World / US and Canada

Activists want link removed in 'comfort women' lessons

By LIA ZHU in San Francisco ( Updated: 2016-09-21 10:44

Activists in California are demanding that the California Board of Education remove a "misleading" link in its recently approved curriculum that includes teaching about "comfort women" of World War II.

Activists want link removed in 'comfort women' lessons

From left: Phyllis Kim, executive director of the Korean American Forum of California; Julie Tang, retired judge and co-chair, Comfort Women Justice Coalition; Yong-Soo Lee, Korean “comfort woman” survivor; Lillian Sing, retired Judge and co-chair, Comfort Women Justice Coalition, and US Congressman Mike Honda, chair emeritus, Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, at a press conference on Sept 16 in San Jose, California. LIA ZHU / CHINA DAILY 

California, after New Jersey in 2004, is the second state in the US to include the topic of "comfort women" in the history-social science framework for public schools, which provides guidance to teachers, administrators and publishers.

"Even though we thank the state Board of Education for including the curriculum, we think it's very, very wrong to sneak in the link," said Lillian Sing, a retired San Francisco Superior Court judge and co-chair of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition, a San Francisco-based advocacy group for "comfort women".

The link she referred to is to an agreement between Japan and South Korean in December last year, under which Japan pledged to pay 1 billion yen (about $8.3 million) from its state funds to build a "comfort women" foundation in South Korea, and Seoul, in return, agreed on a "final and irreversible" resolution on the wartime sex slavery issue.

The activists objected to the inclusion of the deal, arguing that the state Board of Education violated due process and transparency by "sneaking something in" at the last minute after the period of public comments was over.

"They sneaked in a link that they claimed was an agreement between Japan and South Korea as if the issue was resolved," said Sing, adding that the "comfort women" issue involves not only South Korea but other countries such as China, Indonesia and the Philippines.

Julie Tang, another retired judge and co-chair of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition, told reporters on Sept 16 in San Jose, California, that the problem was "lack of notice", which is a violation of the US Constitution and "secret behind closed-door chambers".

"By that time, the public had no chance to protest or give information to convince the commissioners to vote against that," she said. "So without the information, the commissioners voted unanimously on the curriculum framework along with this link."

The activists said that they were told the foreign governments contacted Tom Adams, deputy superintendent of the Instruction and Learning Support Branch at the California Department of Education, to put the agreement in the curriculum. Adams couldn't be reached for comment.

"I think the judges are right. There's a violation of process," said Congressman Mike Honda, who joined the activists at the press conference. "(If) The Japanese government wants to continue the issue, then they should stand in the line and follow our process here, but not do it under a cloak of secrecy."

He encouraged the public to write to the state Board of Education and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to review the situation and remove the link from the books.

The Japanese-South Korean deal immediately sparked debate after it was announced last year, as activists called it "narrow" and "limited" and criticized the two governments for failing to consult the victims.

Among the activists is Yong-Soo Lee, 89, a South Korean "comfort woman" survivor. She joined Honda and the activists to protest the board, including the agreement in the new curriculum.

"I am the living proof of history. I'm testifying what I experienced and what I saw myself," Lee said through a translator. "There were numerous victims. They were not consulted. I was never consulted about the so-called agreement. … I can't acknowledge the agreement."

Lee was one of the hundreds of thousands of girls and young women who were forced into institutionalized sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army in occupied territories before and during World War II. She was only 15 years old when she was forced into sexual servitude and said she was repeatedly raped for two years on a daily basis.

"Everywhere we go, every hearing that we attend, there's a group of denialists who claim the atrocities never happened and the 'comfort women' were paid prostitutes," said Sing. "It's because the (Japanese) government robbed its citizens of the truth of history. … We will not let that happen to our students in California, in the United States."

"We want to tell the truth – ugly or beautiful, bad or good. The truth must be told," said Sing.

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