Last month, a new statue went up in Constitution Park in Fort Lee, N.J. It was small, only about five feet in height, but striking.
A poem is etched on the stone base.
The outline of a girl can be seen in the metal figure. The statue doesn’t commemorate soldiers like most such memorials, but instead honors “comfort women” – the thousands of girls and women from China, Korea and the Philippines who were impressed into sexual slavery by the Japanese army in World War II.
For decades, their stories were left out of history textbooks, but now, the efforts of groups like The Youth Council of Fort Lee are commemorating their memories.
The Youth Council of Fort Lee, a group of high school students, led the efforts to design and install the memorial. Euwan Kim designed the statue and proposed the figure of a girl in a traditional Korean dress to be missing from the center, signifying the human and emotional cost of the war.
A student poet, Gabriella Son, wrote the words on the base of the statue from the perspective of a comfort woman’s grandchild called “Stories My Grandmother Tells Me.”
Kim and fellow student, Gemma Hong, were part of the effort to have a statue installed in the park.
Some Japanese officials fear that the continued efforts to create statues to comfort women – there are 11 now in the United States, including the Fort Lee statue – may build animosity toward Japan. A group of protesters were in attendance for the statue’s unveiling, underscoring the importance of its existence.
Similar controversies have dogged the statues dedicated to comfort women abroad as well.