US Teachers Use 70th Anniversary of Atomic Bombs for Understanding


On August 6 and 9, 1945 Hiroshima and Nagasaki were attacked with the first and last atomic bombs used in warfare, and American teachers are using the 70th anniversary of the event to improve their students’ understanding of history.

Seventy years after the atomic bombs dropping, two teachers, Jennifer Wagner and Lisa Tilley, who spent two weeks in Japan, have come back to share with other teachers how peace education has evolved there, writes Justin Murphy of Rochester, NY’s Democrat & Chronicle.

Wagner and Tilley spoke with local students and teachers and had also a chance to speak with remaining survivors of the bombings, saying that before visiting Hiroshima and Nagasaki they couldn’t really grasp the bombings’ effects.

For Wagner, one of the most memorable experiences was one of forgiveness: a survivor saying he’s not bitter against the US and that his only wish was that atomic weapons wouldn’t be used again.

In the new school year, Wagner plans to have her students read accounts of the atomic bombs in graphic novel form. Wagner said about her interaction with Japanese people:

“[They] were so kind and peaceful. I felt I needed to come back here as a teacher and somehow instill that sense of peacefulness and kindness in our youth so somehow it can trickle down and change things.”

Soon after the end of World War II, Japan created the Self Defense Forces meant only to operate on Japanese soil. In 1992, however, Japanese troops were able to participate in UN peacekeeping operations alongside the US. The country’s militarization is now continuing with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to implement new security laws and even rewrite the Constitution laws that forbid the use of force. Sara Hyde writes for the Business Insider:

“There’s been plenty of coverage of these moves and their ominous overtones – but much of it has missed the point. Japan’s preferred memories of its own conduct in the war are very selective, and still major bone of contention in east Asia.”

China and South Korea are still waiting for an apology from Japan for war crimes committed by Japanese troops such as torture, mass slaughter and the abduction of women, including compelling them to be ‘comfort women’.

As Hyde explains, Japan didn’t apologize for its WWII acts or its pre-war aggressive behavior against its neighboring countries and chooses not to teach its students about Japan’s role and conduct in WWII. History textbooks cover up Japan’s occupation of Taiwan, China, Korea and Russian islands and omit mentioning details regarding the Pacific and Southeast Asian war.

In Entangled Memories: Israel, Japan and the Emergence of Global Memory Culture, Ran Zwigenberg illustrates the global nature of World War II memory by highlighting the similarities between Israel and Japan and how both Japanese and Israeli people choose to remember Hiroshima and Auschwitz. Zwigenberg explains that:

“The victims themselves were transformed into survivors as they used their experiences in the service of the greater communal effort to ensure that their tragedy would never be repeated.”

As Zwigenberg argues, their narrative was a byproduct of the Cold War, the simultaneity of Israel’s and Japan’s reactions and their common commitment to view history through a “nation-state centered and progress-oriented” prism.