[Interview] Mike Honda speaks about publicizing comfort women issue in the US

Posted on : 2017-10-25 17:42 KST Modified on : 2017-10-25 17:42 KST
The former congressman has been at the forefront of efforts to raise awareness among the American public
Former US Congressman Mike Honda (right) and Russell Lowe
Former US Congressman Mike Honda (right) and Russell Lowe

“I think the Abe administration’s policies and Abe’s remarks themselves are evidence of anti-intellectualism. They say there’s no [corroborating] evidence, but since there are obviously documents showing that the Japanese government systematically mobilized and kidnapped women, the Japanese government ought to take responsibility. That’s why the Kono Statement was released. It’s not so much that there’s insufficient evidence as that there’s a lack of moral leadership in the current Japanese government,” said former US Congressman Michael Honda, 76. Honda dismisses as “nonsense” the claims of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Japanese government that there was nothing compulsory about the mobilization of the comfort women for the Japanese Imperial army.

Also present at the interview was Russell Lowe, 62, Secretary General of the Education for Social Justice Foundation, a San Francisco-based civic group, who agreed with Honda’s view. This is how Lowe put it: “It’s not true that there aren’t any documents. One of the problems is that these documents aren’t able to be disseminated in American society because they’re written in Chinese, Japanese and Korean. That’s why one of the priorities of our foundation’s educational efforts is properly communicating the facts about the comfort women in American society.”

Honda paid a visit to the Hankyoreh on Oct. 15 along with Lowe, who is working with Honda in California to improve how American society views education, minority rights and the comfort women issue, as well as Chang Lee, a planning commissioner for Glendale (a city in Los Angeles County), who joined Honda and Lowe, orchestrated the construction of a comfort woman statue in Glendale in 2013.

Honda emphasized the importance of the fact that 10th grade students in the San Francisco Unified School District will be taught about the comfort women issue as of next March for “the first time in the US.”

“California is the first state in the US to include the comfort women issue in school curriculum, but classroom teachers are having quite a hard time because they don’t have any syllabuses or lesson plans. We have currently tested lecture material that we’ve developed,” Honda said. The development of these lecture materials is being handled by Education for Social Justice Foundation (ESJF), which works closely and successfully with San Francisco Unified School District. to development of these lesson plans . ESJF works with a social organization called the Comfort Women Justice Coalition.

Honda has often said that he took the lead on the comfort women issue because “it’s the right thing to do…I think that Abe may be letting his personal feelings get mixed up in these historical issues. Japan’s political history overlaps with his personal history, since both his maternal grandfather Nobusuke Kishi and Kishi’s brother Eisaku Sato served as prime ministers,” Honda said.

Noting that Abe “inevitably looks like a politician who is adept at lying considering how he keeps changing his story about the comfort women,” Honda added that it might be effective for Japan’s crown prince, who may change things up, to propose “a prudent and responsible solution to the comfort women issue.”

Lowe, a Chinese-American who spent 20 years as the aide to Dianne Feinstein (former mayor of San Francisco and chair of the US Senate Intelligence Committee), says that the Japanese government’s problematic treatment of the comfort women issue began in the 1980s. “That’s when the Japanese government started pouring millions of dollars into a lobbying campaign aimed at American scholars and researchers. Since the majority of whites aren’t aware of this, they’re confused by the claims of the Japanese government and the findings of fact-based researchers. The question is, how do we effectively deal with the Japanese government’s cash-rich scheme to disrupt efforts to bring the truth of the comfort women issue to the attention of the American public,” Lowe said.

Honda, a Democrat, served eight two-year terms as US Congressman in the 15th and later the 17th congressional district of California (which includes Silicon Valley), from 2001, when he was first elected to the House of Representatives at the age of 60, until Nov. 2016. Honda came to prominence in South Korea after he spearheaded a resolution about the comfort women issue in the House of Representatives in Sept. 2007. Some of his relatives – including his mother’s younger brother and his father’s younger sister – still live in Kumamoto on the Japanese island of Kyushu. Honda says that he has “received a lot of complaints and protests from other Japanese, but not my family members,” about his comfort women activism.

“There are very old and stubborn anti-Asian feelings in the American political world,” said Honda, whose family was among the victims of the US government’s forced internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II. “As I was growing up, I found myself thinking that the prejudice and the discriminatory behavior of mainstream whites against Asians was ultimately a way for the majority to isolate and control a minority. Minorities like us are faithful not to the regime but to the constitution. The freedom of political activity that is enshrined in the constitution is very important. The US is a fine country, but it’s not a perfect one. That’s why I’ve diligently participated in political activity to realize and protect our constitutional rights.” Honda’s activism for the comfort women is an extension of that.

Lowe also criticized US policies that apply different standards to Japan and to South Korea. “The fact is that South Korea is being treated unfairly because the US has double standards. Americans don’t understand why Koreans are angry and what Japanese are secretly aiming for. In that sense, perhaps we should regard the US as angling for its own political and economic interests while manipulating South Korea and Japan as puppets,” he said.

“The only victor in the comfort women agreement [signed in December 2015] was Japan,” Honda said.

By Han Seung-dong, senior staff writer and Cho Hye-jeong, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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