Wartime sex-slave memorial’s inscription finalized

Steven Whyte’s 10-foot metal statue, entitled “Women’s Column of Strength,” will be erected in the new St. Mary’s Square extension in San Francisco’s Chinatown. courtesy of Steven Whyte’s Figurative Sculpture Studios

The San Francisco Arts Commission’s Visual Arts Committee at its Jan. 18 meeting unanimously approved — with amendments — the proposed inscription for the “comfort women” memorial statue, which will be erected on Saint Mary’s Square. The inscription will be printed on a plate that will be installed on the statue. Created by Steven Whyte, the statue will be entitled “Women’s Column of Strength.” The memorial is dedicated to the “comfort women,” women and girls who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II.

“I find this inscription very accurate, fair and reasonable,” said former Rep. Mike Honda, who attended the meeting to support the inscription, before the amendments were made. “It speaks to the present and to the expectation for our future. This is something that the city of San Francisco is well known for.”

Grace Shimizu, executive committee member of the “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition, told the Nichi Bei Weekly that the text was prepared by the San Francisco Arts Commission staff in collaboration with the coalition’s executive committee. The text, initially drafted by the coalition with reviews by Professor emeritus Ling-chi Wang of University of California, Berkeley, was presented to the public and commented on by coalition members, its partners, and members of the Japanese American community, among others.

Shimizu said that most of the comments submitted to the coalition and the Visual Arts Committee were supportive of the memorial and inscription drafts, and that the coalition supports the recommended inscription. “A couple of comments suggested the language was divisive and hateful, but the overwhelming response, especially from the Japanese American community, is one of support and affirmation of the inscription,” she added.

Michael Wong, a member of Asian Americans for Peace and Justice, said the “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition, the project’s leaders, “asked for and received feedback from the JA community and their inscription includes some of that feedback, including deleting the word ‘apology.’ They simply state the general principle that ‘governments must accept responsibilities,’ not pointing to any particular government,” he wrote in comments submitted to the committee.

The committee changed two portions of the inscription during the meeting. JD Beltran, president of the committee, adopted Robert Rusky’s suggestion to change “so-called ‘comfort women’” to read “euphemistically called ‘comfort-women.’” She also addressed the discrepancy in the exact number of “comfort women,” which multiple people raised in comments, and suggested the inscription be changed from “over 200,000” to “hundreds of thousands”.

The inscription moves on to the full arts commission and will be read as part of the consent calendar for final approval Monday, Feb. 6.

Memorial inscription

If approved by the full San Francisco Arts Commission, the inscription will read as follows:

“Our worst fear is that our painful history during World War II will be forgotten”
— former “Comfort Woman”

This monument bears witness to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of women and girls, euphemistically called “comfort women,” who were sexually enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces in 13 Asian-Pacific countries from 1931 to 1945.

Most of these women died during their wartime captivity. This dark history was hidden for decades, until the 1990s, when the survivors courageously broke their silence. They helped move the world to declare that sexual violence as a strategy of war is a crime against humanity for which governments must be held accountable.

This memorial is dedicated to the memory of these women, and to the crusade to eradicate sexual violence and sex trafficking throughout the world.

Gift to the City from the “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition www.remembercomfortwomen.org.

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