Is history out of fashion?

I am relaxing a bit after organizing a wonderful two days with what I consider a rock star of WWII Japan-America history. Beate Sirota-Gordon came from New York to speak in Chicago and then St. Louis to discuss her role as a 22-year-old girl on the committee to draft the new post-WWII Japan constitution. Daughter of an internationally famous Russian-Jewish pianist teaching and performing through the Imperial Academy of Music in Tokyo, Beate was raised in Japan and separated from her parents during WWII while attending university in California. Working as one of the few Japanese translators in the U.S., she was able to support herself and, after the War, was eagerly accepted by the State Department to work overseas, which enabled her to be the first female civilian allowed into Japan following the War – and she was then able to find her starving parents and sneak food to them. She became involved in General MacArthur’s committee to draft the new Japan constitution and was instrumental in giving Japanese women equal rights – not a small accomplishment in that male-dominated time.

Mrs. Gordon’s stories are absolutely fascinating glimpses into pre-WWII Tokyo and, of course, she has the inside scoop of the proceedings of that frantic seven days in which the committee had to produce a final draft – why seven days is a mystery she reveals in her presentation. Mrs. Gordon is a gifted and fun story-teller who held everyone in wide-eyed trance. She is a living artifact of history, and yet her presence was snubbed by all the local papers even though her famous parents lived here for many years and her father performed live over local radio. Why?

Is living history not of interest anymore? None of the papers printed even two sentences about this event, and the St. Louis Post Dispatch choose instead to print something about fashion in media in its Events Today section. No thanks to St. Louis media and its fashions, Mrs. Gordon’s event was attended by over 100 people due mostly to in-house publicity by several of the area’s universities, the Japan America Society and the JAS Womens Association. I was relieved that the auditorium was filled and many surrounded her to chat, have their photos taken with her, and ask for her autograph, as I would have been greatly embarrassed by our town’s disinterest if we did not have a good crowd. Mrs. Gordon is known even by taxi-drivers in Japan and has traveled the world giving talks. It is sad, indeed, that our town’s papers chose not to inform the public. Let us hope that death and destruction – and fashion – are not the only things of interest to the media anymore.

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About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), and cats
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3 Responses to Is history out of fashion?

  1. Helen Ginger says:

    She sounds like a totally fascinating woman with some amazing stories. Frankly I don't understand how newspapers choose to run stories. It's one of the reasons I no longer subscribe to our local paper. I was tired of the same fluff and whatever news was in it was old by the time it got to my door.HelenStraight From Hel

  2. I don't know how it looks from inside the U.S. The impression that we get, outside the U.S., is that Americans are generally uninterested in anything but their own country and themselves.That's a horrific generalization, of course — and all my American friends are completely unlike that.But I wonder what your opinion is. Do you think anything like that factored at all into the paper's decision not to bother with this story, despite the importance of this great woman? Was there any of the "This is foreign so it's uninteresting" feeling behind this?It would be such a shame if that were the reason. But I'm with you — boggled that this visit and talk would not have been covered at all. Unbelievable.

  3. Linda Austin says:

    Living in a big country far from most of the rest of the world sure can make us very U.S.-centric. It's not like Europe where you bump noses with folks from other countries all the time. And it is hard enough keeping up with our own big country's doings. Most people that I know, though, esp if college-educated, really are interested in what's beyond our borders.Others complain about our snooty local paper, too. I practically wrote the story about Mrs. Gordon for them, but they obviously felt she was of limited interest here, which is rather insulting. A lot of us felt bad for all the people who might have enjoyed this rare historic event but didn't know about it. People are still talking about how wonderful it was.

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