Tora! Tora! Tora! – Why students need access to primary sources

Published on: Author: blogwalker Leave a comment

A local TV station kicked off the Veterans Day weekend with a showing of Tora! Tora! Tora! With an all-star cast, I certainly do not question why this 1970’s portrayal of the bombing of Pearl Harbor deserves recognition as an American classic. A number of lines from the movie, however, reminded me of the importance of providing students with access to a broad collection of primary sources for learning about World War II.

It is often through snippets of first-hand accounts of a historical event, that students begin to question information – such as the accounts provided by textbooks. As I listened to one of the American officers in Tora! Tora! Tora! explain that the real danger was the hundreds of Japanese living in Hawaii, I thought about a government propaganda clip, Japanese Relocation, that explained (justified) the need to remove thousands of U.S. citizens of Japanese heritage from the West Coast. This government clip provides insight into the political climate of the war years.

But history is all about who is telling the story.  In working on the Time of Remembrance Oral Histories Project, a project I’ve been involved in for that last six years, I find that with each new interview, my understanding of the internment experience deepens, as does my appreciation for war time complexities.

I recently added ten new interviews to the Time of Remembrance collection. Each story is a reminder of what can happen if we allow the loss of rights to any group of people to go unchallenged. Each story is also a reminder that history happens one story at a time.

The additions to the  Interview Archives include first-hand accounts from:

  • Jack Dairiki – Born in Sacramento, Jack recounts his trip to Japan in 1941, being caught there, and surviving the bombing of Hiroshima.
  • Jim Tanimoto – I met Jim last spring during an annual Pilgrimage to Manzanar. Jim’s story is the first in our collection from a No-No boy, a term for resisters. No-No boys answered “No” to questions 27 and 28 on the Loyalty Oath they were required to take.
  • Gary Shiota – Gary explains the issues of the Loyalty Oath.
  • Jim Tanaka – Jim provides a window into the 442nd experience and the experience of the 100th battalion from Hawaii.
  • Roy Sato – Roy shares experiences of signing up for draft and being classified as “4C” – an “enemy alien.”
  • Marion Kanemoto – One of the most powerful stories in the TOR collection, Marion tells of being sent to Japan as part of a prisoner exchange. In later years, with a little help from her law student son, she literally changes history.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll also be uploading a set of powerful lessons created by 12 teachers in my district.  This incredibly talented panel is making available to you grade-level (grades 5-12), standards-aligned lessons that weave in the TOR interview segments. You are free to download, share, and tweak these lessons in anyway that works best for you and your students.

It is my hope that the primary sources provided through the Time of Remembrance site will engage students in “doing history” as opposed to just “studying history.”  Whatever the historical event, all students should have opportunities to construct knowledge and exam differing points of view, and, in the process, gain a sense of what it was like to live through events from the past. The Common Core State Standards support the integration of primary sources into the curriculum because reading through first-hand accounts of any event invites the development of critical thinking and helps students to “distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.”

As for Tora! Tora! Tora!, it just seems that 70 years later, a movie trailer might be appropriate – one that makes clear that actually not a single Japanese-American citizen was ever found guilty of espionage or traitorous activities.

Wishing everyone a restful, reflective Veterans Day:-)

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