Lesons of Dec 7 different in Japan and America

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Telling the story of Pearl Harbor can be a challenging task when the classroom has both American and Japanese students.

"It's good they're not judging each other on something their grandparents did years ago, but we do want them to know what happened," said Mary K. O'Donnell, a high school social studies teacher in the Hempfield Area School District (Pittburgh). The district has dozens of Japanese students whose parents work at nearby companies, including the Sony Corp. plant.

Ms. O'Donnell uses a Power Point presentation that focuses on the statistics of the attack.

The presentation includes "a lot of visuals of the actual ships hit, then I put up stats on how many were killed and wounded, and how many ships went down. Then I let them talk about it."

The approach seems to work: "I don't think what happened in World War II impacts personal relationships between American and Japanese students here at school," she said.

The approach is different at the Pittsburgh Japanese School in O'Hara.

The history textbook used by its 100 students contains only one sentence about Pearl Harbor. It says: "In 1941, Japan attacked the American military harbor in Hawaii."

The school, open only on Sundays, tries to preserve Japanese culture for its kindergarten to 12th-grade students. Instructors said they spend little time dealing with the subject of World War II at all.

"The most important lesson about war is, we never repeat and we need to seek for world peace," said Yoshihiko Saeki, the school principal.

Donald Goldstein, co-author of "At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor," said in American classrooms, Pearl Harbor is taught as a cautionary lesson to always be prepared.

"Nobody in Japan talks about it," continued Dr. Goldstein, a history professor at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. "The dropping of the atomic bomb is where their [wartime] history begins."

Dr. Goldstein, who has researched Pearl Harbor for 50 years, said there are still people of the quickly declining World War II generation in this country who have hard feelings about the attack and the Japanese people.

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John Edward Philips - 12/7/2005

World War II is one of the things that students most want to hear about because they are not taught about it. This year I have had a fall off in enrollment but I don't know if that is related to the rise of neo-mationalism. I do know that students don't know much about the war, and most of them seem to think that Japan's problems with her neighbors over history textbooks are unique to Japan.