The state Assembly on Monday approved a controversial resolution aimed at healing the lingering wounds of World War II by urging Japan to apologize for its wartime atrocities and offer individual compensation to American veterans, former sex slaves and other victims.
The nonbinding resolution by Assemblyman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) was approved on a voice vote after an at-times emotional debate that ranged from Japan's misdeeds to the U.S. atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to the measure's potential backlash against Asian Americans.
Backers expect the resolution to clear the Senate as early as today. They hailed the Assembly action as a major step in gaining national attention for a burgeoning movement by Japan's war victims, who are increasingly turning to U.S. legislative arenas and courts to win apologies and financial redress.
Those victims include American veterans who were brutalized and forced to perform slave labor in captivity; sex slaves from Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere; Chinese raped and massacred in the Rape of Nanking and others throughout Asia.
"We are saying no to atrocities; we're saying yes to peace," Honda said.
The Japanese Consulate in San Francisco declined to comment until the measure clears the Legislature. But Japanese officials have said they believe the nation has met its responsibilities on the war crimes issue through repeated apologies by a succession of prime ministers and billions of dollars of postwar reparations and economic aid to affected nations.
Some Japanese human rights activists, however, disagree. "We are overjoyed at the Assembly's action and think it will have a great impact on Japan, since it is not only the victims but now a California legislative body officially saying more needs to be done," said Ken Arimitsu, coordinator for a pro-victim group in Tokyo who is visiting Los Angeles to help plan a major international conference on the issue in December.
The leading challenger of the measure, Assemblyman George Nakano (D-Torrance), abstained from voting. He voiced the concerns of some Japanese Americans that stirring up old animosities toward Japan might create a backlash against them. He shared his experience of being interned in the United States during World War II "because people could not distinguish between Americans like myself and the Japanese government because of the color of my skin."
Others, such as Oakland Assemblywoman Audie Bock of the Green Party, raised the issue of whether American atomic bomb attacks on Japan were also atrocities--which prompted a sharp retort from Assemblyman Lou Papan (D-Millbrae) that the bombings hastened the end of the war and saved countless lives.
The conflicting positions of Honda and Nakano, the Legislature's only two Asian Americans, have strained their relationship and alarmed their supporters. At a recent meeting at the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, such heavy hitters as U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) flew in to try to quell the tension between the two and raised questions about the measure. Inouye shared his war experiences, which cost him an arm during furious combat in Europe, and emphasized that in war, no party is blameless.
"I think his point was that we all have done something we are not proud of in wartime and that there is evil in all parties when you concern yourself with war," Honda said. "But there was more concern about my relationship with George and that [Asian Pacific Islander Americans] hang together."
To allay such concerns, Honda amended his measure to disavow Japan-bashing and other anti-Asian sentiment, recognize that Japan has "earned its place as an equal in the society of nations" and acknowledge that the nation has offered some apologies and compensation. He also took out all comparisons to what Germany did to compensate Jewish victims of the Holocaust, after some questioned whether it was appropriate to compare horrors.
But the resolution maintains that the Japanese actions are not enough, and calls on the government to issue a "clear and unambiguous apology." It calls on Congress and the president to also seek an apology and reparations from Japan.
To help heal relations, Honda praised Nakano on the floor for helping improve his resolution, and said he planned to sponsor a Fund-raiser for him. Nakano's own measure for public school students to study the problem of genocide also was approved.
Meanwhile, others hailed the measure for unifying disparate segments of the Asian community, including Koreans, Taiwanese, Chinese and Filipinos. Ignatius Ding, the Silicon Valley "cyberwarrior" who has united more than 45 organizations around the world via the Internet through his Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia, had rallied international support for the Honda measure and vowed it would be the first of other successful legislative campaigns.
"Justice eventually shall prevail," Ding said.
Times staff writer Mark Gladstone in Sacramento contributed to this report.