A Dunwoody state representative has been working behind the scenes trying to convince the city of Brookhaven to back off accepting a “comfort women” memorial set to be unveiled Friday, June 30.
State Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody) said in an interview that he contacted Brookhaven city officials because he believed the memorial could hurt future business dealings with Japan. He also said that activists donating the memorial to the city are wanting to “drive a wedge” between Japan and Korea.
“This is a small group of Korean-American activists pushing this [memorial] all across Georgia and finally got a city to take the bait,” Taylor said.
“This is a political group that basically wants to drive a wedge between Japan and Korea,” he said.
Helen Kim Ho of the Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force, which commissioned the statue, said Taylor’s comments about the group wanting to criticize the Japanese were a “slap in the face.”
“Tom Taylor’s insinuation that we’re a small group of Korean activists’ out to sully the current Japanese government is, to put it mildly, preposterous and deeply offensive to us,” she said. “Most of us have dedicated much of our lives to either promoting Asian and Asian American rights and issues, and-or been leaders in the fight against trafficking and violence against women.
“This is a real slap in the face,” she said.
“[Hearing from] trolls is one thing, but Tom Taylor is actually a local elected official, who represents Dunwoody, a very diverse part of our state,” Ho added. “He’s essentially attacking other local civic leaders, and clearly that is troublesome.”
Taylor said he contacted some members of the Brookhaven City Council – after they had already voted to accept the memorial — on behalf of the Japanese consul general in Atlanta. Taylor said he made that contact in his informal role in the state legislature as a liaison to the international consul community in promoting trade and cultural relations. He is also a member of the Economic Development and Tourism Committee.
Taylor also noted he lived in Japan for many years and speaks Japanese. He said he is a retired Navy intelligence officer and currently works for DynCorp International, a military contractor.
Taylor said the memorial would likely harm Japan’s relationship with Georgia.
“I’m looking at this from an economic development standpoint,” he said. “When we compete for business, we compete with all states.”
Tomoko Ohyama, a Japanese consul in Atlanta, said in email there are more than 600 Japanese companies in Georgia. No Japanese companies in the state have contacted the consulate to say they want to leave Georgia over the “comfort women” memorial, she said.
“Thanks to the strong ties that were built over these 40 years, we have not heard such statement yet,” she said. “On the other hand, the question should not just focus on existing businesses.Georgia may lose future business opportunities and the great relationship that the state could have had due to the comfort women memorial.”
Taylor said the “sins of the father” – the behavior of Japan in World War II — should not be passed down to succeeding generations, and said the memorial singles out the current Japanese government. He noted the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, located in Dunwoody, has a Holocaust memorial but that targets the Nazis, not the German government.
The Brookhaven memorial has “too narrow a focus” he said when “reprehensible things” happen around the world every day, Taylor said.
“Nobody is putting up a memorial to commemorate the people killed in Rwanda,” he said as an example, referring to the 1994 genocidal massacre of Tutsi people in the African nation by a government led by the Hutu majority.
State Rep. Scott Holcomb, a Democrat whose district includes portions of Brookhaven, said it is up to Brookhaven officials to decide if they want the install the memorial in the city.
“My role as a state representative is to represent my district at the state level,” he said. “This is the city’s choice, the city’s call.” Holcomb added he supported the memorial because it raises awareness about trafficking against and violence against women.
“I think it’s very important to honor the victims of a very dark period in world history,” he said.
State Rep. Meagan Hanson of Brookhaven, whose district includes the park where the memorial is installed, could not be reached for comment.
Taylor said a group of Korean American activists have looked to install the memorial since around 2012 and have asked approximately 11 or 12 cities to accept the memorial.
He said he became involved when he said a group of activists recently sought to have the memorial installed in Duluth. However, Alisa Williams, public information and marketing manager for the city of Duluth, said the city was never approached about the memorial.
Taylor also noted the Task Force sought to have the memorial installed at the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta. After first agreeing to accept the memorial, the Center rejected it, leading to Brookhaven City Council vote last month to accept the memorial.
The statue, of a young girl seated on a chair next to an empty chair, is designed to honor the up to 200,000 girls and women who were sexually enslaved during World War II by Imperial Japan. An unveiling ceremony at what the city calls Blackburn Park II on Blair Circle is set for Friday, June 30, at 10 a.m.
Brookhaven officials said they are accepting the memorial to honor the women as well as to raise awareness about sex trafficking in metro Atlanta.
Many of the women and girls sexually trafficked by the Japanese military during WW II were Korean, but the Task Force members said that women from many other countries, including Indonesia, China, the Philippines and Australia, were also trafficked.
Ho is the founder and former executive director of the Asian Americans Advancing Justice Atlanta, an organization with the mission of promoting civil and economic equality for Asian Americans in Georgia and the Southeast. She was hired last year by Roger Baik Kyu Kim, president of the Georgia Korean Grocers Association Inc., to form the Task Force. She said the Task Force is made up of 27 members, including many Asian American civic leaders.
“More than half are Asian American … who have done decades of work on Asian government, policy, civic work, activism. These are very diverse members,” she said.
Some other members of the Task Force include: Statewide Advisor, Timothy Echols of the Georgia Public Service Commission, who has worked on eliminating human trafficking in Georgia; Monica Khant, an Indian American and the executive director of the Georgia Asylum & Immigration Network; and Satyam Barakoti, Georgia director of the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum.