Michael J. Polashenski
Physics Teacher and Dutch Exchange Coordinator
Mountain Lakes High School, Mountain Lakes, NJ
2015 Asia Study Tour Participant
I personally found the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Asia Study Tour organized by NJ ALPHA to be outstanding in every respect. Although my father was a veteran of WW II, he never spoke of the war and very little regarding the history of WW II in Asia was covered in both my high school and college history classes. Prior to joining the study tour I read through many fascinating articles and eyewitness accounts provided both by NJ ALPHA and Don Tow including The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang. After WW II, Japan became an ally of the U.S. while simultaneously the Cold War led to China being considered an antagonist of the U.S. Hence the atrocities of the Japanese military during WW II in China were rarely ever discussed in the U.S. This is ironic when considering that the Japanese launched a direct attack against the U.S. while the Chinese were allies and provided much support for the American airmen forced to land in China following the Doolittle Raid.
Throughout the trip we heard from victims, eyewitnesses, and historical experts who have been gathering primary sources to document this history. In Shanghai we heard first-hand accounts from “Comfort Women” and survivors of germ warfare. We were able to visit both a “Comfort House” and the Si-Hang Warehouse Museum where the Japanese were held at bay for an extended period of time prior to their advance on Nanking. In Zhenjiang we saw some of the results of the “10,000 Cries for Justice” Project and read some of these letters regarding the Japanese atrocities and the requests for justice from Chinese victims. In Nanjing we visited the John Rabe house (museum) and visited the former Ginling College to learn details of American missionary Minnie Vautrin’s attempts to protect the Chinese from the Japanese during the Nanking Massacre. The visit to Nanking Massacre Memorial Hall was awe-inspiring and meeting with Tamaki Matsuoka to see her documentary film “Torn Memories of Nanjing” left me speechless. I was especially touched by this film considering the fact that this was a Japanese film-maker trying to make amends for the atrocities committed by the Japanese through her film interviewing both former Japanese soldiers and Chinese survivors of the massacre. This led me to arrange for a showing of this film (with the help of Don Tow) for three of our history classes at Mountain Lakes High School.
In Harbin, our visit to Unit 731 was also eye-opening and I have plans later this school year to give a presentation regarding biological and chemical warfare in China during WW II to our AP Biology students. Much of this presentation will include references to Unit 731. The Marco Polo Bridge in Beijing has been a fascination of mine since I first read about Marco Polo in elementary school. Walking across this bridge and then visiting the “Museum of the War of Chinese People’s Resistance Against Japanese Aggression” was enlightening regarding the history of the war.
Although the rest of the group remained in Beijing due to the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) outbreak, I decided to continue with the original plan to fly to South Korea and I was able to participate in the weekly demonstration of the Comfort Women in Seoul across from the Japanese Embassy. I also took the time to visit a few other sites recommended by Don Tow such as the Seodaemun Prison to further my understanding of the war.
I highly recommend this tour to anyone wishing to understand the history of WW II in Asia. This tour seems to be the equivalent of the best graduate level history course I could imagine. I give kudos and many thanks to everyone involved with the formation and funding of this tour.