Comfort-women statue

Bok-dong Kim, a comfort woman survivor, is directly behind the monument as it is being unveiled at the unveiling ceremony of the Comfort Women Memorial monument in Glendale on Tuesday, July 30, 2013. (Tim Berger / Staff Photographer / February 26, 2014)

In City Council chambers packed with about 100 people, Glendale council members said they were not fazed by a lawsuit filed last week in federal district court asking a judge to remove a city statue honoring women victimized by the Japanese Army during World War II.

The statue isn’t going anywhere, they added.

“I think the lawsuit will be put to bed very quickly and we can move on and we can be proud of this statue,” said Councilwoman Laura Friedman, noting that she was glad the statue has focused international attention on Glendale and the women honored by the 1,100-pound memorial in Central Park.

The statue for so-called comfort women — an estimated 80,000 to 200,000 women from Korea, China and other countries who were used as sex slaves in military brothels — has been a lightning rod for controversy even before it was installed in July.

Although Mayor Dave Weaver has said he regretted the statue’s installation because he didn’t want Glendale to get involved in international affairs, he also spoke out against the lawsuit.

“The council voted to put the comfort [women] statue there, it’s there, it passed, it’s going to stay there, period,” Weaver said.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court is just one of a string of attempts by opponents — including multiple visits by Japanese politicians and the threat by a Japanese city to end its sister city relationship with Glendale — to have it removed.

Opponents, both Japanese nationals and Japanese Americans, say the women acted willingly as prostitutes and the military was not directly involved in any coercion.

Their disapproval of the statue comes even as many former comfort women have told devastating stories about their servitude and a former Japanese Prime Minister apologized for the comfort women system in the 1990s. However, comfort women supporters have described that apology as insufficient.

The lawsuit, filed by a Glendale resident, a Los Angeles resident and a nonprofit group, claims that Glendale has infringed upon the federal government’s power to exclusively conduct foreign affairs by installing the statue, which has whipped up fury among some Japanese lawmakers.

Supporters of the statue, including the former Mayor of Monterey Park and members of various KoreanAmerican, Chinese American, Japanese American groups, fought back Tuesday night, showing up en masse to a council meeting to oppose what they called a frivolous lawsuit.

“This city, having that statue placed here, shows that it has a conscious,” said John Gee, a Laguna Woods resident. “We need to keep the truth no matter how painful.”

William Min, an 80-year-old Los Angeles resident, said he remembers being in sixth grade when his school in Korea had an assembly honoring two 13-year-old girls who were being sent to work for the Japanese Army. Tears streamed down the faces of the girls, who would go on to become comfort women, he said.

“The world must never repeat that kind of atrocity,” Min said.

Councilman Zareh Sinanyan characterized the plaintiffs in the lawsuit as “a fringe element” and compared them to the “Turkish Lobby,” referring to Turkey’s denial of the Armenian Genocide of 1915.

“I do also regret the fact that this lawsuit was brought,” Sinanyan said. “It takes something that’s pure and noble and it drags that pure thing into the gutter.”

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Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.

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