Teacher Participants' Testimony

 


Marie-Jos¨¦e Beaulieu, Moscrop Secondary School, Burnaby

 

I would like to thank ALPHA for the opportunity to participate in the 2011 Study Tour to China and Korea. The tour was organized with great professionalism. The pre-tour discussions and readings enhanced my knowledge of this chapter of history, allowing me to have a better grasp of the historical facts and have a deeper understanding of the issues raised during the tour.

 

On both a human and a historical perspective, taking part in the study tour was a life changing experience. It taught me many lessons. One of them relates to the courage of the many victims of the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Army, including victims of sexual slavery, biochemical warfare, forced labour or massacres such as the Nanjing Massacre. I met many survivors and through their moving testimonies, I was able to better understand the challenges and hardship many of them had and still have to go through. I never could have imagined how events that took place more than sixty years ago could still affect so many people today, including second generation victims who were not even born at the time of the events. It is amazing to see how the victims we met are still fighting and hopeful.

 

With so many of the victims passing in the last few years or getting older, I feel a responsibility to take on their battle. The way I intend to do so is by educating a younger generation of Canadians on the events that took place during the Second World War in Asia. I hope I can teach them about the historical facts, but also about the human nature of the conflict. This is what resonated the most with me during the study tour. It was very inspiring to meet so many individuals who support the victims today such as students and their teachers in Korea, members of peace organizations from Japan, museum curators and university professors working to understand the history in China, lawyers supporting the victims in their cases against the Japanese Government and ordinary citizens taking care of the victims on a daily basis. I hope I can use all that I learned from these activists to inspire my students to act in their own school and community to educate others and also to support the victims of World War II in Asia through the different organizations working with the victims.

 

Finally, I think the study tour was such a powerful experience because it was shared with many other educators. The collective learning that took place really helped understand the variety of perspectives that make this part of history so rich. I am very grateful to Canada ALPHA for giving me the opportunity to embark on such a journey.

 


Brent Schieve, Guildford Park Secondary, Surrey

 

I was fortunate to be able to attend the 2011 Peace and Reconciliation Tour, and at risk of hyperbole it was a life and career changing trip.  I have traveled (with and without students) to battlefields throughout Europe but had never traveled to Asia.  Having taught the Asian-Pacific part of WWII many, many times in SS11 and History 12, and having studied this topic in university and on my own for years; I felt that I was well versed in the topic.  The understanding that I gained from the preparation (readings and tutorials) and from the trip itself was immeasurable.  I now have a much deeper understanding of the issues and hold a much greater authority with my students on the topic.  I also have a much better connection with my students who are of Asian descent.  I learned so much more than a new perspective on the war; I learned the depth of influence that history still has for the millions affected by the events. The horrific events are not consigned to the dustbin of history but they are living all around us.

 

I always believed that the study of history had the ability to make us better human beings.  The site visits and meetings with survivors went so far beyond learning history from a book, they made it real.  The planned itinerary was so well thought out and allowed the maximum learning to take place.  The passion and desire showed by the members of BCALPHA and TORONTOALPHA to make the world a better place was infectious.  Their knowledge, insight, and contacts contributed to an educational trip that was difficult, emotionally challenging, informative, and the opportunity of a life-time.  I hope that as many educators as possible join this tour and gain the insights that I gained and can now share with my students.

 


Chris Cropley, York House School, Vancouver

 

I went to China & Korea on the Canadian ALPHA tour. This tour is dedicated to bringing peace and reconciliation to Asia and to educating people and teachers about the wartime atrocities the Imperial Japanese committed on China, Korea and all of Asia during the 1930s and The Second World War. The tour introduces us to museums and sites where atrocities were committed and perpetuated, for instance, a concentration camp where biological and chemical testing was carried out on Chinese civilians. Along with this, we were introduced to many survivors of Japanese forced labour camps and sexual slavery victims of Japanese soldiers. These stories were incredibly haunting and sad and continue to affect these victims to this day. The stories also serve as a great way to begin to educate our young girls about the effects of war on people. These haunting stories resonate with all humans and help to better engage students. Likewise, it will help me to further avoid discussing The Second World War in Asia strictly in a Eurocentric context, but bring in the Asian experiences as well. This is important for our school, especially concerning its current and future demographics.

 

I also continued on to Japan on my own to see the other side of the story. An while I do not believe the validity of some of the Japanese claims, they too are important to introduce and complicate these stories to gain a better understanding of history and of our times.

 

The program takes care of you amazingly and you get to see history as it was sort of experienced. An excellent tour ran by passionate people who should be considered Canadian heroes in their pursuit for social justice globally and within Canada. Just a remarkable and unforgettable educational experience.  Outstanding.

 


Susan Ruzic, Moody Elementary, Port Moody

 

¡°I spent a lot of time writing about the disappointment of discovering, somewhat first-hand, the degree of evil of which we are still capable.  I should at least mention that I am also discovering a degree of strength and of basic ability for humans to remain human in the direst of circumstances.¡±  Rachel Corrie ((April 10, 1979 ¨C March 16, 2003) was an American member of the International Solidarity Movement. She was killed in the Gaza Strip by an Israel Defence Forces bulldozer when she was standing or in front of a local Palestinian's home, thus acting as a human shield, attempting to prevent the IDF from demolishing the home

During my trip to China and Korea in 2011 with the ALPHA group-(Canada Association for Learning & Preserving the History of WWII in Asia) an unspeakable event occurred.  We were travelling to China and Korea to learn about the atrocities committed by the Japanese in these regions during the Sino-Japanese war.  Forty professors, student teachers and teachers had travelled here to learn more about this time period so that this history would be known, taught, remembered and never repeated again.   We learned about extreme human suffering during this time period as unspeakable events occurred such as medical experimentation on humans, forced labour and sexual slavery.  We saw many sights where this occurred and we listened to survivor¡¯s testimonials.  We discovered that the Japanese have never apologized for these atrocities nor have they given any redress.  Actually they are still denying that this occurred to this day as they do not even have it in their school curriculums and textbooks.  This was so unbelievable and we were often saddened and overwhelmed by this tragedy that occurred so long ago.  How could such an unspeakable atrocity have happened?

 

While we were in China, one evening, exhausted after our fully scheduled days, I turned on the BBC in my hotel room.  I was shocked and horrified again to see another unspeakable event had occurred.  In Norway, a senseless mass killing occurred that killed 77 mainly young people attending a political activist summer camp. This terrorist attack was committed by a  right wing extremist who wanted to preserve a Christian Europe because he was feeling threatened by what he saw as a growing group of Muslims in his country. As an educator, I began to reflect on our society past and present and what can be done in our schools to really educate our students while they are in their formative years so that these atrocities do not continue to occur.

 

When I returned home I read an article from the Globe and Mail written by Elizabeth Renzetti on July 29, 2011 entitled,  ¡°Evil and empathy: Scientists shed light on hearts of darkness¡±.  Renzetti wrote about Simon Baron-Cohen who is a psychology professor at Cambridge University studying the links between evil acts and the absence of empathy.  He has said that, ¡°There's this idea of identification with your own group, as opposed to the other group, which is sometimes called in-group, out-group relations. Either for reasons of propaganda, or ideology, or being bombarded day after day with the idea that your group is under threat, and the enemy is this other group, you come to believe it. ¡°Your beliefs then change your behaviour, change your empathy toward the out group,¡± ¡°I'm not wanting to simplify what happens in these examples of mass massacre, but clearly empathy isn't just the result of your individual voyage through life. We are all subject to social influences.¡±

As a Roots of Empathy facilitator for the past seven years, I have seen the importance of teaching empathy to students.  This evidence based classroom program founded by Mary Gordon shows dramatic effect in reducing levels of aggression among schoolchildren by raising social/emotional competence and increasing empathy. The students are visited by a mother and baby during the school year. They are taught explicit lessons around empathy and caring for a baby. Research has shown that aggression levels and bullying in the school is reduced when students are given this program.

Philip Zimbardo, an American psychologist and a professor emeritus at Stanford University, well known for his Stanford prison study describes his latest educational work, The Heroic Imagination Project.

This Project is an effort to understand and overcome the social forces that, on the one hand, keep most of us passive in the face of evil, or, on the other hand, from doing the right thing, whether it be coming to the aid of an injured person, saving 2,500 Jewish children from the Nazis (Irena Sendler in Poland),or igniting the U.S. Civil Rights movement (Rosa Parks).  He believes that Empathy, critical thinking, and understanding (especially of the social determinants of behaviour) are vital elements in helping people move from passivity to active citizenship, both in their own lives and working with others in long-term efforts ("preventive heroism"). In Zimbardo's words, "compassion must be socially engaged" in order to confront those systems of power that are primarily responsible for human suffering (http://www.heroicimagination.org/)  This program sounds like an important one that could be used in our school system and is worth looking into.  Many of us are engaging our students in active citizenship and with further research such as Zimbardo¡¯s showing how this makes caring citizens backs educators up in the face of those naysayers who often remind us about the prescribed curriculum that must be taught, often at the expense of meaningful lifelong learning.

 

The history that I was taught in China and Korea this summer may be too horrific to tell my younger primary students about but I can certainly teach my students about empathy and compassion. I can help them to become critical thinkers that won¡¯t always follow but rather question what they are being asked to do. Children understand what it feels like when someone is mean to you and unfortunately many are bullied long before they start school. They do not like the way they feel when this happens to them and they can empathize with others about this. They can be taught to be more empathetic.  As they get older, then they can begin to learn about atrocities committed in the past and occurring in the present, in their country and around the globe.  They can begin to think how they would like their preferred future to look like.  If this is what it takes to prevent violence, show one¡¯s humanity and make this a more peaceful world to live in, then it is crucial that I give my students opportunities to live and learn this.

 


Gabriella Wong, President of Awareness of WWII in Asia Club, UBC

 

July 28th was the last but one of the most relaxing days of the trip. It started and ended with hanging out at a tiny basement bar operated by Ms. Kim Yung Ho near our hotel in Seoul, called the Resistance. For the many nights in Korea, the few of us could not resist returning to the Resistance. We stayed there past midnight the day before, and we went back on our final evening in Seoul.

 

This day was exclusive to only a few of us though because a handful of tour participants did not opt in for the extra DMZ (De-militarized Zone) tour. It was an intense experience indeed, and I would never regret visiting it. I was overwhelmed by the militaristic presence that I have only seen in Hollywood movies. For once, it was real before my eyes. Passing through wired gates, seeing South Korean soldiers salute to our bus while we left, watching the 17-year-old American soldier give us the presentation...it was all unbelievably real. It was a stark contrast with the rest of the workshops because this was present day international conflict. We were physically present at the border where 2 countries have been in opposition for more than half a century. As I look outside our designated 'military bus', the conscripted South Korean soldiers looked like kids. They seemed innocent and curious while pointing at our bus full of foreigners, unlike the typical rough and tough image of a soldier. It let me think that conscription spells out infringement of personal rights in a country and would derail it from peace.

 

Another historical outing of the day was to the Gyeongbok Palace and its palace museum. We made it on time for an English guided tour throughout the museum, and learnt a lot of things about the architecture and some history of Korean dynasties. It amazed me that only 10% of the palace architecture is true remnants of the ancient palace, and the remaining were rebuilt due to damage over the past years. Given only a short amount of time to visit the Korean Folk Museum, it was already enough for me to see a dictionary of sorts that translated from Chinese Han characters to Korean the alphabet system used in modern day Korea. I have always found the evolution of languages interesting, that the Korean language was mostly phonetic and used Chinese characters until an emperor found it more appropriate to create their own alphabet. And after this transition, peasants were able to read and write. I found this really interesting.

 

Louis, Chikako and I went to have traditional Korean ginseng chicken soup. We asked Judy Cho for the address for a reliable restaurant, and she sure made the best recommendation. The restaurant we visited was steaming with people and stone pots of a whole chicken stuffed with glutinous rice and fresh ginseng. Each pot was served with a tiny cup of ginseng hard liquor. And as strong and burning it was, it also brought a very warm feeling to my abdomen like the rest of the meal did. Sitting in a traditional restaurant cozy setting with bustling Seoul city dwellers was an experience in itself.

 

After dinner we walked through some small streets beside the restaurant, and it was filled with cubicle-sized restaurants along the entire street! Restaurants were highly similar. They mostly had snacks for take-out near its door, smoking away hot and spicy rice cakes, Korean seafood pancakes, and fish cakes on skewers. And if we peered into the restaurants, there would be families at round tables grilling away bulgogi (Korean barbeque). The atmosphere was warm and lively despite the wet weather. There were also shops looked over by a woman all by herself, wrapping and selling dumplings or selling fruits. I was wondering why this was the case, and Louis suggested that the men in households were working office jobs, and perhaps store businesses would be left for the women in the family.

As I said before, the day ended at the Resistance bar like how it started. Yung Ho reminded me the women managing a business all alone. Despite language barriers, we all got to know each other. She tells us that she is a single mom, working a difficult daytime job and still manages to rent a tiny basement for a bar business. This struck me with the resemblance of women in the food stores or restaurants beside the ginseng chicken place. Yung Ho showed me that modern day East Asian women had to be tough. I expected the male-dominant culture to shelter women away from being in the work force, but it seems it is this very suppression for women that they need to forge ahead with sustaining what they want in life.

 

On the night to say goodbye to Yung Ho, Louis, Chikako, Shaun and I were there. Yet interrupting our laughter was an obnoxiously drunken man who barged into the Resistance. He was drunk before he ordered two bottles of beer from Yung Ho. He hurled out racial insults in Korean pointing at Chikako, and then at Shaun and I. Pointing fingers at Yung Ho for serving non-Korean guests. The body language and sparingly used English words ¡®Chinese¡¯ and ¡®Japanese¡¯ were apparent and unpleasant. Yung Ho did not approve, and showed a stern attitude we have never seen before on her friendly face, and told him to keep to himself. Of course, this piece of masculinity decided to leave and not pay Yung Ho the 14,000 Won for the beers. She calmly chases out up the stairs, and upon her disappearance the four of us felt extremely uncomfortable and decided to make sure she was safe. Louis was further yelled at in a language we did not understand, and Yung Ho explained the situation in a gentle manner, bowing her head periodically while conversing with this man. We saw the man give Yung Ho some money, and she swapped her hand to signal we should walk back into the bar. In Yung Ho¡¯s hands was only 4,000 Won.

 

I have heard many stories of women on this trip. This encounter has summarized them because it likewise talked about bullying, racism, loneliness, power, indignation, and helplessness. The old grandmothers we met in China and Korea were left alone when they were victimized, as bullying would be an unfair understatement for their experiences. Both conflicts were sparked by racism¡ªanother way of creating a power hierarchy to put oneself above others. It was interesting to see that although I did not understand one bit of Korean, the man¡¯s tone and body gestures was enough for me to know he was insulting us and Yung Ho. I cannot imagine how much more amplified the insult would have been when Japanese soldiers raided entire villages and households. And after our ordeal at the Resistance, Yung Ho was left helpless with losing the 10,000 Won she should have made. We tried to ask how she was feeling, and in attempts to disguise her fright, Yung Ho could only repeat ¡°Him. Many. Many.¡± Meaning that such instances were not the first time. And there was also something about Asian culture to be overly humble. Yung Ho kept saying ¡°Sorry, sorry¡± and looked in our eyes with the utmost regret and shame that we had to witness this man bully her. I was appalled to see a woman who was clearly a victim in this case to need to apologize for a crime she had no fault for. What was this, reverse in logic, that when a woman is hurt, she needs to apologize? What was this, utmost shame, which war survivors had to face even years after being insulted, beaten, raped?

 

What we stumbled upon at the Resistance was a prime example of present day unresolved matters. One, the Korean man¡¯s racial attitudes against Chikako and my ethnicity were a result of Japanese violence against Korea for half a century, and also China¡¯s neighboring oppression for thousands of years. Two, the man easily felt a right to engage in despicable behaviour over a helpless woman running a business and to take advantage of her. Violence and apathy towards women exists to this day. I shall not forget to bring the things I have learnt about ¡®comfort women¡¯ during the war to the context of the present. We need to be the ¡°Resistance¡± to forge against the many forces that stand against our call for justice.