This year we will commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, the greatest war in human history. When representatives of Imperial Japan surrendered to General Douglas MacArthur on the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on September 2, 1945, it not only brought that war to an end. It also brought an end to the enslavement of up to 200,000 women and girls who had been coerced into sexual servitude by the Imperial Japanese military. While most have passed away in the intervening years, the survivors who remain deserve justice and closure in their final days. They have waited too long. It is time for Japan to apologize.
One of the major achievements of my two-and-a-half decades serving in the U.S. Congress was the chairing of a hearing on February 15, 2007 entitled “Protecting the Human Rights of Comfort Women.” Along with other members of the House Foreign Affairs’ Subcommittee on Asia, the Pacific and the Global Environment, I heard the riveting testimony of three Comfort Women survivors: Ms. Yong Soo Lee and Ms. Koon Ja Kim from Korea and Ms. Jan Ruff O’Herne from Australia (formerly of the Dutch East Indies). There were few dry eyes in the hearing room after these three courageous women described in detail the suffering, humiliation and torture which they had endured. The current President of the Republic of Korea was the special guest of our committee on that occasion.
After the hearing, I took every opportunity to visit with some of the Comfort Women survivors at their home at the “House of Sharing” in Gyeonggi Province in South Korea. They are not just affectionately known as “grandmothers;” they are truly grandmothers to myself and many others who cherish their warmth, courage and endurance.
My good friend Rep. Mike Honda (D) of California also gave testimony at that 2007 hearing. In 2007, Honda also introduced House Resolution 121, which expressed “the sense of the House of Representatives that the Government of Japan should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces' coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as ‘comfort women’, during its colonial and wartime occupation of Asia and the Pacific Islands from the 1930s through the duration of World War II.” I was a proud co-sponsor of that resolution, which was adopted by a voice vote in the House of Representatives on July 30, 2007.
News reports indicate that Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during a planned visit to Washington this spring, would appreciate being invited to address both Houses of Congress. If invited to speak, Abe would appear in the same House chamber where the historic Comfort Women resolution was passed. The House chamber is also the site where President Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his renowned “date which will live in infamy” speech on December 8, 1941, the day after the Pearl Harbor attack.
If Abe is invited to speak in a chamber of historic significance, it would be only fitting and proper for him to bring final closure to certain historic issues regarding the Second World War. Not only our daily diminishing number of World War II veterans, including former POWs, but women’s rights groups and the Korean-American, Filipino-American, Taiwanese-American and Chinese-American communities, among others, would greatly appreciate a sincere expression of remorse in the remarks prepared by the prime minister. Abe could use the occasion of his visit to the American Congress to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historic responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner” for the historic human rights violations committed against the Comfort Women.
He could also re-affirm Prime Minister Murayama’s statement of 1995. Murayama wrote, in part, that “during a certain period in the not too distant past, Japan, following a mistaken national policy, advanced along the road to war, only to ensnare the Japanese people in a fateful crisis, and, through its colonial rule and aggression, caused tremendous damage and suffering to the people of many countries, particularly to those of Asian nations.” A reaffirmation of this official apology for the aggression of the Pacific War at the site where President Roosevelt spoke would make a deep impression not only on members of Congress but on the American people, the Comfort Women survivors and other neighbors in Asia.
Such a sincere apology would be an act of true statesmanship. And it would go a long way toward providing some comfort to the Comfort Women survivors, such as Bok Dong Kim. Kim commented, during 2013 ceremonies at the unveiling of the Comfort Women monument in Glendale, California, that “we don’t have much time left.” The time is now, Mr. Abe. Our grandmothers are waiting to hear your apology echo in the very chamber where Resolution 121 was passed.
Faleomavaega served as the non-voting delegate of American Samoa in the House from 1989 to 2015.