San Francisco is one of the most attractive and iconic cities in the U.S., most picturesque in her natural beauty and man-made structures, represented by the rolling hills, ocean views, street cars and the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge across the San Francisco Bay. San Francisco became American in 1848 after the U.S. won the Mexican-American War. After independence from Mexico, immediately came the gold rush of 1849, the city quickly became the largest and most important town and a commercial, naval, and financial center in the American West. Then, San Francisco was devastated by a great earthquake and fire in 1906, but she was quickly rebuilt and developed into a major business city through and to mid 1950. In the latter half of the 1960s, San Francisco became the city most famous for the hippie movement. In recent decades, with the rise of hi-tech industry in Silicon Valley lifting Californians’ tech industry and residents’ income, San Francisco has become an important center of finance and advanced technology. Consequently it also became one of America's most expensive places to live. San Francisco is the most attractive and respected city on the West coast.
Recently, San Francisco appeared in all the news media because of a statue. A string of publications in US major news media reported on the Comfort Women again because San Francisco accepted a comfort women statue. For example, Why Is the Plight of Comfort Women Still So Controversial by Ilara Maria Sala was published in NYTimes on 8-14-2017, An Important Statue of Comfort Women in San Francisco by Sally McGrane appeared in The New Yorker on 10-12-2017 and Comfort Women Statue in S.F. Leads to Japanese City to Cut Ties was published by Jacey Fortin in NYTimes, 11-25-2017. In public opinion, it is a good thing that the US media are paying more attention to the Comfort Women statue being erected to memorialize the victimized women as sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Army before and during WW II, since the issue has always confused the Americans why Japan cannot simply accept this historical fact and put the issue to rest. The Japanese media, not surprisingly, commented again in a sour tone about the S.F. comfort women statue; a typical response was represented by the Editorial of Japan Forward: Japan Should Call for Removal of the Comfort Women Statue(s) in the U.S. published on 12-1-2017. Thus, we know we cannot stop discussing the ‘Comfort Women’ issue until Justice is finally served.
The San Francisco Comfort Women Statue, is the first one established in a major US City and is located at the St Mary’s Square in San Francisco. The Statue was promoted by the Chinese American communities and supported by the Korean-, Filipino-, Japanese- and Jewish-Americans organizations as well. The Project in its design phase was championed by the former S.F. City Supervisor, Eric Mar. The artist created the statue, Steven Whyte, voluntarily reduced his fees to do this project and did extensive research for this project. The statue of three women holding hand-in-hand was well done symbolizing the 200,000 Korean, Chinese and Filipino women who had been tortured as sex slaves by the Japanese Imperial Army from 1932 to1945. The current San Francisco Mayor, Edwin Lee, officially accepted this donation of Comfort Woman Statue as a public property of San Francisco on 11-22-2017. Many positive supportive comments from the public are in sharp contrast to the angry criticism from the Osaka Mayor and the Japanese diplomatic officials’ denouncement. Even Whyte received 1200 negative mails threatening to boycott his art. Therefore, sadly, it looks like that the Comfort Women issue may never be resolved as a human rights issue before the few still remaining comfort women survivals, now in their nineties, die.
According to the research of Prof. Elisabeth Jean Wood, Political Science, Yale University, the Japanese ‘Comfort Stations’ (housing comfort women) were initiated in 1930’s and the program was greatly expanded after the Nanking Massacre in 1937. A comfort woman victim, Lee Ok-Seon, Korean, testified in a video: “In one day, we had to serve 40-50 soldiers! Girls who refused were tied up against the wall and slashed open with knives.” Another victim, Dutch woman, Jan Ruff-O’Herne, testified in a television interview: “The Japanese soldiers laughed at our protests (the forced sex slavery was a crime based on the Geneva Convention).” Jan lived in shames for decades not daring to tell her two daughters what happened to her. Prof. Elaine Kim, professor of Asian-American and Asian-Diaspora Studies at UC Berkeley, commented about the statue: “Publicly memorializing the rape of woman is rare. Women are half of humanity (but) women are not represented in history. Nothing will be done about the crimes done to these comfort women if they remain in the shadows.”
The 42 year old Osaka Mayor (12/2015 - present), Hirofumi Yoshimura (born 6-17-1975), vowed to stop his city’s sister city relation with S.F. City, if she accepts the comfort women statue. Yoshimura claimed that the comfort women story differed from his own understanding of the history. This is a common problem for Japanese born after WW II. They were brought up and educated with the Japanese government white washed history textbooks about WW II war crimes. The purpose was to honor the WW II Japanese Imperial Army. Yoshimura’s political mentor, former Osaka Mayor, Tory Hashimoto (born 6-29-1969, a political ally of Abe Shinzo), had expressed similar philosophy about the Japanese war crime, saying that the comfort women were necessary for the Japanese Imperial Army during the war. Commenting on the rape crimes committed by the US soldiers in Okinawa military base, he recommended: “the American soldiers have too much energy, they should be encouraged to use the local adult entertainment industry to relieve their energy.” This kind of philosophy was used without conscience to provide the Japanese Imperial soldiers with comfort women during WW II.
Former Congressman, Mike Honda, a Japanese American who experienced the internment during WW II, made the following fair assessment about the comfort women issue: “The Japanese government’s stance on the issue has been a problem (causing many Asian people being angry at Japan)” Honda cited Japan’s Prime Minister, Abe Shinzo’s flip-flop statements as evidence. Abe Shinzo once said:”We are really sorry.” Then flipped: “It never happened.” Honda had brought Jan Ruff-O’Herne to testify before the Congress, but that did not seem to produce any sincere apology or true remorse from the Japanese government. When President Trump was making a State visit to South Korea recently, President Moon Jae-In invited comfort women victims to the State Dinner for Trump, with a clear message – the U.S. should take an honest stand on the Comfort Women Issue.
San Francisco has 18 sister cities. Osaka was the first city requesting a sister-city tie with San Francisco in 1968. Osaka’s cutting the sister-city tie with S.F. will only make S.F. more respectful and will make a serious blemish on the image of Osaka and Japan. A shame Osaka brings to herself. The world will be reminded that Japan still denies its war crimes - comfort women and others, crimes condemned by the U.N. investigation and evidenced by numerous testimonies. Japan’s denial is directly traceable to the dishonest distortion of history textbooks created by the Japanese government. Actually, there are honest Japanese scholars who understand and believe in the true historical facts. Unfortunately, they are demonized by politicians with ancestry tied to Japanese Imperial Army. Japan’s distorted textbooks are like malicious tumors; their presence and growth will eventually corrupt Japan’s conscience, disconnecting Japan from the international community. The sooner Japan can cut off these tumors, the earlier the Japanese people can live in peace with themselves and the world!
Ifay Chang. Ph.D. Producer/Host, Community Education - Scrammble Game Show, Weekly TV Columnist, www.us-chinaforum.org . Trustee, Somers Central School District.