Teacher Participants' Testimony

Doug Cervi, Oakcrest High School, New Jersey

Dr. Franklin Littell, a prominent scholar in Holocaust-Genocide Studies, stated in class “that once you have seen the other side of the mountain, nothing is ever the same.”   The 2006 Peace and Reconciliation Study Tour to China this summer is an example of this premise.  Even is one has the past experience of this type of study tour in Europe, the experience of seeing, meeting and feeling the sorrow and pain of the survivors and feel the presence of the souls of the dead on the grounds of the Nanjing Massacre, it is an overwhelming and unexplainable experience.  The sheer magnitude of the atrocities that were committed by the Japanese Imperial Army rival that of those committed by the Nazis in Europe in World War II.

What struck me most were the similarities of the two genocides.  The gut wrenching testimony of the survivors is as palpable as any survivor of the Holocaust.   All of them were treated with the lowest possible regard for human existence.  The atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army during the war from the Nanjing Massacre, to the deplorable and despicable living and working conditions of the forced slave laborers, the horrendous experiments of the biological and chemical warfare units and the raping of the “comfort women” as government policy of “kill, loot and burn” is unconscionable an any human level.

This trip has once again brought to the forefront the question of how and why do humans commit and perpetrate such unmentionable atrocities and seem to relish in this type of behavior.  Once again I have found the more I think I know the more I don’t know and therefore need to continue my study.  Thank you for giving me this opportunity to explore and area of World War II, that I am so lacking in cognitive knowledge and now have so many books to read and so little time!

Paula Cyr, Westview Secondary School, Maple Ridge, BC

Being a part of the 2006 ALPHA Peace and Reconciliation Study Tour to China was an excellent professional development experience for me.  Rather than just read about this part of WW II history we got to visit the places and meet the people who had lived through it. Through discussions with other teachers on the tour everyone gained  ideas on how to use our study tour experiences in the classroom and with our colleagues.  The tour, due to the nature of the topic, was at times quite intense and emotionally draining but worthwhile none the less.  After participating in the ALPHA study tour my views on World War Two in Asia have changed and so will how I teach about it when I return to the classroom this school year.

Karin Dhar, York House School, Vancouver, BC 

The ALPHA Study Tour to China is a remarkable opportunity to learn more about what happened in China during World War II. It provides teachers with background knowledge, teaching by experts and the powerful voices of the survivors. It will encourage you to think critically about what and how you are teaching and why as well as inspire you to be even more thoughtful in your praxis. It is incredibly important to move beyond the Eurocentric view of history and this journey provides you with a lens from which you can examine these issues more fully and richly. You will have a chance to meet and work with passionate teachers who care about their work and their students; their spirit is contagious.

Jan Gladish, Chilliwack Secondary School, BC

This has been the trip of a lifetime! Prior to this study tour and prior to reading “The Rape of Nanjing” and “The Factories of Death”, I knew nothing of the massive death and destruction that China sustained from 1931 – 1945.  I listened to the compelling testimonies of people whose lives were severely impacted by the atrocities they endured over a very short period of time. I heard the stories of “comfort women” who were forced to provide services in brothels to Japanese soldiers. I heard a painful and tearful account from a man whose entire family was exterminated before his eyes during the Nanjing Massacre. Forced labourers spoke of the horrific conditions they had to endure in labour camps where deaths occurred several times a day. I saw with my own eyes, the effects of Anthrax on a man who has been suffering from “rotten leg” disease for the past 60 years. I will return to Canada with an awareness of a chapter of history that is not found in mainstream history textbook. I will never forget this experience! I highly recommend this study tour.

Laura Hebbard, Brooke Elementary School/Hellings Elementary School, Delta, BC

To prepare for the 2006 Peace and Reconciliation Study Tour of China, I read numerous fiction and non-fiction books, each with the central theme of WWII in Asia.  At the conclusion of the tour, having experienced Chinese culture, geographic regions and historic locations first-hand, I can now put into context what l have read. I believe many on our Study Tour would agree that the most lasting impressions on our hearts and minds were made by the survivors, as they testified to wanton massacre, sexual slavery, germ warfare, and forced labour.  What I had not prepared for was the emotional impact these brave survivors would make on my heart.   I suppose this tour could be approached from a clinical information-gathering perspective.  To do so, however, would be to deny oneself a glimpse of the true personal horror of war, and at the same time the bravery, resiliency and determination demonstrated by the survivors and their families, as they endured catastrophic personal tragedy, and now make public their stories, and work towards seeking resolve and redress.  

The Peace and Reconciliation Tour is no for the feint of heart.  Only the most stoic, heartless and unfeeling would be left unaffected by the survivors’ testimonies, and impassioned reports from those who have devoted their time and in some cases their lives in efforts to seeks justice for those whose youth, limbs, innocence, and in some cases, entire families were wrenched from them through the Sino-Japanese war and occupation.     Perhaps this is the most important lesson I learned; that the study of history is not only the study of facts and dates and events, but that these events have an indelible impact on whole generations, and individual human hearts and psyches.

Robert F. Holden, Adjunct Professor of History, Atlantic Cape Community College, Cape May County, New Jersey

I was truly honored to be one of the first American teachers to be included in this year’s

Peace and Reconciliation Tour. It was both a fantastic and yet humbling experience. Working with my Canadian colleagues was an honor and privilege and I was so impressed by their knowledge and professionalism. They are all such dedicated teachers!

So little is taught in American schools about this chapter of history, and I now see it as my responsibility to advance the knowledge of teachers and students to know more about the atrocities committed in China by the Japanese Imperial Army during the Asia-Pacific War, 1931-1945.

On the tour, we heard the emotional story of Japanese Germ Warfare survivor, Yang Da Fang who quoted a Chinese phrase, “You cannot live under the same sky as those who killed your father.” As teachers of history, we all see this quote as being the clarion cry of our trip. None of us should rest until we have spread the word to as many teachers and students as possible about what happened in China during the war. Only then will social justice be served. Japan must, like Germany, acknowledge its crimes committed during the war, apologize formally for the crimes, and then offer compensation to the victims.

Every victim we heard give testimony, affirmed in us as educators, our collective sense of humanity, social justice, and the hope for peace in the world.

I have greatly benefited from every experience on this fantastic trip to China!

Jane Kinegal, Richmond High School, Richmond, BC

I was fortunate to be a participant in the ALPHA Peace and Reconciliation Study Tour - 2006.  Many of the students I teach at Richmond High are of Asian heritage, and I have been searching for ways to broaden the existing curriculum in my classes to include more Asian content. I found many resources in the course of my studies and travels with ALPHA, and am now much more aware of Asian, particularly Chinese history and culture.  I am prepared to present the facts regarding the Asian Pacific War, and to focus upon relevant themes which emerge from this part of World War 2, to enable a much more balanced view of our Pacific Rim reality.  And I am much more aware of the global realities of war and peace and the fundamental need for reconciliation and forgiveness to enable a peaceful future.

The study tour was for me a transformative experience.   It was very well organised and thoughtfully planned;  it was rich and intense, interesting and thought-provoking.  Many thanks to B.C.ALPHA, especially to Thekla and Joseph, for a superb educational experience.

Raymond Lemoine, Ecole des Pionniers, Port Coquitlam, BC

My participation in the 2006 Peace and Reconciliation Study Tour has been nothing less than memorable. We, as Canadians, lead rather sheltered lives and are rarely exposed or confronted to the front lines of war and aggression. The Asian Holocaust is an absolutely incomprehensible spectacle defying any conscionable explanation. Once again, in the history of our world, purveyors of hatred and vitriol had violated mankind. Man has succeeded in dehumanizing mankind. What happened in Asia during WWII is indeed thought provoking. This dark chapter of history gives rise to analysis, to debate, to reflection and to introspection. I walk away from two weeks armed with the knowledge to “better” educate.

Andy Lum, North Delta Secondary School, Delta, BC

The tour was very memorable for me in terms of the emotional impact of the survivor testimony. There words and emotion is forever imprinted on my mind. The issues we studied were revealing and dramatic. Learning the truth is important but more so is what we do with the truth. The stories and lessons we heard and learned were lessons of life.  We must endeavour to seek justice for inaction is an injustice in itself. The sights and sounds of China were amazing. Words cannot describe alone the positive experiences of this study tour.  The tour participants and the dynamics of our interaction was so positive.  I know as a group our journey in this chapter of history has only begun. I am grateful to you, Joseph and BC ALPHA for the opportunity of the teacher's tour.  I am in the midst of working on the video and have been so for 6 days straight from dawn to nearly dawn. I hope the movie will touch people to action.

Steve Macfarlane, Kitsilano Secondary School, Vancouver, BC

I found the ALPHA 2006 tour of China extremely engaging and fruitful. I was continually discovering new ideas, artifacts, architecture, culture, food and human beings which sparked my curiosity and interest. The complexity of China's past and present situation is overwhelming and fascinating. As a consequence, I found the Tour to be a gold mine of information  which I can utilized in all my Social Studies classes from grade eight right up to History 12.

This tour was successful because it connected the larger geopolitical ideas down to a human level. Presentations by history professors, lawyers, doctors and journalists provided the teachers with the general background information on this chapter of history. The testimonials by the victims were profound and put a human face to the atrocities committed by the Japanese Imperial Army.  It made me realize that we all share common human values of respect and dignity. As educators I believe we have a duty to teach our students about the abuses of these values in the hope of creating a humane planet. The insights provided by the victims testimonials provoked a wide range of emotions with in me; shame to anger to compassion. Experiencing these emotions in the end has helped me to grow both as a teacher and as a person.

I strongly recommend to any teacher who is interested in moving away from the Eurocentric bias of the current curriculum to take part in this tour. It is an eye opener.

Carla McIvor, York House School, Vancouver, BC

Without a doubt, the highlight of this tour was hearing the testimonials of the survivors.  When witnessing the testimonials of those who suffered from “rotten leg” caused by anthrax, I was moved to tears beyond control.  The suffering of these men over so many years highlighted to me the unquestionable truth of civilian suffering in wars.  The experience for me led to so many “what ifs”…   What if:  Japan admitted to germ warfare and offered compensation earlier?  What if: civil war in China not been so prolonged?  What if:  Communist China not been so isolated and allowed in more medical NGOs?  What if:  the United States not taken the germ warfare information for their own purposes instead of exposing it more vividly in the war crimes tribunals? 

And yet, none of these “what ifs” matter any more.  These men and women have suffered for over 70 years because they were caught in a crossfire of competing international interests.  The question for me now is: What if we continue to do nothing?  To me, it’s simply not fair to these individual souls that we continue to accept a world of apathy where civilian suffering in conflicts is ignored and where those who have suffered so much fail to receive support from their own governments and the governments that committed these atrocities.

On a personal note, it was an honour to meet with the survivors and their inner strength and personal dignity made me wish I could be a better person.  The fact that Xia PoPo had been forced to sue against defamation when she still had the bayonet wounds to prove her story was shocking and yet the determination in that kind, petite, elderly woman gave me hope that the truth will come out eventually.  On a similar note, Elder Geng’s commitment to his ideals even when faced with horrific injustices is the kind of example we need to give our students.  The fact that he ordered no reprisals against the Japanese people when the Hanaoka camp was freed, and the more impressive fact that the Chinese prisoners obeyed him after many had suffered public torture in front of those same people, is testament to the power and influence one good person can make. 

These people have become my heroes and I only hope that I can pass on their message effectively to my students and those I come across in my personal and professional life.

Pat Parungao, Librarian Consultant, Vancouver School Board, BC

The 2006 Peace and Reconciliation Study Tour to China met and exceeded my expectations.   Although we had the itinerary before we left and I knew what was planned for us, the actual experience was life-changing, especially with regard to social responsibility and global citizenship.   Be prepared for an emotional experience.

Bruce Richards, Citadel Middle School, Port Coquitlam, B.C.

I participated in the 2006 Alpha: Peace and Reconciliation China Tour.  I thought that I knew quite a bit about the tragedies and horrors of war. I did not. Within China I met survivors of rape, biological weapons, forced slavery, and wide scale systemic genocide. How do you reach out to a person who has witnessed all 13 members of her family brutally raped, tortured and slaughtered before her child's eyes?  What can you say to a survivor who lives each day in solemn hope that the Government of Japan will at last offer a simple and humble apology for their horrific crimes against humanity? 

I was humbly transformed by all that I saw, and experienced within China. I learned much about others and about the worst and best aspects of the human condition. I found strength and compassion within me that fills me with silent power. I carry a new sense of responsibility towards humanity. Through participating in this Alpha tour, I have learned much about the need to teach peace and reconciliation through an honest appraisal of the absolute tragedy of war.

Garry Sutherland, Okanagan Falls Elementary School, Okanagan Falls, BC

The B.C. ALPHA Peace and Reconciliation Tour 2006 was an opportunity of a lifetime.  I had always wanted to visit China but figured I would have to wait until I retired. 

The two pre-tour workshops / meetings were advantageous for the group.  The prerequisites readings with follow-up discussions and presentations allowed the team to have a comparable understanding of the issues prior to leaving.  Since we had diverse backgrounds, it was also great to know each other.

The more you learn about this chapter of history, the greater your advocacy for reconciliation and compensation for the victims / survivors.  Nothing I have heard, read in books, or seen in CD / DVD packs the emotional and psychological wallop of the gut-wrenching tale of a survivor.  The horrors and images are brought to life through the survivor’s tears and words.

The extra experiences tied into this tour made this a “Pinch-me,-Am-I-really-here?” trip.  Whether you are in the Nanking Museum, in the presence of Geng Lao (Hanaoka survivor), or visiting the Great Wall, Tiannamen Square, Temple of Heaven, you can feel the importance and the sense of history.  Shanghai was amazing – the European influence, the poor in the city, the markets/shopping, and the ultra-modern Pu Dong District makes you rethink the communism-capitalism link.  We enjoyed a train ride through the China countryside, evenings at the Chinese Opera and Chinese acrobats, plus visits to memorials – Dr. Norman Bethune and Sun Yet-Sen – and, of course, shopping in the many markets.

I feel fortunate to have experienced history – the atrocities of the Asia-Pacific Wars and the new rising China and its past culture.  My new knowledge has made me more thankful for my own circumstances.

Lea Sutherland, Princess Margaret Secondary School, Penticton, BC

This study tour is without a doubt, an incredible opportunity to meet with people who have shown unbelievable courage in telling their stories. There is nothing more engaging than exposure to primary source material. To hear first- hand survivors of anthrax attacks, forced labor camps, comfort stations, and massacre sites, is very powerful. Participants are on an “emotional roller coaster”, as the survivors recount their stories of unspeakable horror and trauma, putting the listener in a surreal situation. The graphic details take you back in time, to a chapter of history, where you become a witness to the atrocities of Japan’s war of aggression.

This experience provides the individual with a rare glimpse into the strength of the human spirit and the courageous struggle against the dark side of mankind. One can’t help but have tremendous admiration for the scholars and lawyers, who have taken up the cause of the victims.

The information gleaned from this study tour will provide enrichment for Social Studies 11 and History 12, as well as presenting an Asian perspective of the events, starting with Japan’s invasion of Manchuria in 1931. This is an important counterweight to our saturation with the Eurocentric viewpoint of history. And finally, we are left with the challenge of going forward with our knowledge - teaching the importance of accountability, justice for the victims, and ultimately, world peace.

Karen Symonds, South Delta Secondary School, BC 

The Study Tour engaged me entirely.  Intellectually, I was stimulated by the readings I was introduced to, the passionate experts who shared their practical experience and research, and my colleagues.  Emotionally, I was moved by the survivors who shared their stories with indescribable courage and dignity.  Physically, I was introduced to places and spaces with so much history it was palpable.  It will be impossible to ever look at this era in history the same way again.

Cynthia Weldon, D.W. Poppy Secondary, Langley, BC

When I left for China I felt a lot of reservation and quite a bit of anxiety knowing that the truth we were about to bear witness to would be difficult and emotionally draining.  I was right.  However, there were some features of the tour that I did not expect.  While the testimony of the witnesses and survivors was horrific, I was struck by their great humanity and their immense desire, not for revenge, but for peace.  They all seemed to be able to dispassionately describe the events of the atrocities, but where they all broke down and wept was in describing the severed relationships, broken families, and loss of loved ones which have affected thier lives forever.  While the events happened over sixty years ago, the anguish of loss was immediate.  That long ago sorrow of families being ripped apart was manifest now in the act of retelling the story. This served to remind me that despite man's inhumanity to man, the one thing that transcends the pain and endures forever is human love.  As I served as a witness during these two weeks, I experienced an overwhelming sense of humility.  I knew as I listened to these men and women talk of their desire for truth and world peace, that I was truly standing in the presence of greatness.  I have profound respect for the courage these survivors possess in telling their stories, and nothing but admiration for the lawyers and citizens, in both Japan and China, who are lobbying relentlessly on their behalf.  What I experienced on this tour was a dawning realization of a tremendous, cross cultural and  grassroots movement for peace and reconciliation.  I feel a deep sense of responsibility as I return to my classroom and a deep commitment to do my best to deliver the message of the survivors.  I am honoured to have been a participant on this tour.