When did World War II begin? The answer may surprise you

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When did World War II begin? The answer may surprise you
Written by CLAIRE LOWE
Friday, 15 October 2010 14:51

International conference at Oakcrest explores untold story of Asia-Pacific War

HAMILTON TOWNSHIP – Oakcrest High School welcomed the international community last weekend when it hosted the Global Alliance for Preserving the History of World War II in Asia’s biennial education conference.

The conference included two days at Oakcrest, Oct. 8-9, and one at the Richard Stockton College in Galloway Township Oct. 10. Speakers ranged from professor Zhang Lian-Hong from Nanjing University to author James Bradley, and included many films, some of which were making their American premiere, as well as recollections from survivors and eyewitnesses,

Oakcrest history teacher Doug Cervi, who gave a presentation during the conference, said the idea of the conference is to spread knowledge about the events of World War II in Asia.

Cervi contends that American history books are very Euro-centric when discussing World War II, with portions pertaining to Asia limited to Pearl Harbor, Iwo Jima, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He said most Americans believe that World War II started in 1939.

“The war actually begins in 1931,” Cervi said.

“In 1937, the Japanese attack mainland China,” he said. “In December, they go into the city of Nanking and murder about 300,000 people.”

The massacre in Nanking (now Nanjing), the former capital of China, inspired the book “The Rape of Nanking,” by Iris Chang, one of the focuses of the conference.

Iris Chang died in 2004 from an apparent suicide at the age of 36. Representing Iris Chang at the conference was her mother, Ying-Ying Chang. She and her husband participated in an informal discussion Friday regarding their daughter’s book and film.

“We know she had a lot of ideas and dreams to make this history and tour the world,” Chang said of her daughter in an interview Saturday.

She said the story depicted in the book is not a secret.

“This story was on the front headlines on the news at the time in 1937,” Chang said.

But, she said, due to the Cold War and the United States’ ties with Japan at the time, the story of Nanking Massacre rarely made it into history books.

Chang also claimed that because of the United States dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Japanese are perceived as victims in the war.

“They are the victims, instead of perpetrators. It’s not fair,” she said.

According to Chang, whose parents were able to escape the massacre, Iris Chang’s interest in the subject was sparked by stories from her grandparents.

“She knows a lot because of her grandparents,” Chang said. “We told all the war stories to her.

“She is very curious and asks why we have to settle in the U.S.,” she said.

After the death of their daughter and upon their retirement, Chang, a biochemist at the University of Illinois, and her husband, Shau-Jin Chang, a physicist there, decided to actively participate in the effort of the Global Alliance.

“I just feel I have to continue her dream to get the message out,” Chang said.

Peter Stanek, president of the Global Alliance, said it wasn’t until reading Iris Chang’s book that he became personally involved with the Global Alliance.

Stanek said the Global Alliance has two principal objectives: an acknowledgement and apology from the government of Japan, and a program of repayment to the victims. In order to achieve these things, Stanek said, the Global Alliance hosts study tours to China for teachers where they visit historically significant places.

“It tends to be a life-changing experience,” Stanek said.

It was Cervi’s participation in one of these trips that led to his involvement with the Global Alliance. In the summer of 2006, Cervi was approached by Paul Winkler, executive director of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, during the annual New Jersey Education Association Convention.

Winkler had recently returned from Beijing, China where he attended the Global Alliance’s sixth conference, and asked Cervi if he would be interested in a trip himself. Two years later, Cervi and Bob Holden, an adjunct professor of history at Atlantic Cape Community College, traveled across the world; and one year later, the two had written an entire curriculum focusing on Asia in World War II.

“They have been very, very supportive at Oakcrest about teaching this subject,” Winkler said.

Winkler, who gave Friday’s keynote address during the conference, said the process of getting the Global Alliance conference to Oakcrest High School was really eight years in the making. But it was two years ago that the Global Alliance decided to bring the conference to New Jersey.

Mary Emilie Steinacker, supervisor of social studies, performing arts and ELL at Oakcrest, said having the conference at the high school was an “incredible experience.”

“I think it opened the venue for the students and teachers in our district to share this curriculum,” she said.

Cervi has made his and Holden’s curriculum available to all the teachers in the district. Cervi himself said he was able to take a lot from the conference, including a video he plans on showing to his classes during World War II lessons.

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story email Claire.lowe

@catamaranmedia.com

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