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Summer 2004 - Issue No. #54 (p. 15-18)

The Original Ground Zero: Peace Education in Nagasaki

by Tim Allan

Kwassui Women's College, Nagasaki, Japan

Teaching English in Nagasaki

Living and working here in Nagasaki, it is impossible to ignore the legacy of the last nuclear attack that the human race managed to inflict on itself. Our university undergraduates are viscerally aware of contemporary issues of war, peace, hatred and reconciliation, living in the decades-long shadow of August 9, 1945. Over the past few years, I have tried to bring together resources and materials to use the event and its aftermath as the focal point of a peace studies-related class for 3rd year students.

The point of using this historical event as part of a peace studies class is threefold:

  1. to encourage language use with a content-based class;
  2. to motivate learners to learn more about their own contexts;
  3. to encourage awareness of past issues in order to see present issues and crises in that contextual light.

In fact, this class is not offered every semester, but the materials and themes have naturally found their way into various other skills and classes across the curriculum.

Last November, my colleagues and I presented ideas and materials about this in a session at the JALT 2003 National Conference held in Shizuoka, Japan. The point was to show how to use resources found in Nagasaki in tandem with methods and materials available anywhere. Some examples included interviews with survivors, video footage, peace readers, tasks and various expansion ideas.

Why the title "The Original Ground Zero"? Partly the idea was to deliberately provoke discussion about the meaning, context, and use of wartime and peacetime vocabulary. More broadly, it was to reintroduce the original, visceral meaning of the phrase "ground zero" in the contexts of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombings, and to conjure up the real horror of the bombings, since nearly six decades of superficial familiarity with the events have dulled the senses of many learners to the magnitude and implications of such nuclear weapons in use.

Some Historical Background

The so-called "Fat Man" bomb exploded over Nagasaki, three days after the explosion of the first atomic bomb over Hiroshima. It was assembled at Tinian Island on August 6, 1945. The U.S. Air Force Headquarters on Guam called for its use the following day on either Kokura, the primary target, or Nagasaki, the secondary target. The B-29 bomber "Bockscar" reached the sky over Kokura on the morning of August 9, 1945, but abandoned the primary target because of smoke cover. It changed course for Nagasaki, where it dropped the atomic bomb at 11:02 a.m. At least 70,000 people died, and thousands more were injured or affected by radiation sickness. Many still undergo treatment of various kinds to this day in designated hospitals and clinics.

Learning From A-bomb Survivors

While the Atomic Bomb Museum in Nagasaki and its websites offer excellent resources, a very effective way to bring the event home to students is through contact with actual A-bomb survivors, known in Japanese as "hibakusha."

One way to do this is indirectly through videos. In class, and in our JALT conference demonstration, we used a city-produced documentary tiled "The Children of Nagasaki" which featured interviews with men and women who were children or teenagers at the time of the bombing. The video comes with a version dubbed into English.

Perhaps more memorable is direct contact with survivors. In past classes, some students interviewed their grandparents and other relatives for home study and task work, often learning of terrible experiences and details for the first time. All the students in our peace studies class worked in groups to prepare and select questions for one survivor, in particular.

They sent questions to Mieko Higuchi, a prominent local doctor who graduated from our college five decades ago, and occasionally visits local schools. She asked that her replies be audiotaped in English. The question-making exercise in itself produced a lot of reflection, critical thinking and lively discussion. The final list included these queries:

Student Questions for A-Bomb Survivor
  • Why did the war happen?
  • What did you think about the war?
  • Where were you, and what were you doing at 11.02 a.m. that day?
  • What did you see, and how did you feel about that?
  • What was the most painful thing for you?
  • Can you forget the shock of the experience?
  • What did you do for other survivors?
  • What do you want to tell the next generations about it?
  • In other parts of Japan, except maybe for Hiroshima, people have little concern or knowledge about the bombing and the war. What do you think about this?
  • What do you think about the idea held by many Americans that the bomb was necessary to stop the war?
  • What do you think about nuclear weapons and testing in the world today?
  • What happened at your college during the war?
  • After college, why did you decide to become a doctor?
  • Did this have something to do with your survival and wartime experiences? Do you really enjoy it? Why or why not?
  • What is your belief or philosophy in your life?

After the questions were sent, I met Dr. Higuchi on several occasions, interviewed her at length, taped the replies, and used them in class and on the final exam. Probably most notable for students was the fact that she condemned the bombing but also strongly condemned the historical role and path of wartime Japan, linking its aggression to the final disasters.

The memorial museum also makes this point, but this perspective was not without considerable controversy. Just over a decade ago, Nagasaki's then mayor was nearly killed by right-wing extremists when he questioned the responsibility of the late Showa Emperor Hirohito for the destruction of Nagasaki. The mayor was also instrumental in the orientation of the museum's narrative perspective.

Peace Education Class Activities

In terms of class activities, such incidents and controversies have led to very interesting classroom activities inspired by or based on such texts as You, Me and the World by David Peaty (Kinseido, 2003) and Discussions A-Z by Adrian Wallwork (Cambridge University Press, 1997). The former encourages such activities as analyzing contemporary conflicts and identifying peacemakers, while the latter encourages learners to discuss what a "war crime" is in terms of international law and human morality. In our class, for example, learners were given a warm-up quiz about peacemakers with questions such as this:

Famous Peacemakers: Guess Who!

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. He used to be a peanut farmer, and later became a VIP in the USA! Now, he tries to make peace between many countries, as well as helping poor people to build houses. Hints: his "real" first name on his passport is "James" and his home state has the same name as a kind of Japanese coffee.

Congratulations to all those who recognized Jimmy Carter and his home state of Georgia!

More difficult was the discussion about what constitutes a crime in times of war, and what an appropriate punishment might be. In class, we often used the nuclear attack as a starting point, but didn't limit ourselves to that - more recent examples of dilemmas and cases have included comfort women, child soldiers, and the imprisonment without trial of suspected Al-Qaeda combatants at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The most interesting and effective means were to progress from pair work to group work to debates and finally to full-fledged mock courtroom trials or other simulations and role plays.

Alternative Perspectives on Nagasaki

Occasionally, a difficult but necessary shift of perspectives was needed. CBC Canada provided a welcome and valuable means to that end in 2002, when their TV program "Country Canada" accompanied an 83 year old Newfoundlander named John Ford to Japan for a short trip back to Nagasaki, where he had been a prisoner of war, and had actually witnessed the nuclear attack from a short distance away.

Let me quote CBC about "Return to Nagasaki - The John Ford Story" which was the resultant TV program:

On August 9, 1945, a Canadian "POW" named John Ford had been a prisoner for over 3 years, since he was captured in the fall of Singapore. In the summer of 1945, he was working at Mitsubishi's shipyards near Koyagi, south of the city, and did not expect to live much longer due to starvation and working conditions. That morning, he looked up from his prisoner work post at the yards to watch what he thought was "the beginning of the end of the world. He didn't really care." After four years of hunger and beatings, he welcomed death. He had long since given up any hope of surviving in the Japanese prisoner of war camp.

After the war, he returned home and never visited Nagasaki again - until the summer of 2002. The one-hour TV special has since been broadcast twice, and CBC has permitted us to make a copy for classroom use.

Lessons Learned

In the cases of both Dr. Higuchi and John Ford, people who had experienced much of the same hell from different sides came through it without lasting hatred or bitterness. Their very dignity and ability to reflect on their experiences in a spirit of reconciliation was a vivid, unforgettable testimony for the students - as was their obvious individuality and vitality. Once again, the value of humanizing an incomprehensible level of suffering and calamity was borne out. In terms of this video, some possible classroom tasks include:

  1. What non-Japanese suffered in Nagasaki during the war? Discuss.
  2. John Ford and his fellow soldiers were treated badly. Was this acceptable or unacceptable? Write your opinion.
  3. John Ford is amazingly calm and free of hatred. How would you feel "in his shoes"? Write a war diary.
  4. What would you say to him, if you had a chance?

Peace Education Teaching Resources

Beyond debates, discussion, interviews, role plays, audios, and videos, there are many other possibilities. Music is always a wonderful medium, and there are certainly no shortage of songs about peace and war. Some obvious examples are songs such as "Imagine" and "Give Peace A Chance" by John Lennon. Less obvious examples include songs such as:

  • Masters of War (Bob Dylan)
  • New Year's Day (U2)
  • Peace On Earth (U2)
  • If I Had A Rocket Launcher (Bruce Cockburn)

All of these songs have been effective in class and, of course, there are many others.

In terms of reading skills for a peace studies class, there are many authentic and non-authentic local texts for use in English or Japanese. These include:

  • The Bells of Nagasaki (1949)
  • Footprints of Nagasaki ('Ano hi Ano toki' 1995)
  • Crossroads (1995:3)
  • A Journey to Nagasaki: A Peace Reader (1998)
  • Stories of Nagasaki (1999)
  • Haikus (2003)

Students can also discuss and analyze the mayor's annual Nagasaki Peace Declaration on August 9th which is available in both English and Japanese. Finally, using CALL classes or home and cell phone (keitai) access to research local groups and sites in English is a method which can be used literally anywhere and is highly recommended. In Nagasaki, a representative but hardly exhaustive current listing of such sites would include the sites on the next page.

The experience of the peace studies-related classes has been a valuable one for teacher and learner alike. If you would like more information or suggestions about any of the ideas and materials from this article, or if you'd like to offer the same, please feel free to contact me. Finally, I'd like to thank you for this opportunity to share my ideas, and thank everyone who attended my JALT presentation, or contributed ideas, methods, and materials to its preparation.

This article is based on a presentation by the author at the 2003 JALT CALL conference in Nagoya, Japan.

Tim Allan is a teacher at Kwassui Women's College in Nagasaki, Japan. His interests include learner strategies, peace studies, and materials design. He is currently the President of the Nagasaki chapter of JALT.

Tim Allan, Kwassui Women's College, 1-50 Higashi-yamate-machi, Nagasaki, Japan 850


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