Pacific war genocide memorial dedicated at Sonoma State University
The (Santa Rosa, Calif.) Press Democrat
Near the end of the ceremony Saturday in Sonoma State University's Erna and Arthur Salm Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove, a musician played “Remembering the Departed Souls” on an erhu, or Chinese violin.
For the more than 100 people who gathered there to dedicate a Pacific War Memorial, the sound was mournful yet sharp in the sunlit air.
In that way, it was much like the proceedings.
“For my sisters who died under Japanese imperial military occupation at ages 2 and 3, rest in peace,” an elderly woman said in a choked voice. She was one of 27 people who read, between tolls of a bell, the remembrances inscribed on beige bricks laid between converging rails alongside similar memorials to European, American Indian and African victims of genocide.
Soon after, Dae Hyun Chung of Napa, a Korean-born scientist, stepped to the microphone and erupted: “Without honesty and candor on the part of Japan, there is no foundation for reconciliation.”
Some historians define the war in Pacific as the period starting in December, 1941 with Japan's invasion of Thailand and the attack in Pearl Harbor and ending with the conclusion of World War II in 1945.
However, for other historians, many Asians, and certainly for those at the memorial grove, it started with the Japanese invasion of northeast China in 1931, an event recalled in song on Saturday. The audience was given sheets with lyrics but several in the crowd knew the words by heart.
Thousands of women were forced into prostitution and 35 million people, including Allied prisoners of war, died, some by biological and chemical weapons, at the hands of Japanese Imperial armed forces, said speakers who called on Japan's Parliament, prime minister and emperor to formally apologize for its acts of that era.
Until that happens, peace between Japan and the Asian and Pacific nations it brutally conquered will remain “elusive,” said Peter Stanek, president of the San Carlos-based Global Alliance for Preserving the History of WWII in Asia.
Peace “will come whenever Japan agrees to a forthright acknowledgment of this history and apologizes and recompenses its victims,” he said.
Chinese, Malaysians, Koreans and Filipinos were among those represented at the ceremony — along with a single Japanese-American who came, he said, burdened with guilt.
“I've learned that the pain and suffering exist as if these events happened yesterday,” said Ted Kurihara of Lafayette. “That just goes to show the magnitude of the crimes my Japanese ancestors committed and the Japanese government's refusal to apologize.”
Amid the sharp anger, the guilt and the sorrow that creased the grove on Saturday, there also was hope, said Jean Bee Chan, an SSU mathematics professor and the driving force behind the memorial.
“It will promote peace and reconciliation in the world,” Chan said of a memorial boulder that was unveiled, inscribed in English and Chinese: “In memory of victims of the Pacific War, 1931 to 1945.”
And speaking after the ceremony, Chan, whose younger brother, Datman, died in 1945 under the Japanese occupation, said, “This rock, this rock actually carries the weight of the Asian Holocaust; it holds it. I felt closure and comfort.”