Scores turn out to debate plan for "comfort women" statue in Strathfield's town centre

The final decision on erecting a statue in the Town Square in remembrance of the 200,000 women forced to work as sex slaves during World War II will be left to Strathfield residents and businesses.

The role of residents was spelled out after councillors listened in silence to an emotional, hour-long debate from a 140-strong group of Koreans, Chinese and Japanese about the plans.

Councillors agreed to consult with residents and business owners after asking the State and Federal governments if there were any policies in place to deal with such issues.

On Friday, council revealed it has contacted Prime Minister Tony Abbott's office for guidance on the issue.  Mr Abbott is about to set off on a tour of Japan and South Korea.

Mayor Daniel Bott said: “After hearing from a number of speakers and receiving petitions from those for and against the proposal, it is clear that this matter evokes a great deal of emotional concern and strong opinion.

“Councillors felt that the proposal is not strictly a Local Government matter and as a result, are seeking to obtain the position of the State and Federal Government.”

The plans, backed by the United Austral Korean-Chinese Alliance, have stirred a storm of protest in Australia and beyond after Japanese communities heard of the idea.

Strathfield Council received some 500 protest letters in a few days, and one Japanese man told the Scene he had 8,900 posts on his Facebook page in just 24 hours after mentioning the plan.

Scores turned up to this week’s council meeting after a petition concerning the statue was tabled for discussion in camera by council members. At least one Japanese newspaper flew in a correspondent from Singapore.

Earlier, Japan’s embassy in Canberra described the statue plan as “misguided”.

Councillors agreed to allow an extended Open Forum at the start of their meeting, opening up the Town Hall to accommodate the crowd that turned up.

The Korean and Chinese communities lobbied strongly for the $100,000 bronze statue, by Chinese artist Jian Hua Qian, to be placed at the town’s centre in honour of friends and relatives who were forced to become “comfort women” for the Japanese army.

Japanese protesters, however, argued that the statue would breed racial hate. 

The story of the comfort women is a hugely emotional issue throughout Asia.  The women were taken mainly from Korea and China, as well as small numbers of women from the Netherlands and Australia.  Deputy Mayor Sang Ok, a Korean, told the Scene council had been inundated with emails, mainly from Japan, opposing the statue.  He said he would not take part in the decision-making process because he was so heavily involved.

The president of the Korean Society of Sydney, Luke Song, maintained the memorial was to commemorate all women who had suffered domestic abuse, not just comfort women.

He said he had collected about 500 signatures in support of the monument.

“The United Austral Korean-Chinese Alliance wishes to erect the statue, called 3 Sisters and depicting a Chinese, Korean and Australian woman, in Strathfield Square to prevent any possible violence against women at home and any possible wars in the future,” he said.

“Strathfield has a big Korean and Chinese population, so we feel this is the right place for the statue. This is where people will be able to see it and come to pay their respects.”

Carol Ruff and her daughter, Ruby Challenger, were also in the crowd that evening – two generations who have been affected by the sex slavery. Mrs Ruff’s mother, Jan Ruff-O’Hearne, was taken from a prisoner of war camp in Indonesia and forced to work as a comfort woman for three months.

“My mother is one of the women to be depicted, as a young girl, in the statue of 3 Sisters, Mrs Ruff said. “I spoke to my mother by phone in Adelaide today. She pointed out that we have monuments and bridges for former soldiers, but women are often the forgotten heroes of war.

“This is not a vindictive act towards Japanese people. It is a gesture towards reconciliation of the wounds of World War II.”

But 18-year-old Kohki Iwasaki said the monument would result in acts of racism against Japanese. “This statue will be highly visible as the proposed site is in such a public area. It would breed hatred and contempt towards the Japanese,” Mr Iwasaki said.

“Why do I have to be punished for a crime that happened 70 years ago because of the blood that runs through my veins?”

Long-time Strathfield resident Bob Prouty also pleaded with councillors to not erect the statue, saying it would go against the embodiment of multiculturalism.


Comments

After all these years why erect such a statue in Strathfield? My father and my husband's father fought for Australia and would be horrified to think that elements within our community would want to stir up racial hatred by erecting this statue in a public place.

The issue of comfort women is covered in displays at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra. This would be an appropriate place to erect the statue, not in Strathfield. Most Australian towns and cities have memorials to remember the sacrifice of members of their community who served their country in wars overseas. By contrast, this statue would detract from the use of public space to commemorate the service of Strathfield's own community or to honour outstanding contributions by our citizens.

Our Prime Minister's efforts to build reconciliation between China, Japan and Korea are not helped when recent migrants want to use Australia as a stage to continue past grievances. This is not the multiculturalism my father fought for.

This is a message from a Japanese mother living in California, USA, where a “Comfort Woman Statue” was installed in 2013. Please read it and send it forward to your friends and families.

**************************************
Dear Friends,

I am a Japanese mother with three children living in the United States. I am writing this message to those who live in Australia where some Korean and Chinese groups have proposed an installation of a Comfort Women Statue. If you happen to know of such action in your neighborhood, I urge you to oppose immediately or at least speak up for the sake of your children.

I believe this installation of the Comfort Women Statue is a political intention of some people who really want to urge racial conflicts within your community. Although these people insist that it is a matter of human rights, it is nothing like that. I have closely seen the consequences of this matter because my family and I live in a nearby city of Glendale, California. The City of Glendale is well known for the Statue of Korean Comfort Women and the law suit against the City to put it down.

These groups of people claim that the statue is a peaceful memorial of women who severely suffered during WWII. I, as being a woman and a mother of two daughters, am very sad and feel deep sympathy from the bottom of my heart whenever I think of those who suffered in the war. However, putting up the Monuments of Comfort Women in public places such as parks and sidewalks is a completely different matter. It is not appropriate when there are descendants of Japanese people living in the same community who have not yet born at the time of the war. I will stand up and protest if I need to do so because I think it is unfair to accuse a certain ethnic group in such way.

Japanese people might be minorities in your city. However, their voices should not be mistreated as the same way as the City of Glendale has done. The racial conflict in the community of Glendale has grown to a serious issue. You might have heard about the petitions to the White House from the both sides and the law suit for the removal of the statue. It is said that the law suit will continue for a couple of years. There may be another similar law suit regarding the statue in the future. Nobody knows what would happen in this situation.

Nowadays, Glendale is described as a city of anger, hatred, and distrust, but not peace. On the contrast, the City of Buena Park, CA, which dismissed the establishment of the Comfort Women Statue, is quiet and peaceful as it should be.

Japanese residents in the United States, including young children of 6 or 7 years old, are now experiencing unreasonable hardships caused by the misunderstandings and the racial discrimination toward Japanese people. Not only Koreans and Chinese but also some Hispanics and Caucasians are looking down to Japanese and Japanese-American people. I feel greatly wronged about it as my family and I were not even born at the time of the WWⅡ. Do we really want this kind of ethnical troubles in the future?

While feeling very awkward to tell this unspoken tragedy of some Japanese women during and after the WWⅡ, I think that someone should speak up on behalf of our fellow Japanese women. If you are discussing women’s tragedies during the war, then you should also consider these Japanese women. Most people don’t know how terribly Japanese women were abused when they had escaped from Manchuria through the Korean Peninsula during and right after the WWⅡ.It is known that most of the perpetrators were Russian soldiers, as well as Korean and Chinese men. I think you could easily imagine how severely Japanese women had been sexually abused. At that time, nobody could have protected Japanese women in the Korean Peninsula. It is told that many couldn’t survive. If you would like to do some research on this matter, one of the key words is Futsukaichi Rest Home.

I believe that not only Korean, Chinese, and Australian but also most of women from Asian and European countries had suffered severely during and after WWⅡ. Women always become victims especially during war time. Among them, there were Japanese women who had barely escaped from the Korean Peninsula. Their tragedies were too painful to put into words. Please do not overlook their silent cries as no one could ever replace their ruined lives.

I sincerely ask you all not bringing up this historical tragedy repeatedly by putting up the statue in your beautiful city. Whenever I see the statue in Glendale, I feel pain and anger as it reminds me of those Japanese women who were also the victims of the war. Unlike the former Korean Comfort Women who continuously accuse Japan, the Japanese survivors would never speak up for themselves. That is why I have requested that the City of Strathfield dismiss the proposal of the Comfort Women Statue. When considering sexual abuse toward women during WWⅡ, I believe that every nation has to deal with the fact that there were both survivors and offenders within their people. It is unsuitable to bring in such highly international political matter to the multicultural communities such as Glendale or Strathfield.

I appreciate you for taking your time to read my message. I sincerely hope you understand my feelings. I am anxious not only for my children, but also for all the young generation’s future. To put up a monument to accuse a certain ethnical group is not considered a humanitarian act because it certainly stirs more hatred and conflicts among people in the community.
Thank you for your understandings.

Best regards,
A Japanese Mother living in Los Angeles

Hatred cases NOT BY HATRED, But BY LOVE.

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