History is bound to repeat itself. This is the message of our textbooks, our scholars, our sage leaders. Ladies will work magic to attract men. Kids will test boundaries. Men will crave power and bomb other men to gain said power.
We hope that we learn from the past. That we take the lessons of our ancestors, or even of our own mistakes and use them to better our world and ourselves.
But the truth is, we cannot change unless we give our young people the tools to make the world better.
And it all starts with understanding our world.
Kai’s amazing preschool teacher, Mame, inspired all of the parents to talk to our three year old about death before they actually had to face it in their lives–something I later appreciated, when my grandfather died and Kai had to process his loss, at almost five.
Even with this knowledge, when I was researching Backroads and Byways of Hawaii and was invited to tour the Pearl Harbor memorial, initially I was not sure I wanted to bring my kids. Was I ready to talk to Kai (Nikko was just 1.5 years old) about World War II? Bombs? War? Gas chambers? Atrocities? No.
But I was ready to start introducing him to truths, in order to inspire him to believe in a world beyond war. The kids and I skipped the informative movie and the submarine tour, and headed straight for the boat to the memorial.
I tried to explain the basics about both Japan and the US wanting Hawaii and how the two governments couldn’t agree (something a five-year old gets) and so the Japanese bombed the ships docked at Pearl Harbor.
The memorial itself speaks louder than my words. An essay in white, with openings above to take in the brilliant Hawaiian clouds, the structure is atop the sunken USS Arizona, a tomb, now adorned with coral and tropical fish. A survivor walked through the memorial, signing autographs and tossing flowers from a lei into the sea. People cried. Kids tried to climb the railings.
Strangely, six months later, we ended up in Japan. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I needed to visit the Peace Park in Hiroshima. But as travel writer Jeff Greenwald says, “Strange travel suggestions are like dancing lessons from God,” and so when our tour guide Avi recommended we head to Miyajima, with a stop in Hiroshima, even going so far as to help book our accommodations, we headed south, less than a month from the anniversary of the US attacking Japan.
Unfortunately, our timing didn’t work out to tour the Peace Park, but we were a ten minute boat ride from Hiroshima, and could see the city from the island we were visiting. And on our one night there, I felt it necessary to explain the other side of the story to Kai.
As we strolled through the tourist village of Miyajima, we talked about how the US dropped bombs that really hurt the Japanese people and the land just on the opposite shore; how this was our country’s way of getting back at Japan for hurting our troops. And how this is just like when Nikko hits Kai and then Kai decides to pick his little brother up and toss him onto the ground as retribution.
Kai listened, asked questions, and then when a deer walked past and nonchalantly nibbled at his shirt, he moved onto running and climbing and chasing his brother. Just what I want from my five year old. In the moment faced with the power of history, he witnessed the past, honored it, and easily moved on to the present.
As we approach the anniversary of the US attack on Hiroshima, my wish is that we collectively can teach our young people to embrace truth and compassion. Taking them to experience the reality of the past, without dwelling on it, might be the way to inspire young people to actually change the world.