by Sheena Sasaki
Can we be ever sure of what we remember, or what we think we remember as the truth of our nation’s history? As one of the living beings in human society, we always belong to some kind of ‘community’ and can never truly be alone. A person may belong to the community of language, nation, family, education, gender, age, and social networking service at the same time. Thus, people can never be uninfluenced by others. Therefore, it is not very surprising to state that our memories are at many times purposely constructed by the others. In his book Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson states, “to serve the narrative purpose, [the ongoing mortality rate, exemplary suicides, poignant martyrdoms, assassinations, executions, wars, and holocausts] must be remembered/forgotten as ‘our own.’” (p. 206)
At many times, citizens of nations are blinded by controlled education system and media. I remember learning about the great explorer Christopher Columbus during my early years in elementary school in the United States. The teacher taught us that it was Columbus who marked the start of the United States’ history and therefore he is the one of the most important American ‘heroes.’ She also showed us a Snoopy animation video which illustrated the ‘finding’ of ‘new land’ and ‘friendship’ between the Europeans and Native Americans. The class was as if the storyteller whispering the tales into our ears. However, I was never taught of Christopher Columbus as an invader, one who enslaved Native Americans, slaughtered, and took over their land. Therefore, the nation, at least the school I attended, intentionally created and taught the mythology of national creation. With this way of education, we ‘remember’ that Christopher Columbus is the key person to the history of the United States; however, ‘forget’ the bloody background as to how the Europeans settled.
This myth-constructing education takes place all over the world. Similar case exists also in Japan. When being taught about the Hiroshima bombing, children are told story of a girl named Sadako Sasaki, a girl who passed away due to radiation by the bomb named “Little Boy,” and her thousand paper cranes. Sadako wished upon the paper cranes she folded during her hospitalization that someday she will recover to her healthy state. Later, she became the heroine of a moving tale, a girl who fought against leukemia and never gave up hope. Today, the story of Sadako is famously known throughout Japan and she represents hope and peace. However, the story does not end as just the moving tale. Her story emphasized Japan as the victim of the World War II, not a fighting actor. Hence, Sadako makes Japanese ‘remember’ the Hiroshima bombing and the terrifying influence of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it makes the citizens unconsciously ‘forget’ that Japan also fought during the war and killed innocent children like Sadako. By the use of child’s story, the nation cunningly victimized her citizens and successfully represented herself as poor and weak being.
In summation, we are forced to have and believe very narrow field of vision from our youth. We are blinded by the parents, teachers, stories, education, and nation sometimes unconsciously, and at many times, consciously. At the level of internationally globalized society, it is possible to break the wall of ‘memory and forgetting.’ However, it is very difficult to change the core believe that has been planted during the youth; the charm of tales by storyteller strongly remains.