery by Japanese soldiers during World War II. But the Japanese lobbying to remove the monument seems to have backfired — and deepened animosity between Japan and South Korea over the issue of comfort women, a longstanding irritant in their relations. The authorities in Palisades Park, a borough across the Hudson River from Manhattan, rejected the demand, and now the Japanese effort is prompting Korean groups in the New York region and across the country to plan more such monuments.

“They’re helping us, actually,” said Chejin Park, a lawyer at the
Korean American Voters’ Council, a civic group that championed the memorial in Palisades Park, where more than half of the population of about 20,000 is of Korean descent, according to the Census Bureau. “We can increase the awareness of this issue.”

Korean groups have been further motivated by a letter-writing campaign in Japan in opposition to a proposal by
Peter Koo, a New York councilman and Chinese immigrant, to rename a street in Flushing, Queens, in honor of comfort women.

Mr. Park said that in the past week or so, his organization had received calls from at least five Korean community organizers around the country — in Georgia, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas — expressing interest in building their own memorials. These would be in addition to at least four memorials in the works in California and Georgia, he added.

The monument in Palisades Park is the only one in the United States dedicated to comfort women, borough officials said.

“Starting from Flushing, N.Y., we will continue the construction in the areas of major Korean-American communities,” said Paul Park, executive director of the
Korean-American Association of Greater New York, one of the oldest Korean community organizations in the region. “We Korean-Americans observe the issue on the level of a global violation of human rights.”

Tensions between Japan and South Korea over the legacy of comfort women were reignited in December when a bronze statue in honor of victims was
installed across the street from the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, the South Korean capital. Japanese officials have asked the Korean authorities to remove that statue.

Japanese leaders have said that their formal apologies, expressions of remorse and admissions of responsibility regarding the treatment of comfort women are sufficient, including an offer to set up a $1 billion fund for victims. But many Koreans contend that those actions are inadequate. Surviving victims have rejected the fund because it would be financed by private money. The victims are seeking government reparations.

Mayor James Rotundo of Palisades Park said the lobbying began obliquely late last month. Officials at the Japanese consulate in New York sent e-mails requesting a meeting with borough administrators.

“I called the secretary and said, ‘What is this about?’ ” the mayor recalled in an interview, “and she said, ‘It’s about Japanese-U.S. relations,’ and I said: ‘Oh. Well, O.K.’ ”

The first meeting, on May 1, began pleasantly enough, he said. The delegation was led by the consul general, Shigeyuki Hiroki, who talked about his career, including his work in Afghanistan — “niceties,” Mr. Rotundo said.

Then the conversation took a sudden turn, Mr. Rotundo said. The consul general pulled out two documents and read them aloud.

One was a copy of a 1993 statement from Yohei Kono, then the chief cabinet secretary, in which the Japanese government
acknowledged the involvement of military authorities in the coercion and suffering of comfort women.

The other was a 2001 letter to surviving comfort women from Junichiro Koizumi, then the prime minister, apologizing for their treatment.

Mr. Hiroki then said the Japanese authorities “wanted our memorial removed,” Mr. Rotundo recalled.

The consul general also said the Japanese government was willing to plant cherry trees in the borough, donate books to the public library “and do some things to show that we’re united in this world and not divided,” Mr. Rotundo said. But the offer was contingent on the memorial’s removal. “I couldn’t believe my ears,” said Jason Kim, deputy mayor of Palisades Park and a Korean-American, who was at the meeting. “My blood shot up like crazy.”

Borough officials rejected the request, and the delegation left.

The second delegation arrived on May 6 and was led by four members of the Japanese Parliament. Their approach was less diplomatic, Mr. Rotundo said. The politicians, members of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, tried, in asking that the monument be removed, to convince the Palisades Park authorities that comfort women had never been forcibly conscripted as sex slaves.

“They said the comfort women were a lie, that they were set up by an outside agency, that they were women who were paid to come and take care of the troops,” the mayor related. “I said, ‘We’re not going to take it down, but thanks for coming.’ ”

The Japanese consulate in New York has been reluctant to discuss its lobbying.

In interviews this week, Fumio Iwai, the deputy consul general, would not say whether the consul general had requested that the monument be removed. But he denied that the consul general had offered to help the borough in return for the monument’s removal. Mr. Hiroki “did not offer any such condition,” he said.

Mr. Iwai said the issue of comfort women, if not Palisades Park specifically, was the subject of continuing discussions “at a very high level” between the governments of South Korea and Japan.

“So,” he said, pausing as if to choose his words carefully, “things are quite complicated.”

A version of this article appeared in print on May 19, 2012, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: In New Jersey, a War Memorial for ‘Comfort Women’ Deepens Old Animosity.

 
Websites

Councilman Peter Koo, New York, NY  http://council.nyc.gov/d20/html/members/home.shtml

Japan Society www.japansociety.org

Korea Society www.koreasociety.org

Korean American Association of Greater New York (KAAGNY)  www.nykorean.org

Korean American Voters’ Council (KAVC)  www.kavc.org

Palisades Park, NJ data and resources (Wikipedia) 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palisades_Park,_New_Jersey



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