Representative from British Columbia ALPHA
2017 Asia Study Tour Participant
The 2017 Peace and Reconciliation Asia Study Tour organized by the New Jersey ALPHA began on July 14 in Shanghai, China and ended on July 27 in Seoul, Korea. During the 14-day trip, 16 participants from Canada and the United States led by Mr. Don Tow visited some of the major historical sites, museums and people in six cities that bear witness to the atrocities and aggressions committed by the Imperial Japanese military during the WWII.
I felt very honored to be a part of this incredible group of educators, peace activists, filmmakers and social justice advocates and to be learning alongside with them about the historical truths of the “Forgotten Holocaust” in Asia as well as exploring ways to achieve peace and reconciliation in this region decades after WWII ended in 1945.
The theme of ALPHA’s study tour is peace and reconciliation. To deepen participants understanding of the human conditions during the Asia Pacific War, roundtable discussions with eyewitnesses, victims, historians, writers, educators, human rights lawyers and activists were organized.
It became evident to me through listening to the testimonies of the survivors and examining the historical treaties and deals relevant to the demands for reparation and justice for the comfort women and forced laborers of the Imperial Japanese military, that the process towards peace and reconciliation is constantly defined and redefined, moved forward or stalled by the players involved.
On the day we arrived in Seoul, which was the last stop of our study tour, we were told that a Korean Grandma – a former comfort woman named Kim Koon Ja had just passed away. My heart sank to the lowest level of sadness and I became resolved to work for justice for these “comfort women”. I witnessed how the death of Grandma Kim Koon Ja caused an insurmountable sadness for the grandmas who were living at the House of Sharing and the young people at the weekly Wednesday Demonstrations outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. We are diminished a little more with the passing of each of the few remaining grandmas and the urgency for demanding justice and an official apology for them from the Japanese government is more pronounced than ever.
Even though the current right wing Japanese government will not sincerely apologize to the comfort women, the purpose of defending for peace and reconciliation is so that we can have a “productive and better” society and hope for human race. Education and preservation of historical truths and memories as well as public support for the victims must remain our beacon of hope for the forward movement of this redress process.
I was deeply impressed by the first class exhibitions at the Chinese Comfort Women Museum in Shanghai, the Korean Women’s and Human Rights Museum and the Korean Comfort Women’s House of Sharing in Seoul, as well as the Unit 731 Germ Warfare Museum in Harbin. Oral history as a methodology employed by the military sexual slavery museums is particularly powerful in conveying the voices of the victims and their cries for justice are profound.
We can no longer say we don’t know about the atrocities after we had the chance to meet with the sexual slavery, germ warfare, Nanking Massacre, and slave labor survivors and listened to their authentic first hand account of the crimes against humanity committed by the Imperial Japanese soldiers that had left them scarred forever. This history has become personal.
Looking back at the goals that I set for myself when I applied for this 14-day immersion in the study of WWII history in Asia, I am excited to realize that I have truly fulfilled my goals of broadening my understanding about this chapter of history by learning a tremendous amount of new knowledge from the tour and from the discussions with my fellow participants. I am grateful to everyone who offered their insights which have helped me gain perspectives about military sexual slavery, forced labor, germ warfare and crimes against humanity that are multi-dimensional – namely local, personal and international – and interdisciplinary. The skills / tools I have acquired for learning about historical truths and memories are now more refined and critical. I look forward to continue enriching my understanding of the history of WWII in Asia and deepening my connection with the inspirational friends I have met on this study tour.