REFLECTIONS ON THE NAGASAKI EXPERIENCE
Miriam College, Quezon City, Philippines
The Nagasaki educational tour is one enriching experience I would forever cherish. I have three major insights from the experience. The first one is that personal testimonies and visits to the vestiges of war have greater educational impact than the didactic approach to learning.
I teach peace-related courses in College and in the Graduate School. In particular, I teach Peace and Security Studies, Nonviolent Social Change and Education for Peace, Gender Equality and the Environment. In all these classes, I teach the causes and effects of war and never fail to tell my students the cost and horrors that wars bring. I tell them that one person dies in armed conflict every 100 seconds (WHO, 2003). I tell them that the world spends 860 billion dollars on the average for military purposes (War Resisters League, 2001). I tell them that while billions of dollars are spent annually in the name of militarisation, 2 million people die each year because of poverty-related causes. Knowing this information myself has created in me some passion to advocate against war in any form. But seeing actual victims of war (the Hibakushas), talking to them, hearing their personal accounts of the horrors they experienced, and touching them, in addition to seeing the ruins of war in moving and still pictures and through actual relics, was an immensely powerful experience that made me feel even more passionate about my advocacy.
My second major insight is that lessons of war are best learned and healing is best attained when accounts of aggression are not concealed but are made known to the public.
The Oka Masaharu Memorial stunned me. Right before my eyes were facts, figures and photos of aggression and violence committed by the Japanese army against many peoples of Asia. I knew of the Japanese government’s aggression during World War II through books I read in Philippine History. But they were mere words and statistics. The pictures of mutilated bodies and countless skulls made me see the atrocities of war in a deeper perspective. But the violent images were not the only ones that stunned me. It was the thought that the Japanese people did not have intentions to distort the truth or hide the atrocities that their own government had committed in history. I know that the atrocities of some of the invaders of our country were not written in many of our history textbooks. I am not sure if the attempt to conceal the truth was deliberate. Telling the truth about and more so, apologizing for one nation’s brutality, is, I think, a courageous and humble act. Informing the public one’s history of aggression allows it’s own people and other peoples of the world to learn better the lessons of war.
My third major insight concerns the power of propaganda and the need for teachers to counter the propaganda. In the Oka Masaharu Memorial, I saw pictures of Japanese soldiers smiling in the midst of skulls and dead bodies. I saw samples of propaganda materials that the Japanese government gave its people that led to the peoples’ support for war. Many people were led into believing the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” catchphrase. Indeed, propaganda does help create enemy images. Propaganda can distort the truth and mislead people into believing that wars are just. We see this propaganda at work today in the United States and in many parts of the world. People around the world have been made to believe that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. People were made to believe that there was a direct link between Saddam Hussein and the Al Qaeda Network. Recent reports belied these insinuations. But this propaganda has convinced many peoples of the world that the attack on Iraq was justified.
Hence, there is a need to counter propaganda. If media and government elements use propaganda to reconstruct minds into thinking war, teachers can very well play the role of deconstruction and of peace construction in the minds and hearts of the students within their spheres of influence.
Indeed, this whole Nagasaki experience made me even more convinced and inspired that as a teacher, I have power in my hands to mould minds and hearts of peace. As a teacher, I can concretely help in building a culture of peace that every human person deserves.
Hence, for this experience, I am sincerely grateful.
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