World War II in Social Studies and Science Curricula

Article excerpt

All educators have a responsibility to create and sustain a stream of memory of the horror of war that carries from generation to generation, Mr. Mayer reminds us.

DURING MUCH of 1996, I had the good fortune of living in Japan and working on a project in global education. While there, I visited Hiroshima several times. To help me understand the Japanese thinking about Hiroshima, a Japanese colleague suggested that I read Hiroshima Notes by Kenzaburo Oe, the 1994 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.1 Visiting Hiroshima and its Peace Park is an experience that educators of every nationality should have. Seeing firsthand the results of modern warfare is unforgettable. Coupled with reading Japanese literature relating to the Hiroshima bombing, that experience helps immeasurably to understand postwar Japan, but it also holds dramatic lessons for what we teach the world's children about war, especially 'modern' war.

Those of us in the West seem to have forgotten the need to impart the knowledge of the results of modern warfare ' and especially nuclear war ' to our schoolchildren. When I was in high school, just after the end of World War II and at the height of the Cold War, we learned about the nature of the A-bomb and its destructiveness to humans and the biosphere. This subject should be a responsibility of teachers at various levels and in several areas of the curriculum. Unfortunately, very little seems to be done in school curricula these days with regard to modern warfare, especially the impact of radiation on human and animal life.

Nuclear War in American And Japanese Science Texts

Just to be certain that I was correct in my assumption and because I am a science educator, I examined eight popular American high school science textbooks for any information they presented on nuclear radiation and the effect of its use in World War II. (For a list of the texts, write me at 111 W. Dominion Blvd., Columbus, OH 43214, or e-mail me at Two were high school physics textbooks. Conceptual Physics, written by Phil Hewitt and published by Addison-Wesley, devoted a page to a discussion of the development and use of the A-bomb during World War II. It included a reference to Hiroshima. In a different section, the text made a general reference to the biological effects of certain kinds of radiation. This is the only one of the eight books that devoted a significant amount of space to World War II and the use of the atomic bomb.

I also examined three high school chemistry books, one high school biology book, and two physical science books (used in the ninth grade). The biology book had no information on radiation at all. The others ranged from a general discussion of nuclear radiation and its uses in medicine to an occasional picture of a test explosion of the hydrogen bomb. Two did mention the Manhattan Project ' but only in a sidebar or on an incidental time line of the development of nuclear energy. The only exception to this almost complete lack of information was found in one chemistry book, Chemistry in the Community, published by the American Chemical Society. It had a single sentence mentioning the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, but again it offered no information on the potential effects of the use of nuclear weapons. None of these books contained any reference to the possibility of nuclear winter in the event of an all-out nuclear war.

It appears that science texts present very little information to American schoolchildren regarding nuclear war. Surely, I thought, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this would not be true of Japanese science textbooks. I was truly surprised, therefore, that a popular Japanese text for high school biology contained no reference whatsoever to the effects of nuclear radiation on organisms, much less on humans. Two Japanese physics texts contained very brief descriptions of nuclear energy near the end of the book. The sole reference to biological effects that I was able to find was the use of radiation in health services. Again, not a single reference to Hiroshima or to the potential for nuclear winter.

I sent an early draft of this article to a high school science teacher in Osaka for his comments. He returned a long e-mail message including the results of a survey of his students and his recollections concerning his own learning about the war and its aftermath:

As a senior high student, I had understood that peace education meant anti-bomb education. I had been taught the importance of peace with the miserable death of our citizens. But that had not meant I had felt any hatred or malice against the States or people in the States. I had mixed feelings, but had felt some hatred against only the existence of the atomic bomb itself, and so did many Japanese students. Because I remember the interview, in his anguish as a person, of a member of the Enola Gay crew. And we know many Hibakusha [Japanese exposed to atomic radiation] had been invited to the States to cure their skin burns, and even under the temporary occupation, soldiers treated Japanese citizenry with humanity and generosity.

The survey of the students concerned what they knew and felt about Japan's role during the war, especially the atrocities committed against other Asians and prisoners of war. I will comment on these below.

Our future depends on reducing or eliminating the possibility of war and on the tight control of nuclear weapons. Our citizens need to understand the devastating effects of war so that they can make judgments on national policies related to nuclear war. Where will the public knowledge of Hiroshima and the effects of nuclear war come from, if not from the school science curricula? Perhaps, I thought, it can be found in the materials for social studies and history. That seems a likely place for some fairly extensive treatment of war and its impact on human populations.

Nuclear War in U.S. History and Social Studies Curricula

Being a science educator and relatively unversed in current social studies curricula, I turned for information to the national standards that were under development in 1996. I found that the National Center for History in the Schools, Social Sciences Division, brought together a series of focus groups and working committees under the policy direction of the National Council for History Standards. The committees were made up of 30 individuals widely representative of historians and history educators. Their charge was to develop a set of national standards for teaching U.S. history.

In reaction to severe criticism of the original drafts of the history standards, the new drafts were further reviewed by additional panels set up by the Council for Basic Education. The resulting standards represent the very difficult-to-reach consensus of professional historians and history educators as to the important content of U.S. history curricula. While that does not mean that the standards are necessarily followed in the development of educational materials and instruction, they do represent informed opinion and so should provide an indication of the types of information included in history courses in the United States.

I examined the standards for any content related to the Pacific War. In the section dedicated to 'the Great Depression and World War II (1929-1945),' the overview of the standards states:

The role of the United States in World War II was epochal for its defense of democracy in the face of totalitarian aggression. Yet students should learn about the denial of the civil liberties of interned Japanese Americans and the irony of racial minorities fighting for democratic principles overseas that they were still denied at home.

There are three standards in this section. Standard 3 encompasses 'the causes and course of World War II, the character of the war at home and abroad, and its reshaping of the U.S. role in world affairs.' To understand these issues, students in grades 9-12 should perform the following activities:

Analyze diplomatic correspondence, legislative actions, and political speeches to determine the reasons for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Why did Japan set up the East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere? How did the United States respond? When and why did the United States cut off oil to Japan? Was this an act of war? Should the United States have accepted the November 10 proposal from Japan? Were the differences between the United States and Japan in the 1930s negotiable or irreconcilable? How did Japan justify its attack on Pearl Harbor? Why did FDR call it a 'date that will live in infamy'?

Draw evidence reflecting different perspectives to analyze within its historical context the decision to use the atomic bomb on Japan. Construct a sound argument, debate, or position paper on the appropriateness of Truman's decision considering various factors such as: the Allied military position in the Pacific in 1945; estimated military and civilian casualties in a prolonged war; long-term consequences as understood in 1945; Japanese surrender overtures; and the probability of Soviet entry into the war.

Using novels, reports from government hearings, and pictures, analyze the effects of the relocation centers on Japanese American families and civil liberties. After reading selections from Return to Manzanar, Citizen 13660, or other memoirs of life in the camps, discuss questions such as: How was family life affected by the camps? How did the contributions of the Nisei Battalion contrast with the treatment of Japanese Americans at home? Assemble historical evidence to explore questions such as: On what grounds did government officials justify the internment of Japanese Americans? Was this an example of racism? What were the Supreme Court's decisions in U.S. v. Hirabayashi (1943); U.S. v. Korematsu (1944); U.S. v. Exparte Endo (1944)? What constitutional issues were involved in the cases: Was the restriction of civil liberties during wartime justified? Why did Congress issue a public apology and vote to compensate surviving Japanese American internees in 1988?2

It is clear that these standards intend for teachers to provide an unbiased view of the U.S. role in the war. They include an appraisal of the pros and cons of using the atomic bomb on Japan and of the internment of the Japanese American citizens during the war.

Unfortunately, the standards seem to ignore the nuclear policies of the Cold War period. Other than an objective that students be able to explain 'the origins of the Cold War and the advent of nuclear politics' and a directive that students be assessed on this objective, I could find no other reference in the standards to nuclear policies or the Cold War, despite extensive coverage of the Vietnam War and McCarthyism.

Personal Experiences Of World War II

Why did I get interested in World War II and its relative absence from the curriculum? After retiring from Ohio State University and after a long professional life spent teaching and preparing science teachers, I got involved in the global education project that took me to Japan. I have met and talked with a number of Japanese science educators of my age and several more whose parents lived through World War II. I also experienced the war, but from an entirely different perspective. Actual combat was never brought to the U.S., whereas Okinawa was invaded by the American armed forces, and many cities of mainland Japan were subject to air raids. The most widely known were the fire bombings of Tokyo and the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It has been interesting and instructive to compare our experiences.

I have followed several controversies between Japan and the governments and civilians of some of its neighboring countries, such as the demands made to the Japanese government for an apology to and compensation for the 'comfort women' of neighboring nations who were forced into prostitution for the Imperial Army. I have also read Japanese accounts of the causes of mass suicides of Okinawans upon the American invasion and learned about private efforts of Japanese war veterans to make known the atrocities committed by the Imperial Army in China and elsewhere in Southeast Asia. I obtained this information through articles in the Japan Times and through bilingual television news broadcasts. As mentioned earlier, I have also learned more about the horrors of nuclear war through my visits to Hiroshima and my reading of the literature from the immediate postwar era in Japan. These readings, conversations, and experiences have given me a deeper insight into the need for and possible content of programs dealing with modern warfare and nuclear devices.

My experiences in World War II. I was born in 1933, so when the Japanese Navy, under the command of Admiral Yamamoto, attacked Pearl Harbor, I was 8 years old. Thus the war was an integral part of my growing up. I lived on a farm outside Mayville, a small town in Wisconsin. My father would take me to elementary school as he trucked the morning's milk to the dairy. Occasionally, he had to stop for gas for our small pickup truck. As a farmer he was able to get a high category of gasoline rationing coupons because the provision of food was an important part of the war effort and because he worked not only our family farm but two other smaller ones throughout the war. Even though there was a constant need for gasoline for the tractor and other farm vehicles, he was able to conserve enough so that we could take our yearly weeklong fishing vacation in northern Wisconsin during the summer. So my childhood during the war years was in many respects very normal for an American farm kid.

Like most boys, I would grudgingly help my father in whatever way I was told. In the spring, I would walk behind the 'stone boat' pulled by Goldie, one of our old horses, and pick up the many small rocks that had surfaced over the winter through the glacial till that formed our soil. Later, after the crops had been planted and had begun to grow, I would walk through the fields pulling up 'mustard.' To encourage me and provide me with a small 'allowance,' my father paid me a penny or so per plant.

In the autumn, I would walk along the roadside ditches near our farm, collecting seed pods from milkweed. Each seed was attached to some silky 'fuzz' that aided the seed's dispersal by the wind. This fuzz was the kapok that was used to fill life jackets for the sailors and airmen fighting the war in the far-off Pacific and Atlantic theaters. Later in the war, during harvest time, I would drive a team of horses to pick up hay or grain from the field and bring it in to the barn. My mother saved grease from cooking, which was also collected for the war effort and used to make munitions in a plant located about 40 miles from Mayville.

Toward the end of the war, I recall seeing German prisoners who were brought to Mayville to work in the canning factory located next to our farm. They helped process the peas and corn grown on our farm and others in the vicinity. I also vaguely remember the day the attack on Pearl Harbor occurred. We were at some type of family gathering at the local golf club, which had a lounge and dining room often used for social events. Someone had been listening to the radio and announced in a loud voice that Japan had launched an attack against the United States.

These memories were awakened for me when I visited Hiroshima two weeks after I arrived in Japan. Whereas the conduct of the war framed my early childhood, the fear of nuclear war and its aftermath was an integral part of my teenage and adult years. I remember hearing the announcement of the atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and seeing pictures in the newspapers. I can also remember studying the effects of the Hiroshima bombing during my social studies class in high school. I had an excellent teacher who knew enough about physics to accurately describe the types of radiation and their implications for human health and survival.

My ninth-grade science was not so well taught, however. The future principal who taught science used the Hiroshima bomb as an 'example' of how matter and energy are distinct physical entities. He taught us the dubious notion that one could not be converted to the other. Even my high school mathematics classes often dwelt on the war. My math teacher had been a captain in the army and loved to talk about his experiences. I'm afraid I learned more about army life than I did about algebra or geometry. In later years, as a geology graduate student at the University of Colorado, I received a personal account of the aerial missions to deliver the atomic bombs to Japan from my academic advisor, who had been an Army Air Force meteorologist during the war. He flew on the mission that helped to target Nagasaki for the second atomic bomb.

My information about the war was all received secondhand, through radio, movies, and newsreels or from others who had actually fought in the war. And all of it came from the American side of the Pacific. Over the years I have read accounts of the Pacific War written by Americans and, of course, have viewed many movies made during and immediately after the war. They recount the battles, the reasons for the war, and many of the surrounding events. I have read about the atrocities committed by the Imperial Army in Nanking, in Southeast Asia, in the Philippines, and elsewhere, and I've seen a representation of the use of Western prisoners of war as slave labor in such movies as The Bridge over the River Kwai. I am sure that some of the information provided, especially during the war, was propaganda designed to bring our nation together and unite it in the face of the 'Jap' enemy. But much was not merely propaganda, as I learned after the war and especially during my stay in Japan.

Some of these Western accounts also dealt with the reasons behind the use of the atomic bombs and the reactions of the Imperial Army leaders and the emperor to the threat posed by atomic weapons. However, some of the Japanese sources of information, especially the dioramas at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial, offered somewhat different interpretations of the causes of the war and the events during it. I wondered about these interpretations, which were much more favorable to the Japanese and quietly critical of American policies toward Japan during the War.

My encounters with the 'other side.' Living in Japan and working with science educators there unexpectedly became an opportunity to recall a very early and formative part of my life, but from the perspective of 'the other side.' In the series of articles that make up Hiroshima Notes, Oe describes the range of feelings in the anti-nuclear movement that arose in Japan following the war and subsequent occupation. He also describes the physical and psychological suffering associated with the aftereffects of radiation.

I also read Masuji Ibuse's Black Rain, a fictionalized tale of the events before, during, and after the Hiroshima attack, told from the point of view of a citizen of Hiroshima who had been working in a defense factory. He describes the physical devastation, the bodies floating in the river and stacked on the banks, the lingering death of those he knew, and the psychological trauma of those who remained alive but were mentally or physically affected by the bomb.

At the end of Aioi Bridge we found a carter and the ox harnessed to his cart both seated, dead, on the electric car tracks. The ropes around the load had come undone, and the goods had been rifled.

Here, too, the corpses came floating one after the other down the river, and it was a sickening sight to see them butt their heads against the piers of the bridge and swivel round in the water. Near its center, the bridge reared in a hump about a yard high, and on what one might have called the crest of the wave a young foreigner with fair hair lay dead with his arms clasped about his head. The surface of the bridge was distorted and undulating.3

The novel includes the following message of surrender by the emperor:

The enemy is using a new and savage bomb to kill and maim innocent victims and inflict incalculable damage. Moreover, should hostilities continue any further, the final result would be to bring about not only the annihilation of the Japanese race, but the destruction of human civilization as a whole.4

I am told that this novel is required reading in almost all Japanese schools. As I read it, I wondered what attitudes it has created among the Japanese. How do young Japanese feel about Americans after reading this book? What attitudes do they take into adult life? Other novels of the war period and after often use the war as a setting or contain references to life during and after the conflict. For example, late in the war, middle school children were required to work in factories to support the war effort. In his novel Ghosts, Morio Kita describes an incident in the life of the novel's adolescent hero. It takes place in the car factory he was working in.

Eventually, early in winter when the B-29s had first begun to leave their vapor trails high up in the sky, this girl who had aroused in me a medley of emotions without ever knowing what grief she caused, left the factory. The girls were being sent to work in a branch factory far away. I did see her once after that, just once. It was during the lunch break one day, as a group of us were walking near the factory gates. A truck which had just finished unloading was on the point of setting off again when a few schoolgirls on the back of it began shouting excitedly at someone to hurry. Out from the factory gates burst the girl I loved, carrying a large but apparently light cardboard box in her arms.5

I would have been about the same age as the novel's hero, perhaps a couple of years younger. How different my life was during the war. I, too, was infatuated with a girl. She sat across the room from me in sixth grade. Like the hero in this novel, I never had the courage to speak to her. But we were in school. We returned to our parents' homes in the evening. We had normal lives. The home of the novel's hero had been in Tokyo, but it was burned in one of the fire bombings by the American B-29s. Both his parents were dead.

In Black Rain, Ibuse writes:

The schoolgirls in the voluntary labor units wore white cloths round their foreheads, and armbands proudly labeled 'School Volunteer Unit.' On their way to the steel factory, and on their way home again, they marched together, singing in chorus as they went:

A rifle in your hand, a hammer in mine '

But the road into battle is one, and no more.

To die for our country's a mission divine

For the boys and the girls of the volunteer corps!

The girls were employed at the steel works, turning anti-aircraft shells on the lathes. They worked in two shifts, and the later shift would be turning shells until ten at night. None of them, I am sure, ever dreamed of the horror that was waiting to descend on them.6

These young girls were completely dedicated to the Imperial Army's war effort, even willing to die for it. This seems to have been the result of the Japanese system of education at the time, in which everyone was taught to fight and if necessary to give up his or her life for the emperor. My work for the war effort consisted of pulling weeds from the fields, helping with the harvesting of grain, and picking up rocks in the spring. But this was only in the summer or on weekends. During the school year, I attended school faithfully, was taken there by my father, and studied under nuns who were charged with my moral and intellectual welfare. My education did not train me to fight and die for President Roosevelt. Never for a moment was I made to fear an attack from either bombers or infantry.

Even more instructive for me than reading was learning of the personal experiences of some of my Japanese colleagues and their families. While at the 20th anniversary conference of the Japanese Society for Science Education, held in Hiroshima, I met a science educator whose family had lived there during the war and its aftermath. Being of elementary school age at the time, he had not worked in the factories. Instead, he was sent to a town some distance from Hiroshima, where it was felt he would be safe from air attacks. His mother remained in their home, about three kilometers from the center of the city. When the bomb fell, his father was at work in the city, and his mother was at home pregnant with his sister. His father was seriously affected by radiation and died three days after the attack. His mother was shielded by the house and bore no aftereffects. His sister was born a week later and has lived a normal life. However, his grandfather was outside and was seriously burned. Afraid of further air attacks, the grandfather crawled into a shelter that had been dug in the ground near their home and remained there for a month.

As I worked with various science educators in Japan, we occasionally discussed their families' experiences during the war. The geologist who invited me to come to Japan is just two months older than I. In one of our conversations on the Shinkansen (train) on our way to Tokyo, I asked him what his life was like during the war. He had lived in Tokyo, but his father had worked for Asahi Press as a war correspondent in Southeast Asia. When the fire bombings started, my friend's family moved to a small town on the shores of the Japan Sea, on the other side of the island of Honshu from Tokyo. He was too young for work in the factories and was allowed to enter lower secondary school (seventh grade) in April of 1945. Those in eighth and ninth grades, however, went into the factories like those described by Kita and Ibuse.

A science educator who works in the Ministry of Education was born in northeastern China. His father was in the Imperial Army that occupied portions of China beginning in the early 1930s. My colleague lived there throughout the war, returning to Japan during the occupation when he was about 8 years old. Another science educator's father was also stationed in China, along the Manchurian border. He was captured by the Russians late in the war. Many of the women in Siberia where he was imprisoned tried to get the Japanese men to marry them. Since Russian men 18 years of age and up had been transferred from Siberia to the Western front to fight the German army, there were few eligible men remaining. The women were lonely and wanted families. His father resisted forming a family in Siberia and returned to Japan after the war to start what turned out to be a successful fish business. He found a Japanese wife and fathered and reared my colleague.

The most tragic account is one I heard from another university science educator. He is the youngest member of a family of five sons. His father had died prior to the war. His oldest brother turned 18 in 1945 and was conscripted into the kamikaze unit following his 18th birthday. The bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6. On August 7, the brother was sent on his mission. One of my friend's earliest recollections is of being strapped to his mother's back as a very small child, when she traveled to the Imperial Army headquarters in southern Japan to object to such a wasteful use of her eldest son. This science educator now spends quite a bit of time in the Philippines and other Southeast Asian countries assisting teachers and administrators. He tells of the resentment expressed by citizens of those countries about the actions of the Imperial Army during the war. Since he works in science, he can avoid many of the questions and concerns, but his colleagues in the social sciences are not so fortunate.

Information in Japan On Its Role in the War

The Ministry of Education and the Japanese education system have been criticized by some for not incorporating sufficient information about the conduct of the Imperial Army into the curricula of schools. These critics feel that, unless the Japanese people understand the way their army treated such conquered populations as Koreans, Chinese, and Filipinos and the way it treated prisoners of war, similar occurrences could be repeated. Though this seems extremely unlikely, the failure of the Japanese to recognize the brutality of their army's actions against non-Japanese during the war does undermine Japan's credibility when it comes to its peace initiatives. Moreover, it encourages suspicion as Japan develops economic initiatives in Southeast Asia. Although these criticisms of the education system may be justified, I did find a lively discussion of these issues in the Japan Times, an English-language newspaper published in Japan.

If I as a young child living during the war in the U.S. was exposed to propaganda regarding the war effort and the characteristics of our enemy, it is reasonable to assume that the Japanese citizenry also experienced war propaganda designed to ensure their hatred and fear of the American enemy. Certainly Black Rain and other accounts of the political and emotional atmosphere in Japan during the war say that this was the case. For example, in an article in the Japan Times, Shigeaki Kinjo, a professor emeritus at Okinawa Christian Junior College, is quoted describing the end of the war as he and his family experienced it. Most died in a mass suicide as the Americans invaded his island.

'What really forced us into the mass suicide was the presence of the Japanese Imperial Army on the island, and 'Kominka Kyoiku' [the prewar and wartime education dedicated to turning all Japanese into loyal subjects of the Emperor],' said Kinjo.

Kinjo said that what was termed an 'honorable death' was in fact the massacre of Okinawan islanders. . . . 'As a 16-year-old, I believed wholeheartedly what was taught under 'education to die,' in which people were brainwashed into believing in the honor of dying for the Emperor.'7

Okinawans tried to blow themselves up, jumped off cliffs, even stabbed or beat family members to death. Kinjo was no exception. He killed his mother while crying desperately. He recalls, 'At first, I had no guilty conscience at all. If we had let our loved ones live in such a situation, they would have been raped, and brutally murdered by 'Kiciku Beiei' [savage Americans and British] ' so we were taught.'

Of course, none of these things actually happened as the Americans took over the island. Okinawans, and indeed all Japanese during the occupation, were treated with mercy and sympathy by most American soldiers. Certainly this was the policy of the Allied Forces of Occupation. As a result of his experiences during the war and after, Kinjo has learned of the importance of telling the postwar generations about the events that occurred before and during the war in Okinawa and about his traumatic experiences. He feels that it is important for all Japanese to do this, to examine why these terrible events occurred. Only by knowing and understanding the history of this war can we ensure that such terrible actions will never happen again.

Some war veterans are also speaking out about their actions during the war. The Japan Times published an article in which an Army veteran, Yasuji Kaneko of Tokyo, describes his regrets for atrocities he and his army unit committed in China. They were attacking a small village in Shandong Province and having a hard time because of the sturdy wall that protected it. The troops ignited pipes containing a gas and threw them into the village. 'As the smoke filled the village, the Chinese soldiers and civilians staggered into the streets in pain. 'We riddled them with bullets,' Kaneko recalls. 'They fell to the ground in a bunch." As his unit then entered the village,

'I was told to kill everyone left, including women and children, because women give birth and their boys would grow up to fight us in the future.' He remembers finding a middle-aged woman and her little child hiding in the back of a house. His superior raped the woman, and Kaneko dumped her into a well and threw a hand grenade into it.

Kaneko says he grew up under the influence of militarism and did not question his values or the use of poison gas until after the war.8

After his return to Japan from Siberia and China, where he was imprisoned as a war criminal, he joined other former war criminals to form Chugo-ku Kikansha Renraku Kai, a group now including some 500 members. They have been taking opportunities, such as this interview, to inform the Japanese public about the atrocities committed by the Imperial Army. They believe that postwar generations must understand this very sad chapter in Japanese history so that such things can never be repeated.

The city of Hiroshima has a Peace Memorial dedicated to the ending of all war. It includes a museum that documents the war efforts in and around the city and the effects of the atomic bomb. In several prominently placed panels, the curators have expressed their opinions about the reasons the A-bomb was used on Japan and why Hiroshima was selected as a target.

First, they suggest that dropping the bomb was an attempt to limit the number of American casualties by shortening the war. Indeed, this is what President Truman argued, with the support of the U.S. Army, in ordering the bombing. The American War Department believed that an American force landing on Japan proper would experience fierce fighting, not only from the Imperial Army but from the civilians as well. It was deemed likely that as many as 500,000 American lives might be lost in an invasion. That would be consistent with America's experience during the invasion of Okinawa. Such fierce fighting on the Japanese mainland would have killed many Japanese as well as Americans.

The second reason cited by the curators is that the agreements at Yalta would allow Russia to enter the Pacific War within a few months. The Americans felt that the war needed to be ended as soon as possible to prevent the Russians from entering the Pacific War and to limit their influence in that region following the war.

The third reason cited is that the American Army wanted to see what the effect of a bomb would be when used in a wartime situation. The idea that this might have been an 'experiment' deeply disturbed me. When I returned to the U.S., I read several books about recent controversies in the U.S. over the atomic bombings of Japan. Most writers agree that the War Department wanted to impress the Japanese leaders with the devastation yielded by the bombs and so ensure their surrender. Perhaps this is what the curators meant.

Another panel at the museum suggests that Hiroshima was chosen as the target because its size and shape were suited to the destructive power of the bomb and that, since the city had not previously been attacked, demonstrating the effects of the atomic bomb would be easier. Only secondarily did the panel suggest that Hiroshima was an appropriate military target because of its army installations and war industry. The overall impression this display created for me was of an attempt to play down the role of Hiroshima in the war, to create doubt about why it was bombed, and to reinforce the idea that Hiroshima was used to demonstrate the power and destructiveness of the bomb.

In a book highly critical of the bombing decision, Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell state that 'a consensus among scholars has formed around the idea that political concerns (i.e., intimidating the Soviets) played at least some role in the Hiroshima decision.'9 Thus many American scholars seem to agree with the Japanese curators as to the reasons Truman ordered the bombings.

Reading this set of explanations caused me to study more carefully the reasons stated by American leaders for dropping the two atomic bombs on Japan. I found that there has been considerable controversy regarding the decision to use the atomic bombs on Japan, especially the plutonium bomb dropped on Nagasaki.

I first became aware of these controversies just before I left for Japan. In 1994, curators at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., drafted information to go along with the display of the Enola Gay, the B-29 that delivered the bomb over Hiroshima. The early drafts, developed by a panel of history scholars, focused on the politics of the decision to drop the bomb, even suggesting some criticism of the plan and pointing out the horror and destructive effects it had on the Japanese.

The preliminary version of the text for the exhibit drew fierce criticism from such groups as the American Legion and the Air Force Association. They charged that it emphasized the suffering inflicted on the citizens of Hiroshima while glossing over the brutality and aggression of the Japanese government during World War II. Eventually, the director of the National Air and Space Museum, Martin Harwit, an astrophysicist, was forced to resign. The plane was on display in the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum from 1995 to 1998. However, the exhibit was very sparse. None of the information about the bombing that had been developed in 1994 was included.10 If Americans ignore the reality of nuclear war, as demonstrated by the fierce political reactions to the Enola Gay exhibit, and if we fail to teach our children about its horrors and our role in them, will we not be asking for a repeat of Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

It seems to me that we Americans, at least as represented by our politicians in Washington, are failing to take a critical look at the atrocities that we ourselves committed during World War II: the bombing of Dresden, the fire bombings of Tokyo, and the nuclear holocaust wreaked on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. At the same time, many Americans criticize the Japanese for failing to examine their role in the war. From what I've seen, I wonder whether the Japanese aren't actually doing better than we. The survey that my friend from Osaka conducted of his students demonstrates a widespread awareness among secondary school students of the conduct of the Imperial Army during the war. He reports that 74% of his 113 students understood the brutality of the Imperial Army's actions in Korea and knew of the presence in Japan of many Koreans brought there for slave labor during the war. He also notes that there is a growing commitment among Japanese teachers to make their students aware of the massacres carried out by the Imperial Army, especially in China and Korea.

The Responsibility of Educators

In the words of General Sherman, my message here is 'War is hell.' It should never occur again, whether on the scale of a world conflagration or a small ethnic war. It is our responsibility as educators, American and Japanese, to bring this message to the students in our own countries just as strongly and effectively as we can. We must also use our influence and professional channels to assist those in other countries to do the same.

It seems to me that science and science educators bear special responsibility. Science has been employed in the waging of war. Science educators have contributed to this effort by helping to prepare young scientists, who in turn helped to discover the secrets of nature that permitted the development of terrible weapons of destruction. We must take the responsibility to make changes in our curricula and in the way we teach.

Social studies educators also bear special responsibility for improving their global curricula. One of the intended consequences of effective global education programs is to reduce the likelihood of war and its devastating aftermath. Citizens need accurate and unbiased information about the impact of a war on the combatants and noncombatants on both sides of any conflict. They need honest portrayals of what led up to a war and of the morally wrongful actions of both sides during the war. Fundamental to this 'historical' treatment of war and its effects is the strong belief that the citizens of all countries must come to recognize the actions of their own countries that have led to war and contributed to misery and hatred. We need to recognize and understand the errors of the past in order not to repeat them in the future.

All educators have a responsibility to create and sustain a stream of memory of the horror of war that carries from generation to generation. 'The beginning of the end of War,' Herman Wouk writes, 'lies in Remembrance.'11

1. Kenzaburo Oe, Hiroshima Notes (Tokyo: YMCA Press, 1981).

2. 'National Standards for United States History for Grades 5-12,' available from National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA,, 1996.

3. Masuji Ibuse, Black Rain (Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1969), pp. 108-9.

4. Ibid., pp. 299-300.

5. Morio Kita, Ghosts (1954; reprint, Tokyo: Kodansha International, 1991), pp. 104-5.

6. Ibuse, p. 193.

7. Tetsushi Kajimoto, 'Priest Recounts Hell in Okinawa Paradise,' Japan Times, 23 August 1996.

8. Tomoko Otake, 'Kill All, Rob All, Burn All,' Japan Times, 26 September 1996.

9. Robert Jay Lifton and Greg Mitchell, Hiroshima in America: Fifty Years of Denial (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1995).

10. Philip Nobile, ed., Judgment at the Smithsonian (New York: Marlowe and Company, 1995).

11. Herman Wouk, War and Remembrance (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1978), foreword.

VICTOR J. MAYER is an emeritus professor of science education, geological sciences, and natural resources, Ohio State University, Columbus. Since retiring in 1995, he has completed research on global science literacy at Hyogo University of Teacher Education and as a senior Fulbright researcher at Shizuoka University, Shizuoka City, and the Division of Science Education of the Center for Research in Education of the Ministry of Education, Science, Sports, and Culture, Government of Japan, Meguro.


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