A lawsuit to remove a monument to World War II sex slaves in Glendale took on a new twist this week when two former ‘comfort women’ visiting the U.S. offered declarations of support in the federal court case.
Both Il-Chul Kang and Ok-Seon Lee recount how as teens, they were abducted by Japanese soldiers to work as sex slaves. Now they’re in their late 80s, sloped in shoulder and slow-moving.
Outside federal court in downtown L.A., Kang said despite their condition, it was important they come to the US to show their appreciation for the Glendale monument, and others like it.
"Thank you for erecting the peace monument and thank you for trying to protect the peace monument," Kang told a group of reporters, mostly from Korean-language news outlets.
About a year ago, Glendale worked with local non-profit, Korean American Forum of California to install a bronze statue of a young comfort woman in a public park, becoming the first city on the West Coast to do so. In February, a group of conservative older Japanese-Americans who challenge the internationally-accepted history about comfort women sued the city, demanding the statue’s removal.
A lawyer for the plaintiffs did not respond to multiple requests for comment Tuesday. But their complaint states that Glendale had overstepped into foreign affairs.
Glendale’s attorney Brad Ellis on Tuesday maintained the city's right to keep the statue.
"The city views this as part of its free speech rights in line with a long tradition of cities erecting statues to various and sundry historical events,” Ellis said.
The plaintiffs, which include the Global Alliance for Historical Truth and two of its members, appear to hold a minority view in the U.S. Other Japanese-American groups such as the San Fernando Valley Japanese American Citizens League have disavowed the lawsuit, and Japanese-American California Rep. Mike Honda has taken a lead in calling for the Japanese government to issue an apology to comfort women.
The two former comfort women will spend the week attending events in L.A., Glendale and Anaheim.
Next week, they will make an East Coast tour that will include stops at monuments to comfort women in Virginia and New Jersey, and events in D.C. with supporters such as Honda.
They hope to pressure the Japanese government into issuing a fresh apology – they say past apologies by government officials were less than sincere — and to make reparations to the few dozen remaining comfort women left in Korea.
"We want an official apology ratified by the Diet (the national legislature), coming from the prime minister of Japan," said Phyllis Kim, executive director of the Korean American Forum of California.
Kim said that her group is talking with other communities about installing similar monuments, though she would not at this time disclose their names.