History Course To Visit Significant World War II Locations In Japan

By Brendan W. Clark ’21

Ruins of the Hiroshima Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall after the bombing on August 6th, 1945.

Editor; History Major 

The Trinity College History Department is offering a new course that will provide students with the opportunity to visit key sites of significant military action during World War II. Associate Professor of History and Department Chair Jeffrey Bayliss will teach the course, and Associate Professor of History Michael Lestz will join the visits, which include stops in Tokyo, Okinawa, and Hiroshima this June.

These sites, added Bayliss, each have significance to the military history of World War II and the experiences of Japanese and American soldiers. Bayliss added that “because the Japanese have memorialized the war in various ways, we can get into questions of historical and political memory” during the course.

During the visit to Tokyo, students will have an opportunity to visit a myriad of significant sites. These include a museum on the Tokyo Firebombing, which occurred on March 10, 1945. The firebombing was “the most destructive incident of conventional bombing in the war,” added Bayliss. Students will also visit the Yasukuni Shrine, erected during the Meiji period to house the souls of deceased Japanese soldiers and sailors who died for Japan. The shrine has a problematic association with World War II history because of the Class A war criminals who were executed and interred there. Bayliss described the shrine as a “flashpoint for diplomacy around the way the war is commemorated.”

The Okinawa visit offers opportunities to visit several museums and gives students the chance to explore the trenches on the southern end of the island. Okinawa is fraught with controversy over the testimony of many who say that the Japanese encouraged and led mass-suicides of Okinawan civilians, citing, among other sources, Minoru Ota and his June 6th, 1945 telegram. The forced assimilation of Okinawans into Japanese society has also been a subject of contention. As Bayliss added, the “ghost of memory about the event is to what extent was it voluntary or forced?” Lestz stated that Okinawa is an excellent site for historical study because it was “one of most challenging battles of the Pacific War.”

The Hiroshima visit, the site of the first atomic bombing on August 6th, 1945, will include a visit to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Bayliss added that the site “gives somebody a perspective on a history we all know from an American perspective.” The Peace Museum has undergone a recent series of renovations and several new exhibits, which will be open by the time of the June trip.

The “first outing,” said Lestz, will have open seats for eight students. The one credit course will start on May 30thand end about two weeks later. Students will have the opportunity to apply for financial support, which will be available through the Michael and Trish O’Neil Asia Cum Laude fund and the Charlotte K. Riggs Endowment. Students need not know the Japanese language to participate in the course, as Bayliss will be able to provide additional English commentary during visits to historic sites and museums. Coursework will consist of a reading packet distributed before the trip, time to discuss and reflect after visits to museums and sites, and a capstone paper.

The initial course was to be team taught by Bayliss and Lestz and was to follow the island-hopping campaign of the Pacific War. The course would have started in Hawaii, stretching to the Philippines, and ending in Japan. This course will serve as a “template” for future iterations of the course which could incorporate other locations.

 Lestz added that the program will give students “a very good sense of the impact of the war on Japan” and Bayliss hopes that students will sign because as it will offer an opportunity to explore the question of “what you tell the dead when you lose” a military conflict.

Students can apply to the program here through March 30th: https://www.trincoll.edu/UrbanGlobal/StudyAway/Summer/Pages/Japan.aspx.

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