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City Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing) has been stirring up an international controversy with his plans to honor Asian women forced into prostitution by Japan during World War II.
Koo has plans for a Flushing memorial to honor the so-called “comfort women” from countries including Korea and China who were kept as sex slaves for the Japanese military.
But citizens of the island nation of Japan do not share Koo’s enthusiasm and started a letter-writing campaign targeting his fellow Council members.
“We Japanese are profoundly concerned about his political activities,” a letter signed by a man from Tokyo said.
Dozens of the letters came pouring into the offices of Councilmen Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone) and Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) after a story in a Flushing-based Korean newspaper was picked up in Japan, according to Koo’s office.
The letters, which feature the same text but are all signed by different people, accused Koo of propagating false information and pandering to his Korean base, a charge a spokesman for the Shanghai native firmly denied.
“Councilman Koo has actually met comfort women who are still alive and who have told their stories,” said James McClelland, referring to an event last year in conjunction with the Kupferberg Holocaust Center at Queensborough Community College, where several comfort women recounted horror stories of their internment.
Koo began advocating for the memorial, which may eventually include a street renaming or memorial plaque, after speaking with some Korean groups in the area.
“Councilman Koo, he really showed an interest in supporting this,” said Chejin Park, of the Korean American Voters’ Council.
The council, a Flushing-based nonprofit, also advocated for a federal resolution recognizing the existence of comfort women that was passed in the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007.
According to Park, there is often argument over how many comfort women existed. The numbers vary between 20,000 and 200,000 depending on the source.
But he said finding an exact total is irrelevant.
“It doesn’t matter. Even if only one woman was victimized by a government, it is still a big problem,” said Park, whose group also helped put up a memorial in New Jersey in 2009.
The letters that came to the councilmen denied that the atrocities occurred, but did not change the minds of the recipients, who both support Koo.
“I was a little stunned by them,” said Weprin. “It seems logical to me to give the women some type of memorial or recognition of what they went through.”
And Halloran said while the numbers might be debatable, there is no doubt it happened.
“I’ll air on the side of caution and say history is never as clear as we like it to be,” he said. “But there is no difference between this and saying the Holocaust didn’t exist.”
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.
©2012 Community Newspaper Group
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