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Home > Special Topics > Activity Report Last Updated: 15:09 03/09/2007
Activity Report #6: August 14, 2002

Workshop on Public Memory: An Overview

(This report on the US-Japan Joint Meeting in Hawaii, March 24-26, 2001, is posted with the permission of the workshop organizer)

The Impact of Historical Perceptions on US-Japan Relations in the New Century


Introduction by Chihiro Hosoya

Session 1: Historical Facts and Public Memory: Pearl Harbor, Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima

  • Chaired by Osamu Ishi
  • Papers by Waldo Heinrichs (retired) and Emily Rosenberg (George Washington University)

  • Session 2: Public Memory of WWII and US-Japan Relations in the Cold War Period
  • Chaired by Akira Iriye
  • Papers by Osamu Ishii (Meiji Gakuin University), Takuya Sasaki (Rikkyo University), Heigo Sato (Research Institute of Defense Studies) and Kenji Takita (Chuo University)

  • Session 3: Education/Culture and Public Memory
  • Chaired by Waldo Heinrichs
  • Papers by Akira Iriye (Harvard University), Chihiro Hosoya and Ryo Oshiba, and Daqing Yang (George Washington University)

  • Session 4: Social Groups and Public Memory
  • Papers by Toyomi Asano (Chukyo University), Marc Gallicchus (Villanova University), Haruo Iguchi (Doshisha University) and Frank Ninkovich (St. John's University)

  • Conclusion by Chihiro Hosoya and Akira Iriye

    An Overview

    The Workshop on Public Memory was held at Hawaiian Waikiki Beach Hotel in Honolulu, Hawaii from March 24 to 26, 2001. Scholars from both Japan and the United States had constructive discussions about a variety of academic themes.

    To start the sessions Prof. Hosoya made introductory remarks. Below is a brief description of each session.

    Session 1:  "Historical Facts and Public Memory: Pearl Harbor, the Atomic Bomb in Hiroshima, and the Vietnam War"

    Prof. Heinrichs surveyed the reaction of the Air Force Association and the American Legion to the Enola Gay exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute. He argued that the Enola Gay controversy was about the relationship between political process and contested memory, and tested the hypothesis that AFA's purpose was not to treat use of the bomb as an open question but to provoke thought by tilting the conclusion slightly toward their proposition about their contribution to the Second World War.

    Prof. Rosenberg examined the prominence in late 20th century American culture of Pearl Harbor and sketched the cultural meanings and political context that have become attached to the words "Pearl Harbor." In her argument, she stated that Pearl Harbor provides a multifaceted and highly mediated icon for understanding the cultural and political dynamics of recent American history and policy.

    Prof. Takita argued that memory of the Vietnam War serves different purposes compared to other wars in which the United States engaged because it was a lost war. It caused trauma to the American public, although the impact differed depending on the circumstances of participation. Therefore, common public memory is yet to be established.

    Session 2:  Public Memory of WW II and US-Japan Relations in the Cold War Period

    Prof. Ishii illustrated the fact that memories of the last war were latent or still very alive in the hearts of many Americans long after the war. He proposed that allusions to Pearl Harbor and the Pacific War and metaphors that flourished in media coverage in both countries were clear during the era of tense economic friction in the late 1980s. He described the abundant use of the words of war as the wars of words.

    Prof. Sasaki explored the ways in which American and Japanese memories of the Pacific War have influenced their respective foreign policies in the Cold War years. The legacies and lessons of the Pacific War between the two countries were totally opposite, the United States seeing it as a good war and Japan as an evil war. This difference was seen in the outbreak and evolution of the Cold War and the issue of nuclear weapons.

    Prof. Sato argued that the U.S. criticism toward Japan of "free-riding" on the security contribution is largely a manipulation of a collective image of "free-rider Japan" by government officials of both countries. Such manipulation prompted U.S. and Japan publics to consolidate the image into collective memory, to re-emerge during the 1980s when Japan-U.S. economic friction became severe.

    Prof. Ninkovich argued that a form of collective memory historical understanding was vitally important to shaping the course of postwar U.S.-Japanese relations. He presented a conceptual paper saying that collective memories provide a common identity and a shared framework form which to interpret and deal with present-day problems, as well as a basis for social continuity. From a political perspective, he argued that the manipulation of collective memory has been assuring social control for ideological purposes.

    Session 3:  Education/Culture and Public Memory

    Prof. Iriye stated that historical memory is a product of many factors and consists of a number of layers and ingredients. He argued that one important element in memory formation is pre-collegiate education. He presented his examination of the treatment in textbooks of war and modernization and found that few books are successful in this task. Generally such textbooks engage in crude cultural essentialism, attributing the U.S.-Japanese crisis and war to their cultural differences, not in the modernization and globalization aspects of the U.S.-Japan confrontation during the Pacific War.

    Prof. Hosoya and Prof. Oshiba examined what kinds of historical facts and interpretation are introduced in high school textbooks, and the elements that affected the editorial politics of textbooks in Japan. They concluded that domestic as well as international factors affected the contents of the textbooks and their politics.

    Prof. Ma examined how memories of the Second World War have effected U.S.-Japan-China relations in the past decade by looking at how they create/recreate their memories of the Chinese-Japanese War, the Pacific War, and the end of the war. She focused on the function of War museums in these countries serving memory creation and concluded that sharing memories of war in global perspectives so as to overcome ethnocentrism to promote international understanding is an indispensable task for those who live in the peace era.

    Prof. Yang argued that Japanese and American memories of the Second World War are bracketed by Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, but memories of the war in China may complicate the balance of memory between both countries. Evolution of the triangular relationship between Japan-U.S.-China, as well as a rise of ethnic politics within the United States, means Chinese memories of the China War will have a greater place in America's remembrance.

    Session 4:  Social Group and Public Memory: Ethnicity and Memories of WW II

    Prof. Asano's presentation showed the structure of Japanese memory and the conflicts over the process in which individual memory of the Second World War converted to the public memories in the post-war era. He argued that the idea of "cultural state" advocated by the Japanese government represented the conversion within, since its universally-based concept is the opposite of Japanese imperialism. War memories as victims were mobilized to evoke a national sentiment that identifies itself as pursuant of "peace and democracy."

    Prof. Gallicchio explained that although Japan played an important role in the world view of African Americans in the 1980s, it faded from public awareness. He concluded that retaining memories served no practical purpose for African Americans, even though they emphasized the racial implications of Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima.

    Prof. Iguchi argued the historical significance of Bonner Fellers, Brigadier General and deputy to General MacArthur at GHQ. He examined how Fellers' contention about the need to preserve the imperial throne so as to provide social stability in Japan contributed to maintain Hiroshima's status. He also stated that Fellers' political position in the Republican party also contributed to keep the status quo of the emperor, since success of the occupation of Japan was thought to be crucial to the political success of MacArthur.

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