An Interview with NY Senator Tony Avella
"Some Views of Western Experts Who Thought Japan's War Were Justified" (Part 9)

Recently Korean groups have actively started to get America on their side by establishing comfort women statues in a couple of cities in the U.S. On January 2013, the New York State Senate adopted the resolution to accuse Japan for Comfort Women issue. We interviewed NY State Senator Tony Avella who initiated establishment of the comfort women plate and resolution in the Senate.

Q: You’ve received many awards for your civil rights activities in NYC. How did you become interested in that area?

A: I’ve been a champion of human rights going back to my days on the NYC council, and I’ve continued that sort of philosophy in the Senate. It’s common for every citizen, no matter what country they might inhabit, to stand up for human and civil rights and to prevent any abuses of them.

Q: I’m interested in your Korean constituents’ human rights issues. What are you doing to improve their lives?


Contact with the Korean Community’s Problematic Issues

A: A number of Korean organizations have brought to my attention several issues over the last few years since I was elected to the Senate. One of them was the comfort women issue; the other was the Sea of Japan, the East Sea issue.

Whenever someone brings an issue to my attention, I research it. Then, I decide whether it’s appropriate to get involved. If there is a real problem, I listen to both sides, figure out the right thing to do, and help people resolve their issues.


I Shared My Korean Constituents’ Concerns over WWII Historical Records with Japanese Diplomats in NYC

When I became involved with the comfort women issue, the first thing I did was to send a letter to the Council General of Japan in NYC that expressed my concern about the situation and the fact that the government in Japan should acknowledge what happened during WWII. The German government, for example, acknowledged that the German army caused the Jewish Holocaust. I wasn’t indicting the current government or the Japanese people. The Deputy Council General of Japan actually met with me at my office, and we talked about it. I had a resolution passed in the Senate about the issue.


Afterwards, I Expressed My Support for the Re-naming of the Sea of Japan

The Korean group also brought the issue of the name of the East Sea / Sea of Japan to my attention. Again, I did some research, and I found that it came up during WWII with the Japanese Army occupation of the peninsula where it sort of forced the name, Sea of Japan, onto the Korean people.

According to a UN protocol, whenever there’s a body of water that borders two different countries, the name of that body of water should be a neutral name and should not be named after one country or another, which is the reason I decided to get involved with the East Sea issue.

Q: Do you think the Korean Comfort Women were sex slaves?


Although My Knowledge About WWII Is Limited, I Want to Resolve the American-East Asian Community’s War-Related Issues, and Put Them in the Past

A: I think an occupying army forced women from various countries, including Korea, into prostitution service for the army. I don’t have enough knowledge on that aspect to comment further.

Q: Was one of your prime issues, concerning the Comfort Women, for Japan to admit that it had happened because your Korean constituents felt that the issue hadn’t been properly acknowledged?

A: Correct, and that’s how the Koreans have been treating it. I want to put this issue in the past. I mentioned what had happened with the German government because after WWII it acknowledged the travesty of the Holocaust, which went a long way to end the pain. However, we still need to remember what happened because we don’t want any legitimate government throughout the world to repeat it.

The Japanese government has to concede. Now, I understand that they did to some extent, but their acknowledgment didn’t go far enough, and apparently there is still – and I won’t say where it’s coming from – but there are still factions within Japan who refuse to accept it, which is unfortunate. These people do not reflect the current Japanese Government, and the issue does not reflect the Japanese people of today, but we need to recognize when mistakes have been made in the past.

The abuse of women has happened all over the world; it is still a tragedy in certain countries in this world. We have stand up against what happened in the past, and we must continue to stand up against what’s currently happening throughout the world to women.

Q: Do you believe 200,000 women were forced into sexual slavery?

A: There’s sufficient evidence. I don’t know the number, but the Japanese army forced women into prostitution. The situation was so bad. When these women were released, those who were still alive at the end of WW2, rather than going back to their families, because they felt such shame, some of them committed suicide.

Q: The story sounds really tragic, but it’s not true. According to research the American military conducted after WWII in Burma, the Comfort Women were nothing more than prostitutes. Here is a copy of the research paper. Haven’t you read it?


There’s an American Army Report on the Comfort Women Issue

A: No, I haven’t, and I can’t comment on something I haven’t seen. I have no idea what the document is. I don’t know how the American military prepared it. I don’t know what questions they asked. I don’t know what the political considerations were at the time that it was done.


I Can’t Deny the Korean Women’s Testimonies On Account of a US Report that I Didn’t Read

I had opportunity to speak with some of these Comfort Women, who are still alive today, and it wasn’t the story that they told. I had them, sitting as close to me as you are now, say that it had happened.

I just can’t pick up a piece of paper that denies their stories. I’ll take a look at the Army report, but how can you deny the women who have said it? This controversy is not going away.

Q: How do you think the Japanese and Korean communities should come to a resolution that could be acceptable to both parties?


Let’s Have a Fair Investigation of the Facts!

A: What has to be done, if they actually want to resolve it, is a fair investigation. Let’s talk with the governments and groups that are working on it. I have contacts within the Korean community, and if I can be of any help in brokering contact between the Japanese government and the Korean groups or the Korean government to get to the bottom of this controversy, then I’ll be happy to do it.

However, there’s been enough evidence to show that it happened. I don’t want the Japanese government to say, “We’re going to look into it” like it never happened, which would actually be taking a step backwards. It happened. The Japanese government should finally acknowledge it.

I didn’t know about the Comfort Women until two to three years ago. It’s sad that something like this issue had been pushed under the rug, and nobody has talked about it. It’s just like the Holocaust in Germany. People must acknowledge what happened. We must be assured that these types of situations will never happen again.

As more people learn about it, there’s going to be an even bigger controversy. More people are going to get involved and try to get the Japanese government to do the right thing. It’s incumbent upon good civilized nations and people to stand up and say, “What happened in the past was wrong, and we admit it.”

I don’t care if it’s Korean people, Japanese people, people here in America, or in any country of the world, where there is a civil or human rights abuse, whether it happened in the past or today, it’s incumbent upon good people to stand up and say, “This is not right.”

Q: I agree with you. What do you think about North Korea?

A: North Korea has huge amount of human rights violations. They are absolutely serious issues.


This Issue Might End Up Benefitting North Korea

Q: Have you ever considered whether this issue may end up benefitting North Korea by causing a rift between Japan and South Korea?

A: I don’t think this issue has anything to do with North Korea. Korean-Americans brought it to my attention. They were American citizens with Korean ancestry. They might have had relatives still in South Korea.

I have had no communication with North Korea, nor would I. It’s a dictatorship, and the number of human rights problems in North Korea would probably take us days to document. It’s a disgrace. Every human rights organization across the globe is condemning North Korea for its abuses.

Q: Isn’t it obvious to you that the Chinese Communist Party supports the North Korean government?

A: I’m not aware of international politics. I haven’t done any research on them, and I can’t comment. Aren’t we talking about the Comfort Women issue?

Q: If you keep siding with South Korea on this issue, then the Korean people might lose their whole country. Don’t you see how it’s causing a fracture in the alliance between the US, Korea, and Japan?


Korea and Japan Are Good American Allies

A: I don’t see how the Comfort Women have affected the alliance between Japan, South Korea, and the United States. It might if the Japanese government continues, in my opinion, to refuse to acknowledge its history. To combine these issues, to say that somehow this problem will affect international relationships, is another way of not addressing it.

America will continue to work with Japan and Korea. They share a common history and have similar goals. Both countries are good allies of the United States and will remain so. However, it doesn’t mean that people should ignore problems as they arise. The Comfort Women issue should have been addressed.

Q: Until 1989, there was no controversy over these women. Haven’t you wondered why?


Korean Women Have Been Speaking About Their Sexual Enslavement for the First Time in Their Lives

A: Perhaps they were afraid to come forward. I mentioned some of the young women who went home and committed suicide because they were so embarrassed. I had a conversation with a woman who never had the chance to speak with her family about it because she was so embarrassed. It was only when this issue came to light recently that she actually came forward.

I can at least imagine how somebody would be so ashamed, as not even to discuss it. Now more women have been coming forward; the issue has been coming to light. Unfortunately, a lot of the women are no longer alive to speak. They’ve already passed away because of their ages, but we’re fortunate that there are some women who can talk about their experiences.

That it has only come to light recently doesn’t bear any weight. We shouldn’t pay any attention to the fact. The issue is here now.


The Comfort Women Issue Started from Wrong Testimony

Q: Have you heard that an article from the Asahi newspaper, a Japanese newspaper, caused this problem? A newspaper journalist wrongly reported on false testimony. Since then, it’s been widely perceived that the comfort women issue was based on the false information.

A: I’m not familiar with the newspaper article or the paper itself. I don’t know what it said.

Q: The New York Times followed the article. Since the Korean government also followed the article, it had no choice but to demand an apology from the Japanese government. The story about the Comfort Women program started from a falsely reported article, and historical experts have irrefutably demonstrated that it was a lie.


The Korean Women’s Testimonies Convinced Me of the Truth

A: All I can tell you is that I’ve personally spoken to the women, and the testimonies of the people who went through the experiences convinced me. You don’t want to believe that I’ve done my research. I’m always happy to look at evidence that someone gives me, but you haven’t said anything that’s changed my mind.

You’re trying to prove to me that they were lying, which I don’t think was the case. You want to present evidence that some people falsified their testimonies, and that’s up to you, but if everything was false, why does the issue keep growing? Why are more people getting involved with it? Why are people coming forward and saying what a horrendous thing it was? As more people come forward, where is this body of evidence to say there’s no truth in the accusations? You obviously can’t stop what’s happening because it’s true.


America Hired Nazi Scientists After the War and Lied About It Until Recently

I’ll tell you something. It’s now coming out that the United States government hired ex-Nazis after WWII. The American people weren’t told about it at the time. The German scientists went to work on our missile programs. They were obviously a great help to this country, but the American people weren’t informed. We only found out in the last five or ten years.

Don’t hold a US military report up to me like it’s the Bible. Maybe it was done politically to end hostilities from WWII. I have no idea in what political context it was done, just as the American people were not told that we took ex-Nazis from Germany, gave them different identities, and put them to work.


The US Army Report Is Not Sufficient Evidence for Me

You may think that this Army report is evidence that the Comfort Women program didn’t happen. I say I have no way of knowing based upon what our own country has done.

Q: Wasn’t this research conducted because the US army wanted to criticize the Japanese military, but it couldn’t?

A: We can disagree for hours about its accuracy. I just know that things are coming out about WWII that people didn’t know, and we don’t, as far as I’m concerned, hide human rights abuses. My position will never change. However, I’m all for a resolution.

An Interview with NY Senator Tony Avella
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