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High School Sophomores are Moved by Survivor Testimony from Pacific World War II
San Francisco, CA-March 20, 2017-The Jewish Family and Children Service's 15th Annual Day of Learning took place this past Sunday, March 19th. Over 700 students and faculty from 120 different schools came together to participate in the days programs.
"Inspiring, informative, eye-opening, and encouraging," were just a handful of the words used by teens to sum up their experience with this year's program. Although a few of those words may seem out of place when talking about tragedy, they begin to fit when one learns that the theme of the day was "Take a Stand." Students can often find history lessons featuring genocide and war to be filled with horrific photos and events. Sometimes they can be left with a sense of shock and helplessness. Fortunately, given the current political climate in America, the Day of Learning facilitators decided to give the students the next steps after learning about these tragic parts of history.
One workshop in particular, focused efforts on giving students some specific non-violent tools for resisting, and preventing history from repeating itself. Pacific Atrocities Education hosted a workshop for this year's Day of Learning titled: "Tools of Resistance: Women Spies, Saboteurs, and Survivors of World War II in the Pacific." Many students shared their surprise and disappointment with America's lack of curriculum teaching this part of history.
After workshops, students welcomed survivors from a variety of backgrounds into the classroom for a speaking session open to questions and answers between students and survivors. Expanding on the brief history touched on during their lecture, Pacific Atrocities Education welcomed Jean B. Chan to give students a personal account from her childhood. Chan survived in China with her family during the Japanese invasion of her small village in Taishan. One student, brought to tears by Chan's heart wrenching story, asked which tool she believed would be most effective in sharing this part of history. The answer to this question, Chan did not know, but she was happy to discuss the options with the class.
One sure take away from Day of Learning 2017, is that students are awake as ever and eager to learn from the lessons that history has to teach. Teachers and other educators can also conclude that it's not enough to lecture about history, students need directions on next steps.
Pacific Atrocities Education is continuing their efforts to bring the often forgotten history of Pacific World War II to American audiences. Nicole Dahlstrom, Director of Outreach for the San Francisco based non-profit, stated that "the experience introducing students to the topic of Pacific World War II was both challenging and rewarding. It's a vast and underserved narrative, but the feedback we've been getting is our fuel to keep the program running." Nicole represented PAE at the workshop this year, she continues with, "If we can get one student interested in learning more about this part of history, then I know we are making a difference.”
By Derek Pua
Japan’s Declares war on the World (December 7, 1941)
December 7, 1941 is a date that most Americans recognize as the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Much has been said and written about the attack on Pearl Harbor and its significance in dragging the United States and its allies into a war that it did not want to be a part of. However, many people often overlook the fact that Pearl Harbor was simply the beginning of a string of preemptive invasions on American, British, and Dutch colonies throughout Southeast Asia. This was in accordance with Japan’s idea of Pan-Asianism, to help “liberate” the peoples of Asia from Western Imperialism.
As most western nations were preoccupied with the deteriorating situation in Europe prior to 1941, many had neglected to maintain their defenses in their oversea colonies. The western governments also made the mistake of underestimating the resolve and spirit of the Imperial Japanese army before 1941, often regarding them as inferior soldiers. This dismissive nature towards a potential Japanese invasion would prove disastrous and gave the Japanese superiority in numbers, war materiel, and morale in these opening stages of the Pacific Campaign of the Second World War. As a result of this, Japan made massive territorial gains in the months following December 7, 1941.
In the chaos which gripped the world in the days following December 1941, simultaneous invasions were carried out by the Japanese in the British holdings of Malaya, Singapore, and Hong Kong; the American-owned Philippines, Wake Island, and Guam; the Dutch East Indies, as well as the Kingdom of Thailand. These opening battles of the Second World War in the Pacific would be the first time the two sides had fought against one another, and it would turn out to be a rude awakening for the inexperienced troops which guarded these colonies. In many of these engagements, hardened veterans of the Imperial Japanese Army were often pitted against poorly trained and poorly armed colonial units of the US and British military forces.
These surprise invasions typically resulted in quick and decisive victories for the Japanese forces, who enjoyed a strong military advantages over their enemies. Many Allied troops in these opening battles found themselves quickly overrun and were held as prisoners of war in concentration camps until the conclusion of the war. These prisoners were often gravely mistreated by their Japanese captors, and often subjected to slave labor, thousands would die in the squalid and brutal conditions of these camps. The Japanese would also conduct an innumerable amount of atrocities towards POWs, both large and small, with the most infamous one being the Bataan Death March.
These newly “liberated” colonies would similarly be subjected to years of harsh and oppressive Japanese rule, these colonies had simply switched a colonial leadership to a new, and much more brutal one. In the spirit of the war, the Japanese military secret police (the Kempeitai) committed many atrocities against civilians in these areas, often kidnapping, jailing, and torturing those who were suspected of being anti-Japanese. Under the new military administrations local cultures and traditions were also at risk, children were forced to take up Japanese names, lessons in schools were taught in Japanese. The Japanese war effort also made scarcity of basic goods like rice a daily occurrence and countless lives were lost due to starvation.
Author: Nicole Dahlstrom
Did Japan really apologize for the horrible atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II? International headlines of Asians still demanding apologies from Japan’s current Prime Minister have many people across different age groups and backgrounds asking this question. If you’re wondering what some of those atrocities were, you are not alone. Little is taught to Western youth about the Pacific side of World War II. Almost anyone you ask can tell you about the Holocaust and Germany’s repentance since, but very few Westerners can answer the question of Japan’s apology to it’s victims in the Pacific Region.
In order to answer this question, we need to first understand who those victims were.
“R. J. Rummel, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii, estimates that between 1937 and 1945, the Japanese military murdered from nearly 3 to over 10 million people, most likely 6 million Chinese, Taiwanese, Singaporeans, Malaysians, Indonesians, Koreans, Filipinos and Indochinese, among others, including Western prisoners of war.”
The Imperial Japanese Army’s merciless massacres of civilians and prisoners of war is the reason for much of the controversy surrounding its role in Pacific World War II. Their gruesome resume includes atrocities such as; human experimentation(learn more here), biological warfare, use of chemical weapons, torture of prisoners of war, forced labor, sexual slavery, and perfidy.
The ‘Tokyo Trials’
The majority of these war crimes and their perpetrators were tried under The International Military Tribunal for the Far East, which was formed to try accused people in Japan itself. These trials were known as the ‘Tokyo Trials,’ and they primarily tried class A war criminals. The ‘Tokyo Trials’ represent the first major setback for Japan on the road to an effective apology. Although the trials saw 920 war criminals executed, 475 receive life sentences, and 2,944 receive some prison time, they failed to indict Emperor Hirohito and allowed many other accused right-winged war criminals to serve in post-war Japanese governments. This failure has had multiple ramifications on how Japan, along with the rest of the world, understand the war.
Japanese leaders were able to escape blame swiftly because of the international pressures of the Cold War. Former enemies of Japan embraced the nation as a new ally in the Pacific. Dr. Shiro Isshi, the leader of Japan’s biochemical weapons program, and his staff were actually able to trade the information obtained from their experiments in return for immunity in the Tokyo Trials. This type of pardon would be almost unfathomable for their German counterparts who caused the same kind of suffering through inhumane human experiments.
For a comprehensive list of apologies issued by Japan please see this List of war apology statements.
Over the past 75 years, Japan’s leaders and people have taken many opportunities to offer their sincere condolences and remorse to the victims made to suffer by the Imperial Japanese Army. These attempts, although not meaningless, have failed on a large scale due to the perceptions of the victims, as well as Japan’s own sentiment towards the war.
Some of the most infamous victims of the Imperial Japanese Army include the euphemistically termed, ‘Comfort Women.’ Chinese experts estimate that around 200,000 women, mainly from Korea and China, were captured and coerced into providing sexual services before and during the war. Very few survivors of the ‘Comfort Women’ system are left alive today. In fact, the last Chinese ‘Comfort Women’ passed away this November 2015.
The struggle ‘Comfort Women’ have faced in receiving the apology they call for outlines the struggles of many victims of Japanese wartime atrocities. Apologies have been insincere and inconsistent. What these victims are really seeking is not just any apology from Japan - they recognize there have been attempts made in the past. They are seeking a legislative apology put into motion and agreed upon by a majority of the Diet. This type of apology would be binding unlike those official statements that have come from Japanese leaders in the past.
So, although there is a long list of official and unofficial apologies that have been issued, all have fallen short of what is actually desired by many victims.
Revisionism and Whitewashing
The final element in this complex issue reflects a notorious problem in history education and media. In many nations, including Japan, the history taught to youth is whitewashed or revised in order to create a better image for the nation and instill national pride. This problem presents itself in American school classes in regards to subjects like Native American history and the history of American slavery.
The version of Pacific World War II history taught to Japanese youth is not spared this nationalist treatment. Widely accepted facts about atrocities are denied and parts of history are glossed over. This whitewashing and revising in education, paired with outright public denial of certain widely accepted facts, like those about the ‘Comfort Women’ system, has led many to question Japan’s sincerity when it comes to apologizing.
So, did Japan Really Apologize for WWII?
Officially, yes, Japanese leaders have issued countless statements of apology and remorse for the atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII. Whether it be pride, ignorance, or political gain, there are many reasons as to why these apologies have not fully healed the wound that was left. One thing that continues to hold true is this: “Those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.”
The best apology to the victims of any atrocity is to not forget them and their story.
by Nicole Dahlstrom
Our Problems VS. Their Problems
For the past few months, I’ve been keeping up with news about the refugee crisis and trying to do what I can to stay informed and sympathetic. I still feel as though I could do more, but I know that I am probably more informed about the subject than the majority of the population. So, the other day, I decided to test this hypothesis. While at work, I decided to ask one of my co-workers what she thought about the refugee crisis. As expected, she admitted that she knew very little about the crisis and so she did not really have much of an opinion about it. We went on talking about it for a while, and after I had explained a little more about what was going on and the severity of the crisis, she formed somewhat of an opinion. My co-worker decided that the struggles the refugees were facing were sad and that someone should definitely do something.
It wasn’t surprising to me that my co-worker didn’t know much about what is being deemed the most significant humanitarian crisis since the Holocaust. Like many other Americans, she has distanced herself from news about chaos in other countries. It is easy to ignore the suffering of people from half a world away. There are always excuses that can be made as to why Americans don’t need to worry about global issues. Just last week, I listened to GOP frontrunner, Donald Trump, explain away his harsh policy on Syrian refugees. Trump, like my co-worker, agreed that something should be done for the refugees, but that the U.S. already had too many problems of its own to step in and take care of them.
Donald Trump is not alone in this type of ‘closed borders’ thinking. Many Americans, along with other nations, share this closed-minded point of view. To them, problems occurring in other parts of the world are far away events happening to faceless, nameless masses. The reality that ‘closed borders’ advocates fail to realize is this: we are living in the most interconnected era in human history. A problem that occurs half way across the world is only seconds from becoming news on our T.V. screens, and only a short plane ride away from arriving at our borders. There is no such thing as our problems versus their problems. In this age of interconnectedness, we only have the world’s problems, and 4.3 Million people displaced by civil war, is a big world problem.
The State of Things
A. Trevor Thrall said it best in an article for the Atlantic, “Fourteen years after the invasion of Afghanistan and 12 years after the invasion of Iraq, neither nation is a safe place to live—both are themselves producing refugees in large numbers.” Trevor’s point is that the numerous U.S. military campaigns in the Middle East have actually played a large role in the present day conditions of instability we are seeing in these countries. By dismantling the centralized government in the Middle East, our military has left an opening for other power hungry groups to move in and attempt to take control. As these groups vie for power in a gruesome civil war, ISIS is seizing its opportunity to gain control and spread their ideology in the Middle East. Some would go as far as to claim that foreign intervention from countries like the U.S. is responsible for ISIS. Either way, the U.S. is not just an innocent bystander to the chaos occurring in the Middle East.
The European Refugee Crisis Explained is a very useful informational video available on Youtube. In the video, we learn that a few million people are fleeing their homeland to escape the dangers of chemical warfare, mass execution, torture, and forced military enrolment. It is explained that all types of people are risking their lives on dangerous journeys to seek asylum. The video goes on to explain how border countries surrounding Syria have taken in the majority of those fleeing the chaos of civil war. In fact, 95% of refugees are living in these underdeveloped countries like Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon. Overwhelmed and undersupplied, these countries are unable to offer the aid refugees are in desperate need of. Even the UN has been unable to make the refugee camps there habitable.
With dire conditions in the refugee camps, many have decided to move on and seek asylum in the European countries that have the ability to provide better aid. Mass migrations to the European border countries have caused these countries to become overwhelmed as well. Up until recently, European policy was to require refugees to stay in the countries they arrived in. After realizing that this policy was unsustainable, the EU revised it, and finally decided to work together to come up with a 17 point action plan for handling the flood of refugees.
Looking at these events, anyone could see the pattern. Desperate people flee their homeland and surrounding countries have no choice but to accept them. Overwhelmed, these countries are not able to help those refugees, and so again, these desperate people flee another bad situation. Now, surrounding countries have no option, just like the border countries, they have to accept the asylum seekers. The pattern is this: countries practically ignore the problem until it’s on their doorstep. Then, the chaos ensues as borders are flooded. At a time when the world should come together to solve a crisis, it becomes more divided than ever.
We Said ‘‘Never Again’’
If this is the most significant humanitarian crisis since the Holocaust, then the question is, what happened to Never Again? Didn’t we pledge, as humane countries and peoples, to never let something so terrible happen again? Well, it seems that “Never Again” has come too soon, a mere 75 years after the end of World War II, and instead of learning from our past mistakes, we are letting the world’s problems fall on the shoulders of our allies and pledging to do almost nothing to help the crisis.
There is no doubt that finding a solution to this crisis will be a complex, long term process. As a nation, and as Americans, we must take a lesson from history though. However you feel about president Obama, he made an excellent point during a 2013 Holocaust Remembrance speech. The president said, “‘Never again’ is a challenge to nations. It’s a bitter truth: Too often the world has failed to halt the killing of innocents on a massive scale and we are haunted by the atrocities that we did not stop and the lives we did not save.”
Two years after this speech, America’s reaction to the current refugee crisis eerily resembles our reaction to Jewish refugees fleeing Germany. The State Department, along with American citizens, feared these refugees on the grounds that they could be spies for the Axis powers. We played it safe, and hundreds of refugees suffered as a result. Today, a similar fear drives us to turn away Syrian refugees, even though, as David Bier, Director of Immigration Policy at Niskanen Center puts it, “of the millions of refugees admitted in the U.S. in the past several decades, including hundreds of thousands from the Middle East, none of them has ever successfully completed an act of terrorism in the United States.” So, although admitting hundreds of thousands of refugees in an expedited process would pose valid concerns to our nation’s security, we must not let that be an excuse to turn our backs on the innocents we promised to protect when we said, “Never Again.”
A Family Swept Up in the Migrant Tide, Anemona Hartocollis, The NYT.
Fear of migrants, economic woes fragment governments in Europe, Reuters.
How Syrians are Dying, The New York Times.
Let Syrian Refugees In-All of Them, A.Trevor Thrall, The Atlantic.
Designed by Derek Pua
The Confederate flag is a widely known and highly debated symbol in the U.S. To many, the Confederate flag is a shrine to the fallen southern soldiers from the Civil War. Those flying the flag today claim that they do so to honor their ancestors and the freedom and independence they fought for. To others, however, the Confederate flag is associated with the painful history of slavery and the subsequent white supremacist movements that adopted the flag because of their alignment with the values of the Confederacy. Whatever the motives may be, flying the Confederate flag in public has sparked a lot of controversy in America.
America’s greatest ally in the Pacific, Japan, is facing a similar controversy over a shrine to its war dead from World War II. The Yasukuni Shrine parallels the Confederate flag in many ways. A shrine dedicated to ancestors who fought a war rooted in subjugation. Defenders of the Shrine and the Confederate flag will both argue that their history has been largely misinterpreted and rewritten by the victors of the wars they fought. In Japan, like southern pride, nationalism aims to whitewash a history of aggression.
The violence and injustice of slavery is a shameful part of America’s history, a part that is taught in history classes across the country. In Japan, the violence of the Imperial Japanese Army is not emphasized as an important part of history education. Under the belief that what occurred during World War II is not relevant to today’s Japanese youth, the many atrocities committed by the Imperial Japanese Army are glossed over. Given that American history classes designate as little as two paragraphs in a textbook to the Pacific side of World War II, it is not hard to see why this part of history has been nicknamed ‘The Forgotten Asian Holocaust.’
Although Americans are taught the history of the Civil War and the injustice of slavery, it seems that many are in need of a refresher course. When someone who celebrates the Confederate flag says that they do so in the name of heritage and not hate, one might retort that southern heritage is rooted in hate. Anyone who looks at the historical evidence would see that the Confederate’s fought to protect their freedom to own slaves, which directly contrasts the idea of fighting just for freedom.
Those too, who celebrate the Yasukuni Shrine in the name of their ancestors, must have trouble remembering that over 1,000 of the souls housed in the Shrine were convicted of war crimes by a post-World War II court. Those crimes included forcing an estimated 200,000 women and girls as young as eleven from areas under Japanese rule including China, Korea, Indonesia, the Netherlands, and many others, into sexual slavery as a part of the ‘Comfort Women’ system. Another forgotten war crime, the Nanjing Massacre, saw 300,000 civilians killed during a brutal battle in Nanking in 1937. Overall, there are an estimated 10 Million victims of the violence performed by the Imperial Japanese Army of World War II.
Those who celebrate these symbols must understand that regardless of their ancestral significance, both the Yasukuni Shrine and the Confederate flag do not fail to invoke painful memories for the victims of the injustice they represent. In America, the flying of the Confederate flag, especially in a public place, can be nothing short of traumatizing to those who still suffer from the ramifications of past and present white supremacist movements. Similarly, paying tribute to the Yasukuni Shrine sparks protest around the world, as there are survivors of atrocities like the Nanjing Massacre and the ‘Comfort Women’ system who still cry for remembrance and apologies to this day.
Interestingly enough, the Confederate flag was raised at the battle of Okinawa during World War II, by a self-proclaimed “Rebel Company.” It was the son of a Confederate General, General Simon B. Buckner, Jr., who deemed the use of the flag inappropriate and ordered it taken down, stating that “Americans from all over are involved in this battle.” This incident demonstrates perfectly the idea that celebrating certain history can get in the way of present day unity. Governor Nikki Haley of South Carolina recently said, “This flag, while an integral part of our past, does not represent the future of our great state.” Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, seemed to echo these sentiments during his visit to the U.S. this past April. In his address to congress, Abe spoke of hopes for a peaceful future, while apologizing for Japan’s wartime past.
With leaders aspiring to look to the future instead of the past, it seems time to move on from publicly celebrating both the Confederate Flag and the Yasukuni Shrine. It’s time to learn from our past mistakes and celebrate a future of unity and peace, instead of a past of pain and suffering.
1. Scott Eric Kaufman (9 July 2015). “What tradition does the Confederate flag represent? Is it slavery, rape, genocide, treason, or all of the above?" Salon.
2. Ta-Nehisi Coates (22 June 2015). "What this Cruel War Was Over." The Atlantic.
3. Coski 2005, pp. 92–94
4. Geoghegan, Tom (August 30, 2013). "Why do People Still Fly the Confederate Flag?" BBC News. Retrieved October 30, 2013.
1. Nelson, John. "Social Memory as Ritual Practice: Commemorating Spirits of the Military Dead at Yasukuni Shinto Shrine". Journal of Asian Studies 62, 2 (May 2003): 445–467.
2. Ponsonby-Fane, Richard. (1963). Vicissitudes of Shinto. Kyoto: Ponsonby Memorial Society. OCLC 36655
3. Pye, Michael: "Religion and Conflict in Japan with Special Reference to Shinto and Yasukuni Shrine". Diogenes 50:3 (2003), S. 45–59.
Growing up as a child in Hong Kong, I heard much about the terrors that my grandparents on both sides of the family had endured under the rule of the Japanese during their invasions in Pacific East Asia. While these tales horrified me as a child, it sparked an interest in me and set me on the path of getting my bachelor’s degree in history at the University of San Francisco. I was so intrigued by the subject that by the time I was fourteen, I had read Iris Chang’s award winning book, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II, which was a gift from my grandfather, who insisted that this portion of history can never be forgotten.
As I grew up, I soon realize that most people in the world, even my peers in Hong Kong, were either indifferent or ignorant of the subject. Whilst I was disappointed by this realization, it continues provide me with the motivation and drive to spread the knowledge of this largely forgotten past; as the age-old expression goes: those who forget history are condemned to repeat it.
Nicole Dahlstrom is a non-profit marketing specialist with a history of coordinating marketing efforts for non-profit start-ups. She began her career while still in college when she interned at a local non-profit start-up called Spread the Care. After receiving a B.A. in Marketing, Nicole spent a year as an employment specialist with the national volunteer program, AmeriCorps. During her term of service, she aided a diverse set of clients with anything from learning to speak English to writing a business plan. Since finishing her term of service in September of 2014, Nicole has pursued a freelance writing career while studying online marketing for non-profits. She currently works as the Development Coordinator for the growing San Francisco based non-profit, Pacific Atrocities Education.