Each of us have a unique personal lens that has been shaped by our experiences, values, identity, and education. This personal lens is how we view the events of the world. While most of the factors that affect our personal lens are different between individuals, education is the one factor that is constant for nations. The effects that education usually has on our personal lens is usually how we view history and which parts of it are important. In this paper, I will focus on how education differs between the US and Japan regarding the events of Hiroshima and Pearl Harbor. Education does affect one’s national identity especially when it involves important times for a nation such as World War 2.
Early in the morning on December 7,1941, Japan launched an attack on the US navy in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Roughly 350 Japanese planes attacked the harbor filled with around dozens of naval ships. Most of the ships were destroyed along with the lives of approximately 2500 sailors. Although most of vehicles in the harbor were destroyed, the Japanese did not destroy vital oil storages, repair shops, and shipyards. Because of this the American navy was able to recover their most important base in the Pacific. This was a surprise and preemptive strike from Japan while the US while still not formally in the war. Only a day after on December 8, the United States were officially in the war. All the of the battleships were brought back up and repaired except for the USS Arizona. A memorial was built on top of it to honor those who had fallen (Pearl Harbor). In the memorial, itself are the names of those who died that day carved onto the side of the wall. If you look out to the side of the memorial you can still see oil leaking from the wreckage.
Wartime is known as the time where most new technology is produced. There was a race in the world at the time to see who would be the first to utilize nuclear weapons in the war. The Manhattan project was the name given to the project of developing nuclear weapons in the US. This project was a joint operation under the Office of Scientific Research and Development and the War Department. Scientists worked over the next several years to produce the materials needed fission. The result was uranium 235 and plutonium 239. These materials were sent to New Mexico to be built into a bomb. The team led their first successful test on July 16,1945 at the Trinity test site (Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
On August 16,1945, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. This was the world’s first atomic bomb attack and the effects can still be seen to this day. The bomb killed approximately 80000 people instantly and thousands more the coming years. Anything within a 2-kilometer radius of the bomb was destroyed and the force and heat of the blast was felt for many more. Almost immediately after, the Japanese finally surrendered and the war was over. This was the start of the post war reconstruction led by the US (Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
In the US, most children go through 12 years of school. These 12 years are during the times in our lives when we are most easily influenced. Thus, the education we receive, the stories we are told, are usually molded into our personal lens. Without the experiences or skills to argue, children usually accept what they are taught in school as correct and accurate. Education being absolute is not always a positive thing as Dr. Craig Rusbult explains,
At its worst, however, interactive discussion can be an effective way for a teacher to persuade, to impose personal opinions on students. In fact, open discussion, with critical thinking guided by the teacher, is often used as an instructional strategy in the conceptual change method that has become influential in science education during the past two decades.(Rusbult)
What he means by this is that the teacher has the power to impose his or her personal beliefs and ideas into the minds of the students. An example of this would be a teacher only explaining one side of an argument so you believe this is the only right answer to the problem. Without explaining the other part of the argument, the teacher is not giving the students a chance to understand different perspectives. Most inexperienced students will blindly accept this because they would have no reason to believe that a respected teacher would be trying to do this.
There is much literature on how education affects people’s worldviews and values but most of these are with respect to American education. As Rusbult explains how a teacher can abuse power to persuade students, my research will look at the bigger picture of how countries can abuse the same power to persuade its citizens. My research aims to look at how education in different countries such as Japan differ from American education and what effects it has on national identities. The goal of this research is that by understanding other points of views, it can lead us to be more open to ideas.
The reason I chose this topic is because World War 2 (Pacific War in Japan) could be seen as a time of rebirth for both the US and Japan. The US came out of the war as one of the world’s new superpowers and Japan got a new constitution. The US and Japan were on different sides of this war and the question that has always interested me was how differently Japan was taught about the war than me. Did they characterize us as villains or just enemies? Do veterans on their side still see the US with animosity? How did those in charge during the reconstruction want to tell the story of the war? These are some of the questions that I had before the program. I wanted my topic to be about education but I did not have any specifics and it was too broad for such a short program.
I felt that this topic fit well into the main objectives of this course of constructing national narratives. This topic considers the history of how Japan and the US and how each country teaches history. Japan has that reputation of being a victim after the war and I wanted to avoid that stereotype because it only from the atomic bombings. It does not fully represent everything they did in the war. By looking at both sides, I avoid biases that come with looking at events where only Japan would be the victim.
During the program is when I refined my research topic. When we went to Hiroshima and learned more about their side of the story and saw in person the differences in narratives, I decided I wanted to present my research interests with examples. I would use the start of the war for the US and the end. Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima are both surprise attacks and both attacks have memorials that honor the memory of the fallen. Since I have been to both memorials, I could do a comparison on how they tell the story of the attack compared to how the attacking nation does for both events. I felt that this was a good way to show how national pride goes into education. By having two similar attacks with countries switched between victim and aggressor, it would show both sides and not be more biased towards one.
My research is mainly a comparison of two attacks in World War 2 so my research is made of four major components: Japan’s narrative of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, US’s narrative of pearl harbor and Hiroshima. Since I went to Japan and used online resources, I would consider my research a mixture of ethnography and qualitative unobtrusive research. For Japan’s narrative of pearl harbor, I will be using my field notes and experience from being in Hiroshima and the peace memorials as a basis of understanding their narrative. Since there were many plaques along the museum walls in English, I feel I have a good understanding on how the Japanese tell their story of Hiroshima. Of course, my own personal lens will affect how I view the story they told, but hopefully not by enough to alter the meaning. Other than the museum, I did talk with an old man on the bus in Hiroshima and we had a conversation that ended up with the bomb. It was a very incredible experience in the sense that I never expected it to happen in the way it did. I believe that my short time experiencing, reading, and learning about the Japanese national identity is enough for me to understand their perspective.
For the US’s views on pearl harbor and Hiroshima, I will be using my own understanding of the events and unobtrusive qualitative research. For the unobtrusive research, I will be reading articles from reputable sources to compliment my own understanding. This will mainly be historical and biased towards the US because the sites I will be using are American sites.
Because Japan is such an isolated country relative to the world, it is hard to find information on the internet in English that describes their views of Pearl Harbor. It is hard to find information on how they were taught Pearl Harbor without interviewing someone or buying a Japanese text book. To the best of my knowledge, there are no scholarly articles about it, so I will be using forum posts from Japanese that know English on the subject. I know these are not the most reputable sources but I have read enough and there were enough similarities for me to trust them.
The US sees what Japan did at Pearl Harbor a sneak attack because the two nations were not at war at the time. It united the citizens of the country towards the war more than any speech would have. The memorial at pearl harbor tries to be more neutral but you can still see the bias in the videos they show. In the courtyard, they play old propaganda videos along with modern videos. They are just trying to show artifacts associated with the war but it still shows bias to those who watch. The memorial itself right above the wreckage of the USS Arizona is more dedicated to honoring those who died.
How Japan views Pearl Harbor is very different. For them World War 2 was the Pacific War and they were trying to conquer the Pacific Ocean. It is not nearly as important to the Japanese as it is our books. Japan has been fighting in a war since 1937 against many Asian countries.
“From Japanese Reddit user Centricflow: “The attack on Pearl Harbor was taught less than a paragraph (from the textbook in 2002). Just stating the event, when, where, and why briefly. And then they had the black and white picture of U.S.S. Arizona surrounded in black smoke, tilted sideways, and sinking in the ocean.”(Perry)
Before the attack, the US placed a series of embargos on Japan on goods and most importantly oil. The Japanese saw this as an act of aggression and wanted to get the first strike rather than wait. They felt they were being backed into a corner and that the attack was a way out(Perry).
These two narratives about pearl harbor could not be any more different. Each side saw the other as the aggressor. It is the start of the war for the US and one of the most important attacks in the Pacific theatre while it is not taught with the same significance in Japan because it is during the later stages of their fighting. We see that it barely takes a paragraph in some Japanese textbooks compared to America’s version which could take pages. A reason Japan might not focus much on Pearl Harbor is because most their curriculum of the Pacific war is about the atomic bombs. It is the event that defined how the world would see Japan after the war, as victims.
When I went to the Hiroshima Peace Museum, one of their first exhibits was the history of the bombing starting from the Manhattan Project. As a foreigner reading it, I felt that it painted a very neutral story of what happened. It started with explaining the research and development of the bomb, then moved on to how the targets were picked, and finally the impacts of the bomb itself. The museum had other artifacts as well such as clothes, personal items, and letters of survivors and victims. Besides the museum, the memorial had other things like the crane exhibit, the peace bell, and the building that stood. What these all had in common were that all the artifacts and exhibits were dedicated towards peace. Peace for the future was what the message you could feel coming from not just Hiroshima but all of Japan. While I was on a bus, I talked with an old man about why I was on this program. The conversation eventually went to the bomb and the mere words “atomic bomb” caused him to slightly cry. I think that his parents were one of the victims in the bombing. It was truly an experience to see someone whose had indirectly felt the impact of the bomb. If this one man has such strong feelings, it says a lot about how Japan as a whole feels about the bomb.
After the allies defeated Germany in the European theatre, Japan was given one last chance to surrender in the form of the Potsdam Declaration which they refused at first. The US saw the bombing to get Japan to surrender so that they could avoid an all-out invasion of Japan. Their original plan before the atomic bomb was to hold mass bombing raids in Japan then invade. The invasion and bombings would have caused more damage and casualties than the atomic bomb. The US had already faced heavy casualties in the both the Pacific and European theatre of the war and did not want any more casualties on their side. They used the atomic bomb as a last-ditch attempt to defeat Japan so they save the lives of their soldiers. This is how the US views their justification of the bombing(Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki).
The major difference between the narratives of Hiroshima between the US and Japan is the justification. The justification for the US using the bomb as described in the museum was that the US had to justify the billions it used on research and development for the bomb and to win before the USSR could join the war and gain more power in negotiations afterwards. This is very different compared to the US’s justification of using the bomb to avoid an invasion of Japan.
As previously explained, we can see both nations have very different narratives on what happened for Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima when the attacks are similar in many ways. Both attacks were ones that were mostly unexpected, had massive effects on the victim country, were major enough to earn memorials, and the fact that we can still see the effects of them more than half a century later. What I realized that through this research is that no one wants to paint themselves as the villain or aggressor. There is this sense of national pride that goes into education and does affect the national identity. By giving reasonable justifications to actions that may be deemed cowardly or horrible to others may change how a person sees it. For example, we can all see that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a tragedy that should never be repeated but question is if Americans and Japanese think that it was justified. We see that with the US’s justifications of saving more lives that would be lost, 56% of Americans think that the bombing was justified. Since the Japanese see the justification as getting their money’s worth from the Manhattan Project and with their curriculum covering so much on how horrible the bomb was, we see the 79% of Japanese think the bomb was not justified. We can see with this graph that education does affect national identity and in turn affect how people view the world.
Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki – World War II – HISTORY.com. (2017). HISTORY.com. http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/bombing-of-hiroshima-and-nagasaki
Rusbult, C. (2017). Critical Thinking & Worldviews in Public Education. Asa3.org. http://www.asa3.org/ASA/education/views/dangers.htm
Pearl Harbor – World War II – HISTORY.com. (2017). HISTORY.com. http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/pearl-harbor
Perry, K. (2017). 11 Weird Facts About How Pearl Harbor Taught Is In Japanese Schools. Ranker. http://www.ranker.com/list/how-pearl-harbor-is-taught-in-japan/kellen-perry
2015 U.S.-Japan Survey Presentation. (2017). Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project http://www.pewglobal.org/2015/04/21/2015-u-s-japan-survey-presentation/