Same Events, Different Perspective

by BRIDGETTE MCSHEA '14


You’re sitting in history class taking notes about the storming of Normandy. The Allies have penetrated France and are advancing on the Nazis. Even if you can’t recall the specific details about the largest amphibious landing in military history, you’ve heard about D-day before. Most students in America have a basic knowledge of World War II. You were probably taught that Americans got involved in this violent conflict to save Europe from cruel and ruthless dictators. Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be sitting in a classroom in Germany or Japan learning about the same events, but perhaps from a different perspective?

In Germany, teaching the Holocaust is mandatory, but the curriculum is much more limited than here in the United States. Most students are required to visit a concentration camp or memorial museum as part of the class, but the subject is covered briefly because the students have one hour of history classes per week until about the tenth grade. According to Lars Rensmann, a political science teacher at the University of Munich, it is common among young Germans to say “I don’t want to hear about the Holocaust. The Americans did the same thing with the Indians, and the Israelis do the same with the Palestinians.” The attitude which the Holocaust is approached differs depending on the class. In civic studies and current affairs classes in Germany, these dark days are used as a way to teach about their political institutions and about the values that govern life in a democratic society. When discussing current events, such as extremism and ethnic conflicts, teachers use the Holocaust to emphasize the importance of interreligious tolerance.

Japan’s method of addressing their role in World War II is slightly different. This was a defining and infamous moment for the country that they are determined not to repeat. Over the years, there has been much controversy about the content found in Japan’s textbooks. In the 1990s a conservative movement attempted to reform Japanese history curriculum by removing material considered to be “dark history.” Japanese secondary schools focus on the views of the Japanese military, and the impact that followed.

Teaching the more modern wars from multiple perspectives is difficult due to a shared popular memory of the events which causes students to identify to the nation they feel most attached to. Most History classes throughout the world are taught from a nationally-oriented fashion.