Japan and Korea Take Their (History) Wars to U.S. State and Local Legislatures
A lawsuit filed yesterday in California federal court seeks the removal of a statue in a Glendale, California public park honoring women victimized by the Japanese military during World War II. The placement of the statue was approved by the local city council with the strong support of Korean and Korean-Americans who want to recognize the suffering of the “comfort women”. The lawsuit appears to claim as one of its arguments that the local city council is interfering in national foreign affairs in violation of the US Constitution.
This lawsuit is only the latest front in a spreading battle between Korean and Korean-American groups and the Japanese government in various state and local legislatures. In Virginia, the state legislature (again with strong Korean-American voters support) passed legislation requiring textbooks in public schools to note that the Sea of Japan is also called the “East Sea.” New Jersey is considering similar legislation, and already has its own “comfort women” memorial.
As a legal matter, I can say with high confidence there is no serious argument that the placement of a statue in a public park, or the rewording of textbooks, violates the federal government’s foreign affairs authority under the Constitution. No legal rights of foreign nationals are involved, nor is this a matter traditionally handled by the national government, nor does the US-Japan Treaty of Peace preempt this action. So this aspect of the anti-memorial folks’ lawsuit seems pretty hopeless and borderline frivolous.
I am less sure about the policy benefits of this type of activity. For US legislators this is just a cheap and easy way to get support from a growing voter population. China’s government has tried a similar strategy to garner Korean friendship on a much grander scale when it put up a huge memorial to a early-twentieth-century Korean anti-Japanese revolutionary. But those actions are purely out of self-interest.
On the other hand, all of this seems like a relatively gentle way to prod the Japanese on these issues. In any event, expect to see more action at the state and local level in the U.S. One hopes (although this seems a vain hope) that this activity might even spark some useful Korean-Japanese debate on matters that they can’t seem to talk about much back in Asia.