REXBURG — Four Madison School District youth will head to Washington D.C. next month to participate in the annual National History Day Contest. The youth won during a recent state competition.
The youth attending the competition include Madison Jr. High School students Clara Rose and Rose Cameron who teamed up to present a skit on Benedict Arnold. The girls’ fellow student, Mirah Bennion, plans to present her project depicting the Japanese Colonization of Korea from the first of the 20th century through 1945. Jr. High student Caleb Mawlam will present his documentary about the Battle of Dunkirk while Tucker McDonald of Madison Middle School will also make a presentation.
“Every state sends their first and second place winners on the state level in nine different categories. Idaho is joining them with that by sending those kids back. They will be representing the whole state of Idaho. It’s a pretty great honor,” said Debbie Munns who serves as an eighth grade history teacher.
Munns reported the great amount of time the youth spent on their respective projects.
“They’ve done an amazing amount of work, a ton of research and bibliographies that back up everything they’re saying,” she said.
Rose and Cameron report they learned a lot about the often-maligned Benedict Arnold who is often portrayed to be a traitor. While he was a turncoat during the Revolutionary War, the girls learned a lot about how he aided the American cause on several occasions.
“He’s always thought about as this really bad traitor. That’s the only side most of America sees of him. There is a whole other side,” Cameron said.
Rose reported that at one point, Arnold helped Americans win numerous battles against the British during the war. While he helped the Americans successfully fight against the British, he often felt he didn’t get the recognition he deserved for his many wins.
“This super reliable general gave them the upper hand in the American Revolutionary War,” she said.
At the time Arnold was married to British loyalist Becky Shipman.
“She sort of influenced him to that. He was greatly in debt,” Cameron said.
A loyalist, as the name implies, was a colonist’s loyalty to England. The combination of Shipman’s influence and Arnold owing a lot of money may have motivated Arnold to join the Brits willing to pay him handsomely.
The U.S. History webpage reported that the Brits not only gave Arnold a salary, but land and a pension as well. At one point, he and his family lived in London but eventually moved to Canada. Arnold died in 1801 after a failed business venture.
During the upcoming Washington competition, Mirah Bennion will perform a skit depicting the horrors of the Japanese occupation in Korea. In her one-woman show, she plays a comfort woman, a farmer and a student.
“I want to be able to show what everyone’s lives were like, and what happened to other people during the Japanese colonization of Korea,” she said.
One of the more tragic incidents during the colonization occurred when the Japanese rounded up girls as young as 14 and forced them to become “Comfort Women” for the soldiers. The phrase was a euphemism for sex, slavery and rape.
Bennion admitted that the idea of Comfort Women is a provocative subject. She said her family didn’t try to shield her from the harsh reality. She learned about the women from family members, one of which is an aunt who is from South Korea and from her father who served a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints mission in Korea from 1991 to 1993. At the time, the subject of Comfort Women made the headlines.
“My dad said it would something interesting to study, to learn about and to share their stories,” Bennion said.
In some of the stories she read, Bennion learned that the women suffered from severe abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and infections. In some cases, the Japanese soldiers impregnated the Comfort Women.
“Some women would go visit their children. They could see them every so often,” she said.
According to History.com, the Japanese used hundreds of thousands of women as Comfort women. By the end of World War II, 90 percent of these women had died. Yet, during the 1990s, some of the surviving women started to tell their stories, much of which Japan denied. Eventually the Japanese government admitted to the atrocity and offered an apology in the form of monetary compensation.
In her presentation, Bennion also portrays a student and farmer, many of which were monitored by Japanese officials.
“Students became farmers and would go into rural areas to help with the rebellions. The police targeted them. They would watch them to see if they were going to help the rebels,” she said. “A lot of people did disappear and were killed because they were suspects.”
Bennion’s fellow student, Caleb Mawlam, also turned to World War II to tell his story. He created a documentary entitled “The Miraculous Escape, a True Story about Dunkirk.”
The story is near and dear to Mawlam’s heart as his great-grandfather, Wilford Amos, was involved in the escape.
“It was called Operation Dynamo. It’s basically how they evacuated and made the plan of the evacuation. It’s also the back story — Germany just conquered really fast,” he said.
“It’s an interesting thing that Caleb and his family are from Great Britain. His great-grandfather fought in that conflict and was part of that effort. It’s pretty cool that they have that family connection,” Munns said.
In his documentary, Mawlam details how in 1940, the Germans had attacked the French and the British soldiers forcing them to retreat to the port called Dunkirk.
“They all just sat there hoping that they’d be saved by ships,” he said. “Soon a guy named Bertram Ramsay planned Operation Dynamo. (It) was the evacuation of the expeditionary forces – the British Army and the French Army – to be brought back to England.”
Wilford Amos, served as artillery general during the operation, Mawlam said.
“He survived all of World War II. It’s interesting, he never talked about the event,” he said.
According to the webpage, Historic UK, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered destroyers and transport ships to evacuate the troops.
For whatever reason, at about the same time, Adolf Hitler ordered his generals to halt operations for three days. This gave the Brits time to organize an evacuation. Shallow water prevented larger ships from getting close to allied troops. British civilians soon rallied, and, using their own boats, navigated the shallow waters to rescue the stranded soldiers. Thanks to those combined efforts 330,000 troops were spared. Originally, officials had only hoped to rescue 30,000 men.
Mawlam and his family moved to Rexburg about five years ago from England for his dad to teach at Brigham Young University-Idaho. Mawlam still talks in a British accent, but says that his fellow students don’t seem to notice it.
Mawlam says he was thrilled that his documentary received so much praise.
“I was really excited. I was not expecting it,” he said.
Tucker was not available for comment.
The youth are holding fundraisers to earn money for their trip to Washington D.C. For more information on helping the group, call Madison Junior High School at 208-359-3310.
To view Mawlam’s award winning documentary, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eiFDyce7RoY.