Moscrop Secondary School, Burnaby
On both a human and a historical perspective, taking part in the study tour was a life changing experience. It taught me many lessons. One of them relates to the courage of the many victims of the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Army, including victims of sexual slavery, biochemical warfare, forced labour or massacres such as the Nanjing Massacre. I met many survivors and through their moving testimonies, I was able to better understand the challenges and hardship many of them had and still have to go through. I never could have imagined how events that took place more than sixty years ago could still affect so many people today, including second generation victims who were not even born at the time of the events. It is amazing to see how the victims we met are still fighting and hopeful.
With so many of the victims passing in the last few years or getting older, I feel a responsibility to take on their battle. The way I intend to do so is by educating a younger generation of Canadians on the events that took place during the Second World War in Asia. I hope I can teach them about the historical facts, but also about the human nature of the conflict. This is what resonated the most with me during the study tour. It was very inspiring to meet so many individuals who support the victims today such as students and their teachers in Korea, members of peace organizations from Japan, museum curators and university professors working to understand the history in China, lawyers supporting the victims in their cases against the Japanese Government and ordinary citizens taking care of the victims on a daily basis. I hope I can use all that I learned from these activists to inspire my students to act in their own school and community to educate others and also to support the victims of World War II in Asia through the different organizations working with the victims.
Finally, I think the study tour was such a powerful experience because it was shared with many other educators. The collective learning that took place really helped understand the variety of perspectives that make this part of history so rich. I am very grateful to Canada ALPHA for giving me the opportunity to embark on such a journey.
Guildford Park Secondary, Surrey
I now have a much deeper understanding of the issues and hold a much greater authority with my students on the topic. I also have a much better connection with my students who are of Asian descent. I learned so much more than a new perspective on the war; I learned the depth of influence that history still has for the millions affected by the events. The horrific events are not consigned to the dustbin of history but they are living all around us.
I always believed that the study of history had the ability to make us better human beings. The site visits and meetings with survivors went so far beyond learning history from a book, they made it real. The planned itinerary was so well thought out and allowed the maximum learning to take place. The passion and desire showed by the members of BCALPHA and TORONTOALPHA to make the world a better place was infectious. Their knowledge, insight, and contacts contributed to an educational trip that was difficult, emotionally challenging, informative, and the opportunity of a life-time. I hope that as many educators as possible join this tour and gain the insights that I gained and can now share with my students.
York House School, Vancouver
I also continued on to Japan on my own to see the other side of the story. An while I do not believe the validity of some of the Japanese claims, they too are important to introduce and complicate these stories to gain a better understanding of history and of our times.
The program takes care of you amazingly and you get to see history as it was sort of experienced. An excellent tour ran by passionate people who should be considered Canadian heroes in their pursuit for social justice globally and within Canada. Just a remarkable and unforgettable educational experience. Outstanding.
Moody Elementary, Port Moody
While we were in China, one evening, exhausted after our fully scheduled days, I turned on the BBC in my hotel room. I was shocked and horrified again to see another unspeakable event had occurred. In Norway, a senseless mass killing occurred that killed 77 mainly young people attending a political activist summer camp. This terrorist attack was committed by a right wing extremist who wanted to preserve a Christian Europe because he was feeling threatened by what he saw as a growing group of Muslims in his country. As an educator, I began to reflect on our society past and present and what can be done in our schools to really educate our students while they are in their formative years so that these atrocities do not continue to occur.
When I returned home I read an article from the Globe and Mail written by Elizabeth Renzetti on July 29, 2011 entitled, "Evil and empathy: Scientists shed light on hearts of darkness". Renzetti wrote about Simon Baron-Cohen who is a psychology professor at Cambridge University studying the links between evil acts and the absence of empathy. He has said that, "There's this idea of identification with your own group, as opposed to the other group, which is sometimes called in-group, out-group relations. Either for reasons of propaganda, or ideology, or being bombarded day after day with the idea that your group is under threat, and the enemy is this other group, you come to believe it. "Your beliefs then change your behaviour, change your empathy toward the out group," "I'm not wanting to simplify what happens in these examples of mass massacre, but clearly empathy isn't just the result of your individual voyage through life. We are all subject to social influences."
As a Roots of Empathy facilitator for the past seven years, I have seen the importance of teaching empathy to students. This evidence based classroom program founded by Mary Gordon shows dramatic effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. The students are visited by a mother and baby during the school year. They are taught explicit lessons around empathy and caring for a baby. Research has shown that aggression levels and bullying in the school is reduced when students are given this program.
Philip Zimbardo, an American psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University, well known for his Stanford prison study describes his latest educational work, The Heroic Imagination Project.
This Project is an effort to understand and overcome the social forces that, on the one hand, keep most of us passive in the face of evil, or, on the other hand, from doing the right thing, whether it be coming to the aid of an injured person, saving 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis (Irena Sendler in Poland),or igniting the U.S. Civil Rights movement (Rosa Parks). He believes that Empathy, critical thinking, and understanding (especially of the social determinants of behaviour) are vital elements in helping people move from passivity to active citizenship, both in their own lives and working with others in long-term efforts ("preventive heroism"). In Zimbardo's words, "compassion must be socially engaged" in order to confront those systems of power that are primarily responsible for human suffering (http://www.heroicimagination.org/) This program sounds like an important one that could be used in our school system and is worth looking into. Many of us are engaging our students in active citizenship and with further research such as Zimbardo's showing how this makes caring citizens backs educators up in the face of those naysayers who often remind us about the prescribed curriculum that must be taught, often at the expense of meaningful lifelong learning.
The history that I was taught in China and Korea this summer may be too horrific to tell my younger primary students about but I can certainly teach my students about empathy and compassion. I can help them to become critical thinkers that won't always follow but rather question what they are being asked to do. Children understand what it feels like when someone is mean to you and unfortunately many are bullied long before they start school. They do not like the way they feel when this happens to them and they can empathize with others about this. They can be taught to be more empathetic. As they get older, then they can begin to learn about atrocities committed in the past and occurring in the present, in their country and around the globe. They can begin to think how they would like their preferred future to look like. If this is what it takes to prevent violence, show one's humanity and make this a more peaceful world to live in, then it is crucial that I give my students opportunities to live and learn this.
President of Awareness of WWII in Asia Club, UBC
This day was exclusive to only a few of us though because a handful of tour participants did not opt in for the extra DMZ (De-militarized Zone) tour. It was an intense experience indeed, and I would never regret visiting it. I was overwhelmed by the militaristic presence that I have only seen in Hollywood movies. For once, it was real before my eyes. Passing through wired gates, seeing South Korean soldiers salute to our bus while we left, watching the 17-year-old American soldier give us the presentation...it was all unbelievably real. It was a stark contrast with the rest of the workshops because this was present day international conflict. We were physically present at the border where 2 countries have been in opposition for more than half a century. As I look outside our designated 'military bus', the conscripted South Korean soldiers looked like kids. They seemed innocent and curious while pointing at our bus full of foreigners, unlike the typical rough and tough image of a soldier. It let me think that conscription spells out infringement of personal rights in a country and would derail it from peace.
Another historical outing of the day was to the Gyeongbok Palace and its palace museum. We made it on time for an English guided tour throughout the museum, and learnt a lot of things about the architecture and some history of Korean dynasties. It amazed me that only 10% of the palace architecture is true remnants of the ancient palace, and the remaining were rebuilt due to damage over the past years. Given only a short amount of time to visit the Korean Folk Museum, it was already enough for me to see a dictionary of sorts that translated from Chinese Han characters to Korean the alphabet system used in modern day Korea. I have always found the evolution of languages interesting, that the Korean language was mostly phonetic and used Chinese characters until an emperor found it more appropriate to create their own alphabet. And after this transition, peasants were able to read and write. I found this really interesting.
Louis, Chikako and I went to have traditional Korean ginseng chicken soup. We asked Judy Cho for the address for a reliable restaurant, and she sure made the best recommendation. The restaurant we visited was steaming with people and stone pots of a whole chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and fresh ginseng. Each pot was served with a tiny cup of ginseng hard liquor. And as strong and burning it was, it also brought a very warm feeling to my abdomen like the rest of the meal did. Sitting in a traditional restaurant cozy setting with bustling Seoul city dwellers was an experience in itself.
After dinner we walked through some small streets beside the restaurant, and it was filled with cubicle-sized restaurants along the entire street! Restaurants were highly similar. They mostly had snacks for take-out near its door, smoking away hot and spicy rice cakes, Korean seafood pancakes, and fish cakes on skewers. And if we peered into the restaurants, there would be families at round tables grilling away bulgogi (Korean barbeque). The atmosphere was warm and lively despite the wet weather. There were also shops looked over by a woman all by herself, wrapping and selling dumplings or selling fruits. I was wondering why this was the case, and Louis suggested that the men in households were working office jobs, and perhaps store businesses would be left for the women in the family. As I said before, the day ended at the Resistance bar like how it started. Yung Ho reminded me the women managing a business all alone. Despite language barriers, we all got to know each other. She tells us that she is a single mom, working a difficult daytime job and still manages to rent a tiny basement for a bar business. This struck me with the resemblance of women in the food stores or restaurants beside the ginseng chicken place. Yung Ho showed me that modern day East Asian women had to be tough. I expected the male-dominant culture to shelter women away from being in the work force, but it seems it is this very suppression for women that they need to forge ahead with sustaining what they want in life.
On the night to say goodbye to Yung Ho, Louis, Chikako, Shaun and I were there. Yet interrupting our laughter was an obnoxiously drunken man who barged into the Resistance. He was drunk before he ordered two bottles of beer from Yung Ho. He hurled out racial insults in Korean pointing at Chikako, and then at Shaun and I. Pointing fingers at Yung Ho for serving non-Korean guests. The body language and sparingly used English words 'Chinese' and 'Japanese' were apparent and unpleasant. Yung Ho did not approve, and showed a stern attitude we have never seen before on her friendly face, and told him to keep to himself. Of course, this piece of masculinity decided to leave and not pay Yung Ho the 14,000 Won for the beers. She calmly chases out up the stairs, and upon her disappearance the four of us felt extremely uncomfortable and decided to make sure she was safe. Louis was further yelled at in a language we did not understand, and Yung Ho explained the situation in a gentle manner, bowing her head periodically while conversing with this man. We saw the man give Yung Ho some money, and she swapped her hand to signal we should walk back into the bar. In Yung Ho's hands was only 4,000 Won.
I have heard many stories of women on this trip. This encounter has summarized them because it likewise talked about bullying, racism, loneliness, power, indignation, and helplessness. The old grandmothers we met in China and Korea were left alone when they were victimized, as bullying would be an unfair understatement for their experiences. Both conflicts were sparked by racism—another way of creating a power hierarchy to put oneself above others. It was interesting to see that although I did not understand one bit of Korean, the man's tone and body gestures was enough for me to know he was insulting us and Yung Ho. I cannot imagine how much more amplified the insult would have been when Japanese soldiers raided entire villages and households. And after our ordeal at the Resistance, Yung Ho was left helpless with losing the 10,000 Won she should have made. We tried to ask how she was feeling, and in attempts to disguise her fright, Yung Ho could only repeat "Him. Many. Many." Meaning that such instances were not the first time. And there was also something about Asian culture to be overly humble. Yung Ho kept saying "Sorry, sorry" and looked in our eyes with the utmost regret and shame that we had to witness this man bully her. I was appalled to see a woman who was clearly a victim in this case to need to apologize for a crime she had no fault for. What was this, reverse in logic, that when a woman is hurt, she needs to apologize? What was this, utmost shame, which war survivors had to face even years after being insulted, beaten, raped?
What we stumbled upon at the Resistance was a prime example of present day unresolved matters. One, the Korean man's racial attitudes against Chikako and my ethnicity were a result of Japanese violence against Korea for half a century, and also China's neighboring oppression for thousands of years. Two, the man easily felt a right to engage in despicable behaviour over a helpless woman running a business and to take advantage of her. Violence and apathy towards women exists to this day. I shall not forget to bring the things I have learnt about 'comfort women' during the war to the context of the present. We need to be the "Resistance" to forge against the many forces that stand against our call for justice.
Anti-Racism & Diversity Consultant of Vancouver School Board
Listening to the heart wrenching testimonials from the Nanking Massacre victims, the Military Sex Slaves and the Chemical Warfare victims was a complete assault on the senses. I have the utmost respect for their courage and strength and for sharing their heartfelt lived experiences. In spite of all the atrocities against them, the victims and survivors shared a consistent message of hope and unity. Their positive energy, strong sense of self and desire for healing were palpable. They have taught me that even in the darkest of moments, one's spirit cannot be broken. Their stories were emotionally, mentally and spiritually moving, creating a deep sense of empathy. These sentiments would not have been clearly understood had I not had the opportunity to be in their powerful presence. Once one is touched by someone's lived experience, it is difficult to turn and look the other way. This sense of empathy will inevitably lead one to take action to support those in need. The victims and survivors have demonstrated that there is a glimmer of hope during dismal times and that fighting for social justice and human rights is a global issue in which all members of society have a responsibility to participate. I strongly believe that every participant has been emotionally moved and will take some form of action as educators as a result of this invaluable experience.
One issue that I continuously revisited during the tour was the challenge to teach about this chapter of history to Chinese and Korean students without instilling hatred or animosity towards Japanese people in general. There is a natural tendency to feel unease, discomfort, fear or animosity when learning about such atrocities. This chapter must be taught in the context of war, making comparisons to other wartime atrocities. And the acts of the Japanese soldiers must be separated from the Japanese people and culture in general. It is also crucial to educate students about the role, or lack thereof, of the Japanese government on this issue and the politics surrounding their refusal to grant an apology and redress for the victims.
Having said all that, it is also completely understandable that victims and survivors would feel some hatred towards a group that has treated them in such unspeakable ways. A few quotes that I read at the Nanking Massacre Museum, which address this issue, profoundly affected me:
What we must remember is history, not hatred
Forgivable but unforgettable
History is a mirror and lessons learned from history must not be forgotten
Our last day of the tour involved a final reflection session and participation in a demonstration in front of the Japanese Embassy with the Military Sex Slave grandmas and local student groups, fighting for redress and an apology from the Japanese government. What an extremely fitting form of closure after two weeks of lectures and strategic dialogue . . . Talk minus Action equals ZERO!! It's incredible that these courageous grandmas participate in this demonstration EVERY Wednesday!! We have so much respect and admiration for their continuous strength to fight for justice and reconciliation and for their optimism and hope . . . what incredible beacons of light!
Finally, another positive aspect of the tour was meeting educators from all over Canada (and Australia) who are in various roles and teach a variety of subject areas. Although there is an effort to standardize education in Canada, it will inevitably vary from province to province. It was insightful to learn about the consistencies and inconsistencies of the education system, the role of the Ministries of Education, the School Boards and the differing aspects of the various school communities. Connecting to these teachers has created a number of learning opportunities and potential future collaboration to support Canada ALPHA.
KUDOS to Canada ALPHA for your inspiration and ongoing commitment to this crucial work! THANK YOU for this incredible opportunity; it was an honour and privilege to be a participant.
Strathcona Elementary School
In particular, the most powerful learning experiences that occurred for me on this study tour were:
- The extensive amount of knowledge I gained on the subject as a result of the thorough pre-tour meetings. The depth and intensity of the meetings helped me gain a deeper and more meaningful experience while on the tour. It also allowed me to reflect from these experiences on a deeper level.
- The personal meetings with the survivors were incredibly powerful. After hearing about and reading their stories second hand, to finally meet them brought goose bumps to my skin. Just feeling their presence as they entered the room, with the knowledge I had of their stories, was unforgettable. Their voices which told their own stories of tragedy will be etched in my mind forever.
- Learning first hand from the knowledgeable and passionate historians only added to the depth of my learnings.
- Meeting with teachers and students in the countries involved. A discussion with a group of primary students at the Nanking Massacre Museum showed such promise for peace, with a reminder that history can repeat itself if it is NOT acknowledged or remembered. Also, to meet with the Korean Teacher who is teaching this subject to students at her school in Seoul was very meaningful. To share learning ideas, thoughts and information with fellow teachers allowed me to gain a better understanding of the practicality of teaching this to my students.
- Sensing the anger and unforgivingness amongst the survivors. How can the survivors be expected to forgive the perpetrators when there has not even been an apology for it yet? Witnessing the growing nationalistic views on the situation was scary but so REAL. The importance of dealing with this issue in balancing the strong and growing nationalism in the victimized countries is stressed when thinking about future peace in the region. How can forgiveness occur without apology? Without forgiveness, the natural tendency is towards bitterness or mere tolerance.
Prince of Wales Secondary
Henry Simon Lee
Burnaby Central Secondary School
Vancouver Technical Secondary School
In Nanjing, I listened as Xiuhong Zhang told her story her rape when she was 12 years old. It was the detail of her choice as the Japanese soldier pointed his bayonet at her grandfather, threatening his life, which moved me beyond any words. I fear that when I try to put this experience in words, in Buber's terms, it is rendered meaningless; but I must try. I relived this testimony recently in the movie "Nanking" and to the core of my being, I was staggered; stunned by the situation that would require a child to make this sort of moral choice. What was not in the translation in Nanjing but what she spoke of in the film was what she said to her grandfather as he cleaned the blood from her legs; better I die than both of us. I don't believe she made this decision out of same Sartrean existential inner debate; it was a natural ethical impulse from her heart and soul; from her "stomach".
Sartre wrote Being and Nothingness in France in 1943 after his 10 months as a POW and while he cycled around France, toying with his notions of resistance. This is Sartre's book that presents us with the abstract choice an individual makes when confronted by the absurdity of existence. But when choice is not available to us, then how are we to be moral? Can the central questions of morality be left to abstractions and logic? Is the truth and value of ethical acts to be determined by some calculus or by analytical theorems? I, like Milosz, believe that when Xiuhong made her choice, it was none of the above that determined her course and her courage. Miłosz observed that those who became dissidents were not necessarily those with the strongest minds, but rather those with the weakest stomachs; the mind can rationalize anything, he said, but the stomach can take only so much.
Rabe and Vautrin made their ethical decisions not from their minds but from from their stomachs; as, I believe, all the westerners who chose to stay behind and try to help by setting up the International Safety Zone. Courage seems to come from not from some abstract calculation but from the replusion one feels to do anything other. I think we sometimes to look for over complicated answers when trying to understand individuals like Rabe, Vautrin, and Xiuhong. Perhaps it quite simple; human revulsion to evil, human evil, leads people to the highest of ethical acts: that of saving people.
And in this now lies the absolute juxtaposition: the pure moral good of Rabe in contraposition to the pure moral evil of the Japanese soldier in Nanjing in 1937. This is not to say that sometime before or sometime after, this Japanese soldier who raped Xiuhong may not have had some sort of moral sensibilities but in this time, in this place, he was stripped of all moral sensibilities. Similarly, this is not to say that Rabe was inherently a pure moral person before or after this deed; in this we are all sinners sometime in life. But it is in this deed that Rabe demonstrates moral goodness in its highest form. And the pure moral evil demonstrated by the Japanese soldier was the absence of morality; the absence of an internal, essential revulsion to harming another person. This is what Milosz saw and wrote of as Warsaw was utterly destroyed in the the summer and autumn of 1944; by November 1944 there was not a building standing or a soul left. The SS soldier who would machine gun down Polish families was the same as the Japanese devil who raped Xiuhong: evil in the absence of natural morality.
I am using Milosz to attempt to explain how this experience has shaped my self primarily in terms of a teacher. It is a matter about recording the details, the deeds, and the dates to preserve the concrete and the truth. It is in the detail of Xuihong's testimony that can bring a student closer to understanding history and in particular in understanding what happened in Asia during the Japanese Military occupation. Orwell was afraid that history could be so conveniently corrupted by authority; witnesses were…and are…needed to record faithfully the details of history…without any ideological, religious, political…even methodogical lens. Just get the details, deeds, and dates down and then understanding will come. I don't mean to sound hypocritical when I say that history is not about memorizing dates and names but it is the most real when someone can see history through the testimony of someone like Xiuhong, through the poetry of a Milosz, through the accounts of an Orwell…
How are we to keep faith in human morality and reason? As Milosz writes, nihilism results from an ethical passion, from a disappointed love of the world and of humanity; we can chose to be either a victim to our conditions, "governed solely by the laws of the social order in which [we are] placed" or we can rise above these conditions in the understanding that morality comes not from our mind but from our guts. And if we are to imbue the teaching of history with an authentic sense of engagement, we need the details of these conditions. It is in this that the Japanese government of the day and its ministry of education seems to lack understanding of; as a society, not to have true, objective, and faithful record of the deeds, details, and dates…the good, the bad, and the ugly…will cripple its social ethos; its kokutai…
YOU WHO WRONGED (Daylight)
You who wronged a simple man
Bursting into laughter at the crime,
And kept a pack of fools around you
To mix good and evil, to blur the line,
Though everyone bowed down before you,
Saying virtue and wisdom lit your way,
Striking gold medals in your honor,
Glad to have survived another day,
Do not feel safe. The poet remembers.
You can kill one, but another is born.
The words are written down, the deed, the date.
And you'd have done better with a winter dawn,
A rope, and a branch bowed beneath your weight.
Washington, D.C., 1950
Magee Secondary School
Carson Graham Secondary School
Travelling with a group of educated and caring professionals with a huge variety of life experience, talents, and personalities was fun, meaningful and I hope will lead to some lasting friendships.
This definitely wasn't a shopping trip but we did see sights, cities and scenery that have enriched my imagination and added vast amounts of detail to my picture book images of China and Korea.
I gained an appreciation for some of the cultural and modern history of the Chinese and Korean people that could not have been gleaned from anything other than being there.
I have many questions about international politics and the polity of Japan – with particular interest in understanding Japan's hands-off stance to apology and redress for military sexual slaves and forced labour survivors during the Japanese occupation of 1931 -1945.
The food was awesome!
I would like to take this opportunity to thank B.C. Alpha and Toronto Alpha for this incredible opportunity, for the phenomenal organization of this trip, for the intensity and quality of speakers and venues, and your profound caring and effort to bring about a peaceful resolution for the remaining survivors of this tragic period of history.
Prince of Wales Secondary School
Mount Boucherie Secondary School
University of Victoria
BC Teachers' Federation
Greg van Vugt
Fraser Heights Secondary School, Surrey
We were a group of 30 teachers from Ontario, Alberta and B.C. who for the most part didn't know each other very well before we gathered in Shanghai on July 4th. By the end we were closer than we'd anticipated. We were able to cry together, hug each other, and move forward with renewed passion for the subject we'd come to study. Thanks to Canada ALPHA we were able to do it all with minimal financial outlay. If I were to recommend this study tour to other people I'd say that it is not for the beach set. It is a lot of hard, long days where your physical and mental states are challenged. By the time we return to our respective homes we know that we will want to make people aware of this sad period of history. I know for myself it has let me understand the superficial aspects of World War II in Asia, as I knew the war in Europe - dates, places, names, battles, destruction, all important to begin to understand the effects of war. But as a peace advocate who is also a teacher I found talking with and listening to the stories of the survivors of some of the most horrific parts of the war in Asia, I found myself, at first so sad and angry, but then found myself renewed in the work towards a peaceful world.
For many years I have worked towards a more peaceful world in my classroom, in my social justice work, and amongst my friends and family. But this is the first time I truly came face to face with this kind of emotional and psychological devastation. A friend once said that so many of our problems today in Canadian society could be directly linked to the psychological damage that the war (mostly in Europe) had wrought. Many of our parents or grandparents experienced the war in Europe. Their emotional injuries may have had consequences in our own daily lives. The grandparent who drinks to forget or the emotional violence that results from the troubles of that time can all affect us today.
Now I have been able to meet with people in Asia who are direct victims of the horrid acts of violence such as rape, beheading, maiming, murder. I met with people who still live with the physical scars of bayonet injuries, chemical weapons, forced abductions. Most people can live with these kinds of physical injuries. The scars will heal. But the emotional and psychological scars may never heal for the people we met. Hearing the stories of people like Madam Zhang who lives near Nanjing, China where a massacre of 300,000 people took place in 1937. She told us that she had her private parts torn apart by the Japanese military at 11 years old. She was only able to have one child, and the birth took three days, and almost killed her. Now 71 years later we can see by the anger in her voice and the redness in her face that she has not been able to forgive those soldiers. "I hate them. I hate their guts. They did such bad things to my sister. How can I forgive them?," said Madam Wang who also lives near Nanjing, China.
These stories have been repeated in China, the Koreas, Japan, Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Burma, amongst other places. As a history teacher it is important to experience history first hand to be able to bring that to our students. By participating in the Canada ALPHA peace and reconciliation tour this past summer I have been able to relive parts of World War II in Asia. This type of a tour is a must for any serious historian of the war in Asia.
I was lucky enough to continue the tour on my own to the Philippines, where I met with more women who had been abducted as sexual slaves by the Japanese military during World War II in Asia. Here I was able to speak directly to some of the women. This was not possible in China or Korea due to our lack of a common language. In the Philippines we were able to communicate more easily. Here too, they are working towards healing themselves through repeated requests of the Japanese government to acknowledge its past wrongdoings and to teach their children the truth of what happened. Maybe Japanese youth might not be so eager to engage in militaristic behaviours if they knew the true history of World War II n Asia. Germany has done a good job to educating their youth about the atrocities under the Nazi regime. Why can't Japan?
While we were in Korea our group was mistakenly called as an anti-Japanese group from Canada by one Korean person. I found this both surprising and disheartening. I was aware of the general dislike of Koreans towards Japan due to their colonial past at the hands of Japan. But I thought that the Koreans were able to move forward from there. As for us, I guess we should make our mission even more explicit and clear. The title of the tour is a "Peace and Reconciliation" tour. Its purpose is to heal the wounds of history, to bring peace to those who were wronged, and to make sure this doesn't happen again. Not to fan the flames of distrust between the nations. By us pushing the Japanese government to acknowledge their misdeeds, we help the victims to heal. Germany has done a lot towards this healing, especially within the Jewish community just by acknowledging the nations past deeds. Japan continues to mislead its own people by not adding or glossing over this part of their past in its national history textbooks. For me personally I find it difficult because I have lived in Japan, speak some Japanese and of course have many Japanese friends. They are a kind, peaceful population in general. Why does its government continue to deny its past and therefore deny its victims a chance to heal their wounds?
Where to from here? I will have a much better understanding of the students in my classes and their personal and family histories. As a professional I will be able to integrate this period of history in Asia into the curriculum with more understanding and background knowledge. I will be able to encourage the ministry of education to put more of this part of history into our curriculum. I will integrate it more into my history classes, as well as other classes such as Tourism11/12 , or Social Justice 12. I will be a resource person for my fellow teachers on staff. And I will continue to work so that this sordid period of history will not be repeated again.
Education Officer, BC Ministry of Education
Sparwood Secondary School
Burnsview Secondary School
Meeting survivors from one of the most gruesome chapters in the history of war was an experience I shall not soon forget. One cannot explain the resiliency, tenacity or fortitude that these noble men and women possess and yet one cannot be left uninspired by it. The "Comfort Women", the forced labourers and the survivors of chemical and biological testing are all a testament to the strength and will of mankind to not just survive, but to endure, overcome and succeed. These men and women have led very hard lives under extenuating circumstances that many of us cannot begin to imagine yet they continue their lives with a dignity and honour many can only hope for. The stories that were shared by the individuals we met and the work that is being done on their behalf to garner an apology from the Japanese Diet left me overwhelmed.
In the words of philosopher George Santayana, Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Thank you Alpha Canada for the work you do on behalf of the victims of war and for allowing me the opportunity to become a part of this process.
Queen Alexandra Elementary
A friend, who was very interested in China's history, introduced me to ALPHA. I went on the tour with an open mind, not really knowing any 20th century history of China. During the tour, I learned a lot. It was an emotional roller coaster that took me for a different ride each day. I was overwhelmed with feelings that I would not be able to get from a television, a book, or a lecture. I was exposed to people, and places in a way that the average person would never get to experience. The tour gave me a different outlook on life, and how I will be teaching the up coming school year.
Newton Learning Centre, Surrey School District #36
For teachers starting with a small or a large amount of knowledge it was extremely informative. The survivors were able to transport you into actual events and history of the time. The professors in China were able to give you the background information leading and including the plight of China during this tragic period. To be able to stand in the actual spot where these events occurred was a very powerful moment. The dialogue between teachers was informative and an essential portion to the learning outcome. The fact that the information could be carried over to the present day situation with Japan not willing to come to grip with the damage that nation inflicted on the lives of the survivors made this whole educational experience more pertinent.
The balance between the academic and tourist events was extremely well done. The tour guides were very informative and the site seeing events covered areas that I would have never thought to include if I had organized this trip myself. The cruise on the Huangpu River to view the life of this river city, reminded me of Venice and the adventures of Marco Polo. The Shanghai Circus with its feats of magic and acrobatic performance all immersed in the Chinese culture brought the visions of the Orient to life. The rickshaw ride through the Hutong alley along the canal with the drivers trying to pass each other and weaving in and out of traffic made this escapade a thrill. Hunting for the exotic souvenirs and bartering with the locals all made this trip extraordinary. Adventures in eating brought new and interesting tastes. The extravagance of dining in a botanical garden, an embroidery art gallery, and a taste of the splendour of Old China with opera and entertainment created unforgettable memories.
Thank you Alpha Canada for enriching my life with the experiences of the survivors and the importance of the past in which China was engaged in World War II Generally this is a forgotten chapter of history to those in the West. I am forever in your debt for educating me in this area so that I can in turn pass this knowledge on to my future students.
North Delta Secondary School
Oakcrest High School, New Jersey
What struck me most were the similarities of the two genocides. The gut wrenching testimony of the survivors is as palpable as any survivor of the Holocaust. All of them were treated with the lowest possible regard for human existence. The atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army during the war from the Nanjing Massacre, to the deplorable and despicable living and working conditions of the forced slave laborers, the horrendous experiments of the biological and chemical warfare units and the raping of the "comfort women" as government policy of "kill, loot and burn" is unconscionable an any human level.
This trip has once again brought to the forefront the question of how and why do humans commit and perpetrate such unmentionable atrocities and seem to relish in this type of behavior. Once again I have found the more I think I know the more I don't know and therefore need to continue my study. Thank you for giving me this opportunity to explore and area of World War II, that I am so lacking in cognitive knowledge and now have so many books to read and so little time!
Westview Secondary School, Maple Ridge, BC
York House School, Vancouver, BC
Chilliwack Secondary School, BC
Brooke Elementary School/Hellings Elementary School, Delta, BC
The Peace and Reconciliation Tour is no for the feint of heart. Only the most stoic, heartless and unfeeling would be left unaffected by the survivors' testimonies, and impassioned reports from those who have devoted their time and in some cases their lives in efforts to seeks justice for those whose youth, limbs, innocence, and in some cases, entire families were wrenched from them through the Sino-Japanese war and occupation. Perhaps this is the most important lesson I learned; that the study of history is not only the study of facts and dates and events, but that these events have an indelible impact on whole generations, and individual human hearts and psyches.
Robert F. Holden
Adjunct Professor of History, Atlantic Cape Community College, Cape May County, New Jersey
So little is taught in American schools about this chapter of history, and I now see it as my responsibility to advance the knowledge of teachers and students to know more about the atrocities committed in China by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Asia-Pacific War, 1931-1945.
On the tour, we heard the emotional story of Japanese Germ Warfare survivor, Yang Da Fang who quoted a Chinese phrase, "You cannot live under the same sky as those who killed your father." As teachers of history, we all see this quote as being the clarion cry of our trip. None of us should rest until we have spread the word to as many teachers and students as possible about what happened in China during the war. Only then will social justice be served. Japan must, like Germany, acknowledge its crimes committed during the war, apologize formally for the crimes, and then offer compensation to the victims.
Every victim we heard give testimony, affirmed in us as educators, our collective sense of humanity, social justice, and the hope for peace in the world.
I have greatly benefited from every experience on this fantastic trip to China!
Richmond High School, Richmond, BC
The study tour was for me a transformative experience. It was very well organised and thoughtfully planned; it was rich and intense, interesting and thought-provoking. Many thanks to B.C.ALPHA, especially to Thekla and Joseph, for a superb educational experience.
École des Pionniers, Port Coquitlam, BC
North Delta Secondary School, Delta, BC
Kitsilano Secondary School, Vancouver, BC
This tour was successful because it connected the larger geopolitical ideas down to a human level. Presentations by history professors, lawyers, doctors and journalists provided the teachers with the general background information on this chapter of history. The testimonials by the victims were profound and put a human face to the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army. It made me realize that we all share common human values of respect and dignity. As educators I believe we have a duty to teach our students about the abuses of these values in the hope of creating a humane planet. The insights provided by the victims testimonials provoked a wide range of emotions with in me; shame to anger to compassion. Experiencing these emotions in the end has helped me to grow both as a teacher and as a person.
I strongly recommend to any teacher who is interested in moving away from the Eurocentric bias of the current curriculum to take part in this tour. It is an eye opener.
York House School, Vancouver, BC
And yet, none of these "what ifs" matter any more. These men and women have suffered for over 70 years because they were caught in a crossfire of competing international interests. The question for me now is: What if we continue to do nothing? To me, it's simply not fair to these individual souls that we continue to accept a world of apathy where civilian suffering in conflicts is ignored and where those who have suffered so much fail to receive support from their own governments and the governments that committed these atrocities.
On a personal note, it was an honour to meet with the survivors and their inner strength and personal dignity made me wish I could be a better person. The fact that Xia PoPo had been forced to sue against defamation when she still had the bayonet wounds to prove her story was shocking and yet the determination in that kind, petite, elderly woman gave me hope that the truth will come out eventually. On a similar note, Elder Geng's commitment to his ideals even when faced with horrific injustices is the kind of example we need to give our students. The fact that he ordered no reprisals against the Japanese people when the Hanaoka camp was freed, and the more impressive fact that the Chinese prisoners obeyed him after many had suffered public torture in front of those same people, is testament to the power and influence one good person can make.
These people have become my heroes and I only hope that I can pass on their message effectively to my students and those I come across in my personal and professional life.
Librarian Consultant, Vancouver School Board, BC
Citadel Middle School, Port Coquitlam, B.C.
I was humbly transformed by all that I saw, and experienced within China. I learned much about others and about the worst and best aspects of the human condition. I found strength and compassion within me that fills me with silent power. I carry a new sense of responsibility towards humanity. Through participating in this Alpha tour, I have learned much about the need to teach peace and reconciliation through an honest appraisal of the absolute tragedy of war.
Okanagan Falls Elementary School, Okanagan Falls, BC
The two pre-tour workshops / meetings were advantageous for the group. The prerequisites readings with follow-up discussions and presentations allowed the team to have a comparable understanding of the issues prior to leaving. Since we had diverse backgrounds, it was also great to know each other.
The more you learn about this chapter of history, the greater your advocacy for reconciliation and compensation for the victims / survivors. Nothing I have heard, read in books, or seen in CD / DVD packs the emotional and psychological wallop of the gut-wrenching tale of a survivor. The horrors and images are brought to life through the survivor's tears and words.
The extra experiences tied into this tour made this a "Pinch-me,-Am-I-really-here?" trip. Whether you are in the Nanking Museum, in the presence of Geng Lao (Hanaoka survivor), or visiting the Great Wall, Tiannamen Square, Temple of Heaven, you can feel the importance and the sense of history. Shanghai was amazing – the European influence, the poor in the city, the markets/shopping, and the ultra-modern Pu Dong District makes you rethink the communism-capitalism link. We enjoyed a train ride through the China countryside, evenings at the Chinese Opera and Chinese acrobats, plus visits to memorials – Dr. Norman Bethune and Sun Yet-Sen – and, of course, shopping in the many markets.
I feel fortunate to have experienced history – the atrocities of the Asia-Pacific Wars and the new rising China and its past culture. My new knowledge has made me more thankful for my own circumstances.
Princess Margaret Secondary School, Penticton, BC
This experience provides the individual with a rare glimpse into the strength of the human spirit and the courageous struggle against the dark side of mankind. One can't help but have tremendous admiration for the scholars and lawyers, who have taken up the cause of the victims.
The information gleaned from this study tour will provide enrichment for Social Studies 11 and History 12, as well as presenting an Asian perspective of the events, starting with Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931. This is an important counterweight to our saturation with the Eurocentric viewpoint of history. And finally, we are left with the challenge of going forward with our knowledge - teaching the importance of accountability, justice for the victims, and ultimately, world peace.
South Delta Secondary School, BC
D.W. Poppy Secondary, Langley, BC
Central Elgin Collegiate, St. Thomas, Ontario
I was fortunate enough to be selected to join the 2005 Peace and Reconciliation Tour in July 2005.
I consider myself honoured to be a member of this very worthwhile tour of China.
Although I was fairly knowledgeable of the history involved in Chinese/Japanese relations in WW2, I realized that there was a lot that I was unaware of.
300.000 people massacred in Nanjing alone, biological warfare, sex slaves, and forced labour camps are unbelievable atrocities that the Chinese people suffered at the hands of the Japanese army.
For the Japanese government not to acknowledge and offer compensation for these horific crimes is a terrible crime itself I feel.
Every Canadian history teacher could benefit immensely by having a similar tour that I attended in July 2005.
I am much more qualified and knowledgeable to accurately discuss the Japanese atrocities that were committed against the Chinese and Korean people in WW2.
Many of my colleagues are very interested in joining similar tours in the future to bring back the real truth to their classrooms.
Southwood Secondary School, Waterloo, Ontario
Iroquois Ridge High Scholl, Oakville, Ontario
Sir George Ross Secondary School, London, Ontario
I have greatly benefited from this tour, and my students, as well, will benefit and learn from my experience. I highly recommend this tour to others.
Southridge School, Surrey, BC
Sunnybrooke Hospital Psychiatric Unit, Toronto, Ontario
Most compelling for me was in bearing witness to the suffering endured by so many innocent civilians who were victimized by the Japanese military during WWII. Moreover, their willingness to forgive their captors in exchange for a simple apology is a remarkable testament to their virtue. Sadly, because such apologies have been so grudgingly offered, if at all, their victimization has never been closed. It is lamentable that innocents repeatedly pay the price for military and political decision-makers with lifetimes of suffering and forbearance.
West Langley Elementary School, Langley, BC
North Oyster Elementary School, SD 68, Nanaimo, B.C.
It has never been so evident to me why this is important. I still hear the survivors' stories in my mind; I see their faces struggle with emotion at the unspeakable memories that they have been plagued with for 60 years. I am stunned that their wells of forgiveness run so deeply for the people who wronged them. All 3 survivors stated that they would forgive the Japanese military when the apology comes; none of them blame the general Japanese population for what happened to them.
Argyle Secondary School, North Vancouver, BC
LA Matheson Secondary School, Surrey, BC
Centennial Secondary, Coquitlam, BC
I visited historical sites representing Japanese aggression and memorial museums established to commemorate the victims. Informative sessions were conducted with distinguished scholars, historians, writers, a lawyer, and a chief plaintiff. Most importantly I have heard the voices and stories of the victim survivors. Together, they have greatly enlightened me of the actual events that occurred and of the disturbing outcomes.
As a participant, the experience was indeed profound and poignant. The knowledge gained from the study tour will provide me with motivation and valuable first-hand information from the Asian perspective to share with my students and colleagues.