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Educational Biography: Pilgrimage into What it Means to be Human.

It seems fitting to refer to the annual International Society for Educational Biography (ISEB) Conference and the work of educational biography as pilgrimages into what it means to be human. From my observer-participant viewpoint, (2) the Conference is a communal gathering of delegates and participants in search of meaning in their own lives and in the lives of those they study. We come together to share insights, epiphanies and "truths" we have found in bearing witness to lived experiences and life stories.

In this essay, I reflect on our work as scholars and students of educational biography. Life narratives, life stories, biographies, memoirs, psychobiography and autoethnographies are accounts in our common and universal human need to know "who am I" and "what it means to be human." I advance the thesis that working in educational biography is an all-inclusive, all-encompassing journey to bear witness to lived experiences and memories from which meanings and values are constructed. Those whose lives we study may be of anyone we encounter, whether in families, schools or communities, in books, in the news media or the social media. They may be living or deceased; heroic or ordinary; about others or about oneself; about real life characters or about fictitious and imagined ones.

My observations are guided by interdisciplinary methods in participant observation studies, (3) autoethnography (4) and psychobiography. (5) In particular, I have drawn from witness testimonies, interviews and oral histories of mass violence survivors, such as from the Holocaust, from Hiroshima and Nagasaki hibakusha, (6) and from witness-survivors accounts of the American-Vietnam War (1955-1975) and the seven-year (1947-1954) communal violence and massacre known as Jeju 4*3 [[phrase omitted]] (7) in South Korea. Finally, this study is placed in the context of an ethnographic analysis of my ongoing "pilgrimage into witness consciousness" which commenced in 2015. I compare the bearing witness processes in my pilgrimage with similar processes in the work of educational biography and the pilgrimage to the ISEB Conference.

A Call to Pilgrimage

The call to pilgrimage I received in 2015 was in reference to a traumatic but formative experience I had fifty years prior. Then, as a member of a Scout group from Honolulu on a goodwill exchange tour to Japan, I was emotionally unprepared to see the remnants of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945. Overwhelmed by images and stories of destruction, terror and death at Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park and Museum, I had a meltdown. I shut down, in a state of traumatic paralysis and numbness for three days. When I emerged, I knew my life journey would take a new direction.

Five decades later, I became aware of a message that was seeded in my unconscious while I was in the altered mind-state in Hiroshima. The subtle, but unmistakable voices whispered: "You were meant to come here to Hiroshima. Welcome. This is the culmination of your first peace pilgrimage. There will be many more in your lifetime." (8)

The voices were now inviting me to embark on a new "coming-full-circle peace pilgrimage." (9) The destination, purpose, and timeline for the pilgrimage were unclear in the initial call. Months later, I identified it as a pilgrimage into witness consciousness, a genre of pilgrimage that combines the characteristics of two pilgrimage types in Phil Cousineaus nomenclature: actual travel to historical sites or sacred spaces and the inward, metaphorical journey, such as meditation, self-study, research, or psychotherapy. (10)

The spiritual or existential quest for self-understanding, wholeness, and community in pilgrimages into witness consciousness is characteristic of other religious, sacred or secular pilgrimages. (11) Moreover these are universal, Jungian, archetypal characteristics of human life journey (12) Similarly, the work of educational biography and the ISEB Conference may be viewed as pilgrimages, journeys and investigations in this common, universal quest to know what it means to be human.

Characteristics of the pilgrimage into witness consciousness were identified through autoethnographic analysis, a form of self-narrative writing that stresses cultural analysis and interpretation of one's own behaviors, thoughts, and experiences in their psychosocial and historical contexts. (13) For the biographer-researcher, the autoethnographic approach extends diary accounts and self-narratives to yield added value for researching lived experiences and memories. For example, autoethnography can purposefully comment and critique the culture and cultural practices, and it can open reciprocity and enable audiences (i.e. readers and Conference participants) to relate to, participate in and contribute to the conversation. (14)

From the autoethnographic analysis, three foundational themes in witness consciousness pilgrimages and in transformative biographical accounts were identified. These pillars were: (1) planetary consciousness which arises from awareness of a "connected universe," (2) the "earth is my witness" affirmation and (3) the process of witness bearing, especially witnessing what is "inhuman." (15)

From the Connected Universe to Planetary Consciousness

Accepting the cryptic, unspecified call to pilgrimage, I followed invitations to present lectures and workshops on college campuses and at academic conferences, and tributes at peace museums and memorial services. In the first year I also interviewed hibakusha, shadowed a research team conducting radiation surveys in Fukushima prefecture, and met a contingent of former American POWs in Japan. (16)

My initial assignment in pilgrimage was to highlight the rise of planetary consciousness in the Nuclear Age. The meaning of planetary consciousness became clarified as I grasped the global significance of the first use of nuclear weapons on August 6, 1945 in Hiroshima, Japan. With this event, the world witnessed that we, humans, have the ability to develop technologies and build weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) that can decimate human civilization and destroy the planet. Furthermore, by actually dropping the bomb, we demonstrated beyond doubt that we possess the desire and the will to use these weapons for those destructive purposes. Yet, concurrently, the atomic bombing of Hiroshima also awakened planetary peace consciousness, expressed in the city's Declaration of Peace:
"... [On August 6, 1945,] Hiroshima turned into a city of death and
darkness . . . [But now,] mankind must remember that August 6 was a day
that brought a chance for world peace. This is the reason we are now
commemorating that day by solemnly inaugurating a festival of peace,
despite the limitless sorrow in our minds. For only those who most
bitterly experienced and came to know most completely the misery and
the guilt of war can utterly reject war as the most terrible kind of
human suffering, and ardently pursue peace... Let us join to sweep away
from this earth the horror of war, and to build a true peace." (17)

Hearing voices, such as the call to pilgrimage, helped me to understand planetary consciousness. For example, I gave the title "gratitude of the souls" to a repeated experience when arriving in Hiroshima. Sometimes it was when I stepped off the shinkansen onto the train platform and other times, it was on the 40-minute airport shuttle bus ride into the city:
A cloud-like wave of feeling comes over me. I recognize these are the
souls of those who perished here. I feel their hurt, their pain, their
cries. But also their gratitude, compassion, and hope. The souls say,
"Thank you for coming to Hiroshima and remembering us.' (18)

Although I questioned whether the voices were created out of my imagination, hallucination, or other distorted perception, several Hiroshima residents assured me. "When you go back to America," said a professor at a local University, "... or wherever you go, be sure to tell that story, because thai is what Hiroshima is all about." (19)

Rumi Hanagaki was five years old when the bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. In recent years, she hears voices at the Peace Park. Voices come from the ground, she explains. She kneels down, turns her ear downward or scoops some dirt and brings it to her ears. The voices say, "Hello Rumi, how are you today?" Rumi tells young audiences at schools and churches: "When you go to the Peace Park, listen to the ground, pick up some dirt. Maybe, you will hear these voices too!" (20)

Miyoko Matsubara, a hibakusha, spoke to a class I brought to Japan. She greeted the class with a deep bow that sent chills up my back. In Japanese tradition, the lower and longer the bow, the greater the gratitude. When she finishes, the class applauds. She made more deep bows. We stood up and bowed back. She bowed lower. Nothing but gratitude. David Krieger's poem tells how Miyoko Matsubara's bow reverberated world-wide:
She bowed deeply. She bowed deeper than the oceans.
She bowed from the top of Mt. Fuji to the bottom of the ocean.
She bowed so deeply and so often that the winds blew hard...
In some places there were some people who thought they heard an apology.
In other places there were people who thought they heard a prayer...
She bowed deeply. She bowed more deeply than anyone should bow. (21)

Planetary consciousness involves openness to receiving messages from unexpected sources, and discerning the communication, hearing the messages and allowing the new meanings. The openness and empathy lead first to recognition, knowing, and validation; then to a sense of genuineness, connectivity, communitas, and healing.
When we are able to listen--to the hibakusha stories or to the spirit
voices--something happens: Our hearing them helps heal their hurting.
Hearing them also helps dissolve rage and inclinations toward violence.
It brings peace. When they say, "thank you for listening and
remembering us," this in turn heals us." (22)

This collective consciousness seems rooted in knowledge of the dark and destructive human capacities witnessed in the birth of the Nuclear Age. Planetary consciousness is the awareness of the connected universe, the recognition of interdependence and interconnection of all: All of humanity, all of nature, all the energies in the universe. It is multidimensional: Spiritual, emotional, and bodily, as well as intellectual. (23)

Hiroshima and Nagasaki are considered sacred places, as are many other sites of profound suffering on the planet. Even though the lingering voices of Hiroshima contain much sorrow and suffering, they also bring comfort, reassurance and strength. Genuine hope and endless compassion emanate for all to experience. This is the gift of peace, part of the planet-wide, collective consciousness which has been rising since the first atomic bombs were dropped. (24)

Based on the awareness of the interconnected, interdependent universe, the development of planetary consciousness opens new channels to receive messages from multidimensional sources, including the earth and spirit voices, (25) and avenues to transcendent values like the "gratitude in spite of limitless sorrow" expressed in Hiroshima's Peace Declaration, (26) or Viktor Frankls "tragic optimism" in Man's Search for Meaning:
"I sensed my spirit piercing through the enveloping gloom. I felt it
transcend that hopeless, meaningless world, and from somewhere I heard
a victorious "Yes" in answer to my question of the existence of an
ultimate purpose."

The Earth-is-My-Witness Affirmation

The earth-is-my-witness affirmation is the second foundational theme in witness consciousness pilgrimages and in transformative biographical accounts. "The earth is my witness" is an important direction in contemporary mediation practice, but is historically-anchored in Gautama Buddha's statement in the sixth century BCE. (28)

Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha-to-be, sat under a bodhi tree, in meditation until he achieved enlightenment. As told in the traditional stories, the demon Mara demanded to know who would testify that Siddhartha was worthy of attaining ultimate wisdom. In contemporary psychological terms, Mara represents subjective (invisible) interior voices within, not an external entity. They are inner demons that give rise to feelings of worthlessness, guilt and shame; emotions that engender doubt that one is authentic, and whether one deserving of human status and rights. (29)

Gautama reaches down, and with his finger, touches the earth, calling it to bear witness to the countless lifetimes, his own and others, that had led him to this place of enlightenment.
He says: "The earth is my witness. Mara, you are not the earth. The
earth is right here beneath my finger," and the earth is what we are
talking about. Accepting the earth, not owning the earth, not
possessing the earth, but the earth just as it is, abused and exploited
and despised and rejected and, plowed and mined and shat on and
everything else, you know. It's still the earth, and it is, we owe
everything to it. (30)

The Buddha's remark is about the personal and subjective knowing that "I am completely dependent on this Earth for my existence. The earth witnesses and accepts everything I experience, including all forms of suffering." (31) This insight is significant because this is the realization that the earth witnesses and unconditionally validates one's inherent value and dignity. To know this makes it possible for me to face my pain, losses, fears, and struggles. I can allow the feelings of worthlessness and metaphorically hold them without shame and absent disgrace. These feelings will not annihilate me. (32)

The meanings of the-earth-is-my-witness reverberated inside me throughout my Buddha-Circuit Pilgrimage, (33) especially in Bodhgaya, the site of Buddha's enlightenment. The earth seemed to shake as I sat in meditation, under the re-planted bodhi tree near the spot where Buddha sat. Although the busy stream of Indian and international pilgrims passing by appeared distracting at first glance, the pacing and chanting seemed to amplify the climate of deep knowing and gratitude that the earth is my witness... the earth is our witness. In my journal, I summarized how the "earth-is-my-witness affirmation" works:
The earth-is-my-witness affirmation guides me to acknowledge my place
on the earth. It allows me to be aware of how the earth holds my body,
and how it allows and knows all that I am thinking, feeling, sensing
and experiencing, including my burdens, pains and difficulties. It
permits me to release and drain the tensions and heaviness of my
struggles back to the earth. The earth graciously accepts my doing so.
With the earth as my witness, I can sit in a centered and mindful
clarity. (34)

This mindful clarity achieved through the earth-is-my-witness affirmation is a glimpse into the life-long existential quest to know who am I and what it means to be human. As such, the earth-is-my-witness affirmation serves as a tool for biographers seeking to understand how those they study (the subjects) find and make meaning in their lives.

Bearing Witness to the Inhuman

The third pillar in witness consciousness pilgrimages and in many life narratives is summarized in Giorgio Agambens observation that "human beings are human insofar as they bear witness to the inhuman." (35) Agambens conclusion is from Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, (36) in which he examined the narratives and testimonies of survivors at the death camp.

Since the Holocaust, historians, psychiatrists, and human rights scholars have used the term bearing witness to describe this process of retrieving, literally "re-collecting" and testifying about difficult memories, such as memories of atrocities, brutality, dehumanization, and traumas. (37)

Agambens statement is both an existential declaration of what it means to be human, and an invitation to claim one's humanness by bearing witness to the full spectrum of human experiences, especially the unbearable and unthinkable. Paradoxically, the measure of one's humanness is the extent to which one bears witness to the inhuman.

Mahatma Gandhi expressed a similar call a generation earlier. "To see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face," he wrote, "one must be able to love the meanest of creation as oneself." (38)

Both statements, to "bear witness to the inhuman" and "to love the meanest of creation as oneself," are invitations, if not imperatives, to face and acknowledge the unbearable atrocities, brutalities, nightmares and unthinkable suffering which haunt us in our closeted memories, hidden traumas, and unreconciled historical pasts. They involve opposing the "ordinary response to atrocities ... to banish them from consciousness," (39) and facing the darkest human traits we do not want to know about, especially in ourselves.

To bear witness is to journey into the terrain of profound suffering, where the dignity of one's being is questioned and under assault, where the meaning and value of one's life and existence are being erased. (40) The inhuman refers to violence to one's body, mind or psyche, where one is denigrated, demonized, and viewed and treated as subhuman. Thinking is confused, perceptions and emotions are blocked, and the capacity to make meaningful decisions is disrupted." (41) This dehumanization can lead to the numb, catatonic state among the most brutally tortured prisoners at Auschwitz who Agamben described as Musselman. (42) These violations "so destroy the essence of innocence, decency and life itself [such] that the experience penetrates beyond comprehension and words." (43)

To bear witness to the inhuman in pilgrimages means facing the atrocities, dehumanization, and crimes against humanity committed at sites of profound suffering. I drew examples of bearing witness to the inhuman from memorial museum exhibits and oral history accounts at two massacre sites which marked milestone anniversaries in 2018: In Vietnam, March 16, 2018 was the fiftieth anniversary of the My Lai Massacre, and on Jeju Island in the Republic of Korea, a memorial service on April 3, 2018 commemorated the seventieth anniversary of the brutal seven-year bloodbath (1947-1954) known as the Jeju 4*3 Events.

In the My Lai Massacre, U.S. Army soldiers killed over 500 villagers in several hours on March 16, 1968. The unit of 105 men had been told that a contingent of Viet Cong was waiting for them in the village. Even though they did not encounter any hostile fire, the men and their leaders murdered almost the entire village of old men, women, children and infants. Many women and girls were raped before they were shot. (44)

The Jeju 4*3 Events began on March 1, 1947, when police killed unarmed demonstrators at an Independence Movement rally on Jeju Island. This was followed by protests about police brutality, and then police retaliation. Attacks on government offices, police stations, and polling centers across Jeju Island on April 3, 1948, led to more killing. (45) Ultimately, over 30,000 islanders, 10% of Jeju Island's population, were killed. But even after the violence ended, the South Korean government outlawed public discussion of the massacre for 45 more years. (46)

In the context of pilgrimage, witness-bearers include those who visit the sites, museums or memorials that commemorate the historic event, and those who were present in the historic event and can describe their first hand-experiences and memories. Visitors or tourists to the Son My Memorial and the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park are witness-bearers. In pilgrimage, they bear witness when they learn about the historical event, and listen to the narratives and stories there. To bear witness involves keen observation and empathic listening, such that the observer-listener feels as though I experience, if virtually, what the speaker is describing, as if I were experiencing the memory or trauma that the person is describing. To bear witness involves deep empathy which means "to think and feel oneself into the inner life of another person." (47) In deep empathy, the duality of self and non-self shifts to a direct intersubjective knowing. Thich Nhat Hanh (48) identifies this form of knowing as "interbeing," referring to the interconnectedness of everything in the universe. Carl Rogers describes this deep empathy as a process whereby "it seems that my inner spirit has reached out and touched the inner spirit of the other. Our relationship transcends itself and becomes a part of something larger." (49)

In the bearing witness process at the Son My Memorial or the Jeju 4*3 Peace Park, visitors may experience intersubjective knowing. For example, at the Son My Memorial, the witness-bearer is struck by the serene and beautiful tropical countryside juxtaposed against the museums photo exhibits showing the US soldiers' ruthlessness. The photos depict the gruesome scene: villagers in terror, charred bodies, corpses covered with blood, intestines spilling out. (50)

Similarly at the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park, the visitor is mystified and overwhelmed by the chaotic madness of the unstoppable cycle of terror and counter-terror. (51) With 30,000 Jeju islanders killed, I am puzzled: Why do the media and the official government investigation refer to this seven-year slaughter euphemistically as the Jeju 4.3 Incident, instead of calling it a civil war, revolt, massacre, or genocide? The museum guides explain that organizers and members of the National Committee for Investigation of the Truth About the Jeju 4.3 Incident could not reach consensus about the name of the Jeju 4.3 events. (52)

In the role of witness-bearer, the visitor to the Son My Memorial or the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park, may listen to the narratives and stories there, and personally identify with them as though "I was there" on the scene, and as if "I were they," the participants in the historic event.

For the My Lai Massacre and the Jeju 4.3 Events, the first-hand witness-bearers were those who were present in the historic event, survived it, and were able to recall and report their experiences. They included not only the villagers (i.e., unarmed civilians, the elderly, women and children) who survived the assaults, but also the soldiers, militia and police who attacked them. (55) Their bearing witness narratives have been shared in the museum exhibits, in video recordings, in oral history documents, and in live talks and presentations.

At the fiftieth anniversary of the My Lai Massacre, several villagers who witnessed the 1968 event participated the Memorial Service. Pham Thi Thuan, who was 35 at the time of the Massacre, now describes her hopeful sense of reconciliation: "Today, the Vietnamese and Americans people cooperate to make friendship... As we do that, we try to make sure there are no more massacres." (54)

Pham Thanh Cong, the retired director of Son My Memorial, lost his mother, three sisters, and a six-year-old brother, when the soldiers threw a grenade into the thatch roofed home where the family was huddled. Cong survived because the bodies of his dead family members shielded him. Throughout the decades, Cong continued to ponder why the soldiers followed the orders, and still repeated, "I will never forget the pain." (55) On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the massacre, he said, "We love them [the American people]. Thanks to them we have liberation today because they protested against the war... I cannot forget they killed people here, but we try to forgive them and look forward to the future." (56)

Listening to the stories, the testimonies and oral history narratives told by the first-hand witness-survivors enables the visitor to bear witness to the inhuman. Survivors of Jeju 4.3 shared their experiences with museum visitors. Ko Wan-soon, now age 79, lived through a massacre in the island's northern Bukchon Village. There, 398 people were shot dead within two days, the second-largest number of victims in Jeju. On the afternoon of December 19, 1949, nine-year-old Ko, along with her mother, older sister and younger brother was summoned to Bukchon Elementary School. "I stood up to see what's going on, and was beaten by a soldier. At that moment, I heard a series of gunshots and saw seven to eight men collapse," Ko reports. (57)

For most soldiers who took part in the massacres, it is almost impossible to think "I did something wrong in the situation." It is rare when soldiers can describe their own thinking and emotions as they killed. In a Yorkshire Television interview twenty years after the My Lai Massacre, Vernado Simpson reveals what went through his mind:
That day in My Lai, I was personally responsible for killing about 25
people. ... From shooting them, to cutting their throats, to scalping
them, to cutting off their hands, and cutting out their tongues, I did
that... I just lost all sense of direction, of purpose. I just start
killing any kinda way I could kill. It just came. I didn't know I had
it in me...after I killed the child, my whole mind just went... Once
you kill, it becomes easier to kill the next person, and the next one,
and the next one. Because I had no feelings, no emotions, or no
nothing...No direction. I just killed. (58)

This video interview is difficult for any audience to watch and hear. For Simpson it was unbearable to live with himself and to live with harm that he caused. He had already attempted suicide three times before this interview. And he did take his own life less than a year after this 1998 interview.

Simpsons photo is displayed in the Son My Memorial Museum, as if to recognize his courage to bear witness to the darkest part of his life and to share his struggle in public. To bear witness to Simpsons irreconcilable anguish is to painfully recognize one's own vulnerability. Simpson's narrative teaches what goes on in one's mind the moment one loses humanness. I too could lose my humanness in an instant, as Simpson witnessed "my whole mind just went." (59)

From a phenomenological viewpoint, there are no true witness-bearers to testify or report on the experience of being killed in the Massacre. Those who survived are considered imperfect proxies to those who experienced the killing and death itself. (6) " Hence the proxy witnesses--the survivors and their descendants, observers, reporters, and scholars--carry the impossible responsibility of providing testimony about the ultimate death experience which they did not experience firsthand. (61)

Recogn izing the imperfection of the testimony underscores the insanity and the inhumanness. But actively listening to and acknowledging the memories of the experience have the effect of bestowing an "existential legitimacy" and honor to the experiencers themselves and to those telling about the experiences on their behalf. "There are times ... when the highest honor, the greatest love is paid to another by simply bearing witness to his or her experience." (62)

Bearing witness to the inhuman at sites of profound suffering confirm and validate how those present experienced the events and made meaning about the experience. On the one hand, photographs, artifacts and remnants the site provide concrete evidence for an objective, evidence-supported understanding of the chronicle of events. But on the other hand the interpretations, significance, values, and meanings made about the historical events are known through the oral histories, the survivor-witness interviews, narratives and testimonies. To bear witness to the inhuman is to face the truth of the unimaginable and unthinkable. What is revealed may be morally unconscionable, cognitively unbelievable, and psychically unbearable as witness bearers come to know and accept the "is-ness" of experience and memory, even as the narratives violates expectations and ethical imperatives of "what should be." Authenticating and "owning these truths" affirm and honor suffering as a valid, albeit difficult, human experience. (63)

Healing, Wholeness and Connectedness

As sites of mass suffering, memorial parks and museums such as the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Son My Memorial and Museum, and the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park are haunting, somber, and moving for those who are open to bearing witness. Sites of profound suffering can also have psychic and spiritual healing effects. For US veterans of the war in Vietnam such as Bob Cagle, the pilgrimage to the Son My Memorial helps to heal from the war trauma. Cagle wrote in his journal:
"The spirits of the dead were there that day in My Lai. They were
sorrowful for the loss of their family members and the people they grew
up with. They seemed to have found peace of heart. None were angry or
mad...The spirit of the entire village was one of peace, forgiveness,
and love for humanity... For me, this is the most peaceful place on
earth." (64)

When I returned to the the Son My Memorial on the day after the fiftieth anniversary My Lai Massacre memorial service, the site was still and serene. It was a sunny day. For a while I was the only "living" human being on the grounds. In front of a marker for a family home, a butterfly performed an intimate aerial ballet less than two meters away from me. She continued to dance in semi-rhythmic loops, curves and weaving patterns even as I lifted my video camera to record her. It took my breath away. I sensed that she, like the earth, had witnessed what happened the day before at the Anniversary Memorial Service, but also carried the memory of the Massacre fifty years ago. Like Hiroshima's Peace Declaration "solemnly inaugurating a festival of peace, despite ... limitless sorrow," this butterfly was doing a "peace ballet" to be shared openly on YouTube.

Kieu Phan, a tour guide at My Lai, walked our group along the irrigation ditch where 170 villagers were murdered. She stops. She lowers her head in a tribute. Holding back tears, she tells us that her mother, then 17 years old, was among those in the ditch, but survived because she was left for dead in the pile of bodies. Kieu's prayer-tribute was a witness-bearing ritual, not only for herself, but for us on her tour. Standing alongside Kieu, I felt like a "co-witness" to the event, sensing a connection with Kieu, with her mother and with the souls of those who died there. This moment felt like a vast knowing of what it means to be in communitas with the human family as a whole. (67)

For Kieu, working at the Son My Memorial and Museum has been a daily pilgrimage and daily memorial service, that brings healing to herself, to her family and to the visitors.
I can feel my family's restless spirit crying out to me from the other
world ... My doctor and husband tell me, 'Too much war. It is not good
for you.' But it is my duty to tell the story of their last day for my
entire life. It is the only way I can discover to give their death any
purpose." (68)

At the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of the Massacre in 2018, Kieu, now promoted to vice-director of Son My Memorial and Museum, was overflowing with awe and gratitude in her farewell to our American delegation. "Thank you so much for your presence at My Lai this morning," she exuded, "I love your presence here very much. You come from a very far country, thinking about My Lai victims." (69)

To bear witness to the inhuman, following Agamben, (70) means furthering what it means to be human. It opens the door, per Gandhis insight, "to see the universal and all-pervading Spirit of Truth face to face." (71) The themes in witness consciousness pilgrimage mirror the processes and insights in biographers' work to bear witness to lived experiences and memories and what they mean. Planetary consciousness, awareness of the connected universe, and knowing "the earth is my witness," are worldview- and self-concept-paradigms which affirm humanness for those witnessing, remembering and reporting on the lived experiences, and for those listening to the oral histories and witness narratives. The listeners are reliving and reexperiencing of the event alongside the speaker as the co-witness bearer. The listeners also become partners, together with the speaker-witness(es), in the struggle to go beyond the event, and not be submerged and lost in it. (72)

Such awareness makes it possible to bear witness to inevitable hurt and suffering in the world--from disorienting dilemmas to inner turmoil to the morally chaotic, barbaric and inhuman. The difficult work to bear witness to the inhuman can proceed in a safe space where the enduring sense of dignity for what it means to be human value is felt, known and appreciated. These ongoing and recursive processes open subsequent processes of personal and collective healing and reconciliation, and the rebuilding of the community.

"Bearing witness to history liberates us emotionally and mentally" Robert Jay Lifton explained. (73) Bearing witness contributes to the process of social healing, enabling individuals, communities and nations to at least partially relieve past and present wounds. This healing involves cultivating health by seeking historical truths, reconciliation, restorative justice, while simultaneously addressing and attending to physical, emotional, spiritual, and interpersonal wounds. (74)

The biographer's tools for promoting a supportive climate which facilitates healing are open-minded observation, mindful attentiveness, and empathic, non-judgmental listening. Witness consciousness involves holding space with quietude that allows traumatic experiences and memories to be seen, known and understood in the paradigm of wounding and healing. This collective healing enables individuals, communities and nations to relieve personal and societal wounds and traumas. It can also soften transgenerational trauma, restore the dignity that was shattered, and return wholeness to self. Listening is a means of holding space that makes the pain and trauma gradually bearable and faceable. The emotional burden may be lightened and the dissolving of wounds may progress. (75)

Our work in biographies and life-narratives are journeys, even pilgrimages, into witness consciousness. This kind of journey is more than a tourists adventure. As an outward journey, one is a student in a living history classroom; an international diplomat searching for an end to warfare, extreme violence and crimes against humanity; and a psychologist tending unhealed wounds and traumas. As an interior journey, it is part of the life-long quest to know who am I and what it means to be human.


(1) This essay was presented in an abbreviated version as the Presidential Address at the 36th Annual ISEB (International Society for Educational Biography) Conference, April 12, 2019 in San Antonio, Texas USA.

(2) Danny L. Jorgensen, "Participant observation," Emerging trends in the social and behavioral sciences: An interdisciplinary, searchable, and linkable resource (2015): 1-15.

(3) Ibid.

(4) Carolyn Ellis and Arthur P. Bochner, "Autoethnography, Personal Narrative, Rellexivity: Researcher as Subject," in The Handbook of Qualitative Research, ed. Norman Denzin & Yvonna Lincoln, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage 2000), 733-768.

(5) William Todd Schultz and Stephanie Lawrence, "Psychohiography: Theory and Method." American Psychologist, 72, no. 5 (2017): 434-45. doi:10.1037/amp0000130.

(6) Hibakusha arc witness-survivors of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. The literal translation is "explosion-affected people."

(7) In Korean, [phrase omitted], Jeju sa-sam.

(8) Roy Tamashiro, "Peace Pilgrimage as Transformative Learning and Identity Redefinition," in Pilgrimage as Transformative Process: The Movement from Fractured to Integrated, ed. Heather A. Warfield and Kate Hetherington (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 48.

(9) Ibid., 46.

(10) Phil Cousineau, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker's Guide to Making Travel Sacred (Newburyport: Conari, 2012).

(11) Alan Morinis, Sacred Journeys: The Anthropology of Pilgrimage (Westport: Greenwood, 1992).

(12) Jean Darby Cleft and Wallace Cleft, The Archetype of Pilgrimage: Outer Action with Inner Meaning (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1996).

(13) Ellis and Bochner, "Autoethnography, Personal Narrative, Rellexivity: Researcher as Subject."

(14) Stacy Holman Jones, Tony Adams and Carolyn Ellis. "Coming to Know Autoethnography as More Than a Method," In Handbook of Autoethnography, ed. Stacy Holman Jones, Tony Adams and Carolyn Ellis (Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press, 2013), 22.

(15) Roy Tamashiro, "Pilgrimage into Witness Consciousness: Toward Healing and Humanness," In Ultreya: New Directions in Religious Tourism and Pilgrimage Research, ed. by Ian Macintosh and Nour Earra Haddad (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishers, Forthcoming)

(16) Tamashiro, "Peace Pilgrimage as Transformative Learning and Identity Redefinition," 47.

(17) Hiroshima City, "Peace Declaration, 1947" Accessed April 1, 2019:

(18) Roy Tamashiro, "Planetary Consciousness, Witnessing the Inhuman, and Transformative Learning: Insights from Peace Pilgrimage Oral Histories and Autoethnographies," Religions, 9, no.5(2018): 148-157, doi: 10.3390/rel9050148

(19) Tamashiro, "Pilgrimage into Witness Consciousness," 197.

(20) Rumi Hanagaki (hibakusha), interview with the author, translated by Yoshiko Tanigawa, October 19, 2015.

(21) David Krieger, "The Deep Bow of a Hibakusha: For Miyoko Matsubara," Global Poetry (blog), August 23, 2015.

(22) Tamashiro, "Pilgrimage into Witness Consciousness," 198.

(23) Tamashiro, "Planetary Consciousness, Witnessing the Inhuman, and Transformative Learning."

(24) Tamashiro, "Pilgrimage into Witness Consciousness," 199.

(25) Tbid., 199.

(26) Hiroshima City, "Peace Declaration, 1947."

(27) Viktor E. Erankl, Man's Search for Meaning: An Introduction to Logotherapy (Boston: Beacon, 2006), 44.

(28) WS. Merwin, "Enlightenment," The Buddha: A Film by David Gruben, PBS Productions, 2010,

(29) Tamashiro, "Pilgrimage into Witness Consciousness," 199.

(30) Merwin, "Enlightenment."

(31) Tamashiro, "Pilgrimage into Witness Consciousness," 200.

(32) Jack Kornfield, A Lamp in the Darkness (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2011), 15.

(33) The Buddha-Circuit Pilgrimage was a privately-arranged lour which included the four principle pilgrimage destinations: Buddha's birthplace (Lumbini), site of enlightenment (Bodhgaya), first sermon (Sarnath), and his death (Kushinagar).

(34) Roy Tamashiro, "Pilgrimage into Buddha's Footsteps," Unplublished Personal Journal, Journal Entry Date: November 12, 2018.

(35) Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, Trans. Daniel Heller-Roazcn. (New York: Zone Books, 2002), 212.

(36) Ibid.

(37) Shoshana Felman and Dori Laub, Testimony: Crises of witnessing in literature, psychoanalysis, and history (New York: Routledge, 1992).

(38) Mohandas K. Gandhi, "Farewell," in The Story of My Experiments with Truth (London: Phoenix Press, 1949), 420.

(39) Judith L. Herman, Trauma and recovery: The aftermath oj violence--from domestic abuse to political terror (New York: Basic Books, 2015), 1.

(40) John Paul Lederach and Angela J. Ledcrach. When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Soundscape of Healing and Reconciliation (London: Oxlord University Press, 2011).

(41) Elizabeth Rosner, Survivor Cafe: The Legacy of Trauma and the Labyrinth of Memory (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2017); Edward Tick, Warrior's return: Restoring the soul after war (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2014).

(42) Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz.

(43) John Paul Lederach and Angela J. Lederach, When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys through the Soundscape of Healing and Reconciliation, 1 -2.

(44) Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, "Episode eight: 'Ihe history of the world (April 1969-May 1970)," in The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, video documentary. (Arlington, Virginia: PBS Distribution, 2017).

(45) 4*3" in the name refers this April 3 dale in 1948.

(46) "Pain of surviving family members of Jeju Uprising victims still deep after 70 years," in [National Reportage], Hankyoreh, April 4, 2018.; "Young generation learn a painful history," in [Special Features Series: April 3 Jeju Uprising, Part V], Hankyoreh, April 3, 2018

(47) Heinz Kohut, How Does Analysis Cure (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1984), 82.

(48) Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Understanding: Commentaries on the Prajna-paramita Heart Sutras (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1995).

(49) Carl Rogers, A Way of Being (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980), 129.

(50) Joseph Eszterhas, "1st Photos of Viet Mass Slayings: Cameraman Saw GIs Slay 100 Villagers." The Plain Dealer, November 20, 1969, Al.; Tamashiro. "Bearing Witness to the Inhuman at My Lai," 67.

(51) Roy Tamashiro, "Jeju 43: Planetary Consciousness and Psychosocial Process for Social Healing and Reconciliation," World Environment and Island Studies 6, no. 3, (September 2016): 155.

(52) Jeju 4.3 Peace Foundation, The Jeju 4.3 Incident Investigation Report, English, Rev. ed. (Seoul, Korea: National Committee for Investigation of the Truth about the Jeju April 3 Incident, 2014).

(53) Roy Tamashiro, "Bearing Witness to the Inhuman at My Lai: Museum, Ritual, Pilgrimage," ASIANetwork Exchange: A Journal for Asian Studies in the Liberal Arts 25, no. 1 (2018): 60-79 doi: 10.16995/ane.267

(54) "Survivors recall US massacre in My Lai" Aljazeera News, March 12 2018.

(55) Seymour M. Hersh, "The Scene Of The Crime: A Reporter's Journey to My Lai and the Secrets of the Past," The New Yorker. March 30, 2015, 52; Phan Thanh Cong, The Witness from Pinkville (Ho Chi Minh City: Ho Chi Minh City General Publishing House, 2016).

(56) "Survivors recall US massacre in My Lai."

(57) Ha-young Choi, "Jeju Island marks 70th anniversary of 1948 massacres" Korea Times, March 26, 2018,

(58) Michael Billon and Kevin Sim, Four Hours in My Lai (New York: Penguin, 1992), 7.

(59) Tamashiro, "Pilgrimage into Witness Consciousness," 205.

(60) Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz, 33-35.

(61) Tamashiro, "Bearing Witness to the Inhuman at My Lai," 65.

(62) Judith Johnson, "The Power of Bearing Witness," The Huffington Post, November 17, 2011,

(63) Tamashiro, "Bearing Witness to the Inhuman at My Lai," 65.

(64) Tick, Warrior's Return: Restoring The Soul After War, 258.

(65) Hiroshima City, "Peace Declaration, 1947."

(66) thinkglobalnow, "A Dance at My Lai" (video), March 17, 2018

(67) Tamashiro, "Bearing Witness to the Inhuman at My Lai," 67-68.

(68) Edward Tick, War and the Soul: Healing Our Nation's Veterans from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (Whcaton, Ill.: Quest Books, 2005), 139.

(69) Rick Hind, "Tour of My Lai Village," Facebook, video recording, 2018. hllps://

(70) Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz, 212.

(71) Gandhi, "Farewell," 420.

(72) Dori Laub, "An event without a witness: Truth, testimony and survival," In Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History, ed. Shoshana l'elman and Don Laub (New York: Routledge, 1992), 76.

(73) Robert Jay Lifton, "Looking into the Abyss: Bearing Witness to My Lai and Vietnam." In: Facing My Lai: Moving Beyond the Massacre, ed. David L. Anderson (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 1998), 20.

(74) Tamashiro, "Bearing Witness to the Inhuman at My Lai," 65.

(75) Kristi Pikiewicz, "The Power and Strength of Bearing Witness" (blog), December 3, 2013,; Tamashiro, "Bearing Witness to the Inhuman at My Lai," 66.

Roy Tarnashiro

Webster University

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Author:Tarnashiro, Roy
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Date:Mar 22, 2019
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