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ISSUE 121 VOL 10 PUBLISHED 12/7/2007

Old memorials promote new peace

By Sara Thatcher
Copy Editor

Friday, December 7, 2007

"In the new world in which we live, textual accounts of death have been replaced with visual images promoting peace in the future," assistant professor of Asian visual culture Karil Kucera told students, faculty and staff Thursday, Nov. 29.

Her lecture, "Preserving Pain, Promoting Peace: Learning from the Memorials at Hiroshima, Nanjing and My Lai," was the last talk of the semester in St. Olaf College's global citizenship series "Liberal Arts in Times of War."

The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall remembers the 200,000 Chinese civilians slaughtered by Japanese soldiers in 1937. The Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park memorializes the 1945 dropping of an atomic bomb on Hiroshima that killed 140,000 people. In 1968, American soldiers massacred 300 villagers at My Lai; the My Lai Memorial remembers this event.

Photographs are a large part of all three of these museums, helping to make the visitor present at the event. Because the aggressor often took these pictures, the photographs avoid the often-posed questions of veracity. "Images also humanize the deceased, giving them names and telling their stories," Kucera said.

Physical remains of the past are also important features of the memorials. They are "an effort to make the abstract concrete," Kucera said.

In the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Genbaku Domu remains in its shelled out state to represent the devastating effects of atomic bombs. The memorial at Nanjing contains parts of an exhumed mass grave and the former city walls. The My Lai Memorial includes plaster replicas and dioramas of animals, burned huts and scenes with American soldiers and Vietnamese villagers.

"These physical remains of the past provide an added dimension of understanding especially with younger generations," Kucera said.

The memorials help the global community remember the deaths of these civilians. Bilingual captains are present at all sites, and historical context helps to give uninformed visitors an idea of what happened during these events.

All of the sites have international interaction and funding. This helps global citizens feel included in the memory.

Although these memorials are Western in many senses, they also include traditionally Asian ideals. They are constantly changing. "Continual renewal of the ancestral burial ground is a good thing according to Confucius," Kucera said. Locals often visit these memorials on the anniversaries of the events to lay flowers in remembrance of their communal ancestors who died.

Kucera argued that these memorials are successful in their goal of promoting peace in the future. The physicality of the pictures, physical remains and plaster dioramas put a face on the tragedy for posterity.

All of the memorials have also retained writings from past visitors that emphasize the reactions of the global community. "Most of these writings show a conscious desire to not let the events happen again," Kucera said. Finally, names and stories of those who died and survived "rehumanize those who were once dehumanized," she said.

"If we don't recognize the humanity in others, we won't recognize the humanity in ourselves," Kucera concluded. These three museums promote the humanity of the civilian victims of war and promote peace in the future because the global community is able to recognize humanity in all the citizens of the world.

Next semester, St. Olaf will sponsor a new series, "Civic Engagement and the Liberal Arts," as a part of the global citizenship theme. William Glaston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institute, and Saul Stern, professor at the School of Public Policy at the University of Maryland, will give a lecture entitled "Engaging a Diverse World" Feb. 28, 2008.

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