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Pacific war genocide memorial dedicated at Sonoma State University

  • White roses were placed Saturday on a granite bench to signify those who died during Japan's invasion of China and during World War II. The bench is part of the Pacific War Memorial that was dedicated at Sonoma State University. (KENT PORTER / The 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.

Pacific War Memorial at Sonoma State University

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“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.

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