Social Studies Teacher
Hunterton Central Regional High School, Flemington, NJ
It has been almost half a year since returning from China and it’s still hard to put into words what the experience has meant to me. I joined NJ-ALPHA for purely academic reasons; I knew the story of World War II—as it’s often taught—was an incomplete one. With so much focus on the horrors of Nazism, the war in Asia too frequently is thought to have commenced at Pearl Harbor and ended at Hiroshima. My straightforward attempt to fill in some academic holes resulted in a total reformation of how I viewed the war in Asia, the concept of human rights, and the foundations of reconciliation. Most important perhaps was the realization that as teachers, it is incumbent upon us to pass on what we have learned to our students
The most important lesson I took from my time in China and South Korea was the degree to which the experiences of World War II still resonate loudly today. To teach about the war in the Pacific, therefore, is not to teach history. Although some might wish to confine these stories to the past, the atrocities committed in Asia have had an enduring legacy. I witnessed this firsthand through the pained testimony of labor camp survivors and comfort women as they courageously told their stories. It became clear that the wartime atrocities were not a static moment in time, but a part of a story that continues to evolve. While the war ended decades ago, chemical weapons continue to lay dormant in the ground. I listened to a man speak who, unknowingly, unearthed such weapons as he dug on his property. Forever scarred—both physically and psychologically—it is a stark reminder that this horrible chapter of history remains open. To see the continuing financial and physical hardship of comfort women is to learn this same lesson. Skeptics need only show up on any Wednesday at the Japanese embassy in Seoul to appreciate the lasting pain and frustration that is felt. To be certain, the wounds of World War II are kept open by the lack of true reconciliation. To achieve this, one must first take ownership of the past, accept their faults, aid survivors, and work to preserve the memory of the victims.
Although we were surrounded by so much pain on the trip, it was uplifting to share this experience with committed individuals from all over the world. Each person seemed eager to meet the challenge of exposing the history of World War II in Asia. When true reconciliation is finally achieved, it will no doubt be because of the work of these individuals