Trip shows teacher another side of history

Long River Middle School teacher Marina Outwater stands in front of a memorial in Nagasaki, Japan that marks the epicenter of where America dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 during World War II. –CONTRIBUTED
Long River Middle School teacher Marina Outwater stands in front of a memorial in Nagasaki, Japan that marks the epicenter of where America dropped an atomic bomb in 1945 during World War II. –CONTRIBUTED

PROSPECT — For Long River Middle School teacher Marina Outwater, a trip to Japan this summer opened her eyes to a different perspective on history.

Outwater teaches sixth-grade at Region 16’s middle school, which serves students from Beacon Falls and Prospect. She was one of 12 teachers from across America to visit Japan in July to learn about Japanese culture.

“I just really liked the message of peace and how we could incorporate that into the classroom,” Outwater said.

The trip was hosted by the Five College Center for East Asian Studies, which “…supports, encourages, and improves the teaching of East Asian cultures in elementary, middle, and secondary schools, and two- and four-year colleges in the Northeast,” according to the center’s website.

The trip included stops in the cities of Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Kyoto. America dropped atomic bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima in 1945 in an effort to end World War II.

As part of the trip, the group visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and Peace Park, and met with survivors of the atomic bombs to learn about their stories.

The group visited with Masahiro Sasaki, the brother of Sadako Sasaki.

Sadako Sasaki, who was born in 1943, was affected by the radiation from the nuclear weapons and died of leukemia as a result. Before her death she folded 1,000 paper cranes. In Japanese mythology folding the cranes grants you a wish. Sadako is the subject of the 1977 book, “Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes.”

Masahiro Sasaki works to keep his sister’s memory alive and uses her story to help spread a message of peace, Outwater said.

“These people (survivors) aren’t going to be alive much longer. To hear firsthand accounts, to me, that is something we can’t take for granted,” Outwater said.

Outwater said one of the most surprising parts of the trip was how many young children were at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, which had many graphic images depicting the effects of the atomic bomb on display.

“When we were at the peace museum we saw a lot of little Japanese children taking notes, being led through tours. These were children in first, second, and third grade. A lot of what you see in the museums is really very devastating and quite graphic and gruesome. It surprised me to see such young kids,” Outwater said.

Outwater said that is in stark contrast of the way students in America learn about the use of the atomic bombs.

“In America, when we are presenting the dropping of the atomic bombs, we say we dropped the bomb, we saved lives, end of story,” Outwater said. “In America you see a picture of a mushroom cloud. You don’t see people suffering.”

Outwater plans to incorporate experiences from the trip in her classroom.

“The social studies curriculum is a good place to start. I will ask the students, ‘Why do we learn about different cultures and people?’ I will use it as a springboard to start the year,” Outwater said. “We will examine the idea that, as a historian, you need to look at the two sides to every story.”

Outwater also plans to use a more recent controversy surrounding the Enola Gay, the plane which dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, as a lesson.

In 1994, controversy arose over the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum’s plans to display the Enola Gay, which had recently been restored at the time, and pictures of the devastation the bomb caused. The idea was met by resistance from people who thought it gave too much glory to the action of dropping the bomb and those who thought the displayed pictures of the destruction were un-American.

“I thought it would be interesting to do something in English class where we examine this controversy. How do you choose which side is right? This will bring an actual historical context,” Outwater said.