Testimonial of Mitch Polay

Mitch Polay
Middle School Language Arts and Social Studies Teacher
Paideia School 15, Yonkers Public School, New York
2015 Asia Study Tour Participant

 When we as American Educators teach about World War II, we often focus on the War in Europe and the War in the Pacific. All too often the War in China is overlooked. The atrocities of this war are also well chronicled but it is usually Europe that is the focus. The Peace and Reconciliation Tour, that I was fortunate enough to be part of, has changed my pedagogical approach to teaching this subject and has left a lasting impression on me.

The first situation that affected me greatly was the plight of the comfort women. The idea of rape as a spoil of war is not new. What was distinct about this barbarity was the Japanese ruthlessness coupled with the rejecting of these women by society. First they were brutalized, then they were discarded. It was heartbreaking to hear their stories and to listen to their pleas, not for revenge, but simply to have their voices heard. In every case, the women we listened to would inevitably say words to the effect of “it happened” or “tell people our story”. This passionate need to just be heard and believed was gut wrenching and will stay with me for a long time.

I was also startled at the extent of the Japanese savagery. We often hear about Nazi brutality, but I was shocked at the extent the Japanese matched the barbarism of Nazi Germany. Visiting the sights of human experimentation was haunting. The ease at which supposedly normal people can be convinced that torture and persecution of others is acceptable is distressing. The Nanking Massacre Museum was another powerful site that emphasized man’s inhumanity to man. Viewing an excavated mass grave validated the extent of the savagery and is an image that haunts me today.

Learning in a classroom is respectable but having the opportunity to walk in the footsteps where history took place is on a whole other level. The privilege to be able to learn from the people who lived through the Japanese occupation is one that I don’t take lightly. This experience was emotional, informative, fascinating, and even uplifting. I will never teach a unit on World War II that doesn’t include the Chinese experience. The stories of the comfort women as well as the other victims will live on through me. I feel obligated and will do my part to make sure these people’s stories are not forgotten.

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