The Tokyo Shrine That Will Never Find Peace

What’s Left to Salvage in a Monument That Refuses to Accept the Sins of the Past?

The Yasukuni Shrine is an island of calm in an otherwise bustling city. Mature pines and cypress trees surround it, screening it from Tokyo’s relentless traffic noise. Shady walkways, sacred ponds and dozens of cherry trees make it a public haven for the many Japanese people who come here to honor their ancestors.

But if you look more closely, you’ll find clues to the regional rage and global controversies that plague this place. The shrine is dedicated to all those Japanese soldiers who sacrificed their lives on the battlefield since …

More In: Essays

The Writer as Witness | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

The Writer as Witness

Why We Need Literature to Document Atrocities—at Home and Abroad

For a long time, I cringed whenever I heard someone talk about a novel or a poem bearing witness. The word “witness” bothered me. It felt hollow and privileged. It …

A College Founded on an Antebellum Plantation Digs Into the Darkness of Its Past | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

A College Founded on an Antebellum Plantation Digs Into the Pain of Its Past

How Sweet Briar Is Finally Remembering the Enslaved People Who Built—And Were Buried Beneath—Its Campus

Twenty years ago, an equestrian instructor at Sweet Briar College in rural Virginia stumbled over a stone in one of the horseback riding rings. It turned out to be a …

It Takes a Village to Create a Nation’s Memory  | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

It Takes a Village to Create a Nation’s Memory 

Returning Jews and Local Communities Worked Together to Lead Germany Toward Historical Reckoning

In the early postwar years in the German town of Warendorf, no one contributed as much to facing the difficult past as Hugo Spiegel. He was not a learned man. …

When a Violent Mob Stormed Rome’s Capitol | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

When a Violent Mob Stormed Rome’s Capitol

Over 2,000 Years Ago, a Losing Politician Incited His Followers to Riot. It Ended in Death, Destruction, and Civil War

A politician-incited, post-election riot at a Capitol, seeking to block the result of a peculiar voting system, is not news. Ancient Romans witnessed something very similar.

On December 9, 100 B.C., …

Goodbye to America’s Authoritarian P.T. Barnum  | Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

Good Riddance to America’s Authoritarian P. T. Barnum

A Showman-in-Chief Will Depart, but the Trumpian Spectacle Lives on

Shortly before his supporters stormed the Capitol, interrupting the official congressional tally of the Electoral College votes, President Donald Trump gave a speech at the “Save America” rally. He promised …