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Putting It All Together


Most Americans who were alive in 1941 can remember exactly where they were when they first learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For many of those who served in the armed forces, and families of those who served, the Second World War was the central event of their lives--a source of both pain and pride. The following activities are designed to help students understand some of these feelings. They will also compare how opposite sides in a battle differ in their remembrances of that battle.

Activity 1: Pearl Harbor and the Casualties of War
The attack on Pearl Harbor propelled the nation into a war that lasted for almost four years. On the first day of that war, more than 2,400 Americans died; their average age was 23. Have students consider the impact such enormous losses would have on the American public. Then ask them to imagine they are reporters at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Have each student write a short paper describing how they would have covered the news for their local daily papers. They should include information about the surprise attack, the sinking of the Arizona, and the statistics about the casualties. Have students work in pairs to correct rough drafts. Have three or four students read their completed features aloud and then hold a discussion on the attack and its results.

Activity 2: Comparing Textbook Accounts
Using a typical U.S. history textbook, have students read the account of Pearl Harbor. Then have students read the following paragraph that has been translated from a Japanese history textbook of the late 1960s:

In April 1941, Japan agreed to a Japan-USSR Neutrality Treaty in order to lessen the military threat to the north. This was followed by the occupation of the southern half of Indo-China by Japanese military forces. In consequence, the American attitude towards Japan hardened, and diplomatic relations between the two countries came to a dead end. The Tojo Cabinet conducted its business in extreme secrecy, and in the pre-dawn hours of December 8, 1941 [December 7, Honolulu time], Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was attacked and war was simultaneously declared against the United States and England. The Pacific War was thus begun. (Donald W. Robinson, Editor, As Others See Us, International Views of American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1969.)

Ask students to cite differences between the two textbook accounts and discuss why they would differ to such a great degree. Have them develop an outline of the information they think should be included in both U.S. and Japanese textbooks. Compare the outlines and discuss differences in treatment.

Activity 3: Survivors of War
Have students meet in small groups to suggest a list of questions they would like to ask a veteran--of any war. List questions on the chalkboard as each group reports and then have the class refine the list and copy the final questions. Either have students use the list during interviews they set up for after school, or for one conducted in the classroom. (Veterans' organizations such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars, etc., can usually provide speakers who are willing to go out to classrooms.) When interviews are complete, have students compare responses.

Activity 4: Examining War Memorials
The USS Arizona Memorial records the names of the dead on a white marble wall. The Vietnam Memorial is a black marble wall that rises from the ground. Both commemorate the ultimate sacrifice that is often demanded of our nation's military personnel. Have students look for war memorials in their community. Is there a statue? Lists of the dead? A cannon mounted outside a public building? A special type of tombstone used in the local cemetery for those who served in the military? Are there any World War II memorials? What can students learn about their community's participation in World War II from these memorials (names of those who served, number of people who served, what branch of the military they represented and where they served, etc.)?

Some students may have visited Revolutionary or Civil War battlefields and may have pictures to bring to class. Other students may use library books to find examples of war memorials. Have them compare memorials from different wars by listing the materials they are made of, the size of the monument, the prominence of the memorial in its surroundings, and the dedicatory inscriptions found on the memorial. Then ask them to consider why some wars have been better remembered than others. Does the type of war fought make a difference? Have styles of memorials changed over time? Do all memorials seem fitting to the event? Do they feel the USS Arizona Memorial is appropriate for its purpose?

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