a blog-tribute by a.a.


Hiroshima and Us

HINDSIGHT By F. Sionil Jose
The Philippine STAR 08/21/2005

Some 30 years ago or so, I was in Kawazaki near Tokyo attending a conference sponsored by the Afro Asian Writers Union–a Moscow supported organization. During the first plenary session, an Indian communist took the floor and started lambasting the United States for dropping the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He made it appear that the Japanese were the tragic victims of World War II.

I was so infuriated, I rose from my seat and shouted, "Mr Singh, your country was never occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army! When the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I called the Americans ninnies for they did not atomize Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto–in fact, all of Japan. This nation deserved to be atom-bombed for the atrocities it committed in my country."

That weekend, all the delegates were invited to Kyoto; only my wife and I were excluded from that tour.

We mark this week the 60th anniversary of the Japanese surrender. I am not sorry at all–through this span of years–for the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; I just pray though that such a holocaust will never visit any nation in the future.

Those who condemn now the atomic bombing of these two cities do so out of the context of those times, ignorant as they are of the feelings of people ravaged by the Japanese Imperial Army.

There was no moral barrier when these cities were bombed–it was total war, a response to the Japanese rape of Nanking in China, to the leveling of Coventry in England by the Nazis and their extermination of the Jews, the massacres in Ermita-Malate and elsewhere in the Philippines. No, I will never weep over Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

And if any strategic justification is needed, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were major staging areas for the Japanese Army. The bombings forced Emperor Hirohito to end the war, thereby saving millions of both American and Japanese lives. Just remember that the Japanese were prepared to die for their homeland with every man, woman and child; their suicidal stand in Okinawa was a grim foreboding of what would have transpired if those bombs were not dropped.

I was a high school senior in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was attacked but before that attack, war clouds already hovered over Asia. Japan had occupied French Indochina, half of China and Manchuria. Close to us in the North, Formosa was already in Japanese hands. Chunks of Davao were Japanese abaca plantations that produced hemp for the Japanese navy and maritime industry. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, retired, had come to the Philippines to help set up an Army of 21 year olds and Camp O’Donnel in Capas, Tarlac, where the recruits trained–would later become the notorious prison camp for the survivors of Bataan.

Air raid, black out and evacuation drills were held in Manila. All of these, however, proved useless when war finally came.

The Japanese planes bombed first Nichols airbase near Manila, Fort Stotsenberg in Pampanga and the airbase in Iba, Zambales; MacArthur had an eight-hour advance warning of the debacle at Pearl but the US Air Force was caught on the ground.

Classes were stopped. I went home to Rosales, Pangasinan, and was there when the Japanese arrived. They came in bicycles, open trucks, and like most Filipinos at the time, I thought they would not last, that the Americans would come in a massive convoy and drive the Japanese back to their homeland. After all, through all those years, we didn’t expect them to produce those airplanes and battleships. We knew Japanese products were shoddy and easily broken. Made in Japan was inferior. We were, of course, sadly mistaken.

The miles and miles of convoys did not arrive; Bataan, then Corregidor fell.

The first weeks of occupation in my hometown were quite correct. The Japanese distributed rice, textiles, then, their true nature surfaced. They started slapping and beating up people for the slightest infractions. By the second year, supplies, particularly medicines and food, became scarce. We had to do with ersatz products, castanog (roasted coconut meat), charcoal-fed engines, talinum and camote gardens even in the islands in the streets. Towards the end of the Occupation, the poorest Filipinos wore sackcloth. Without rubber and leather, fancy wooden shoes became fashionable.

I commuted between Manila and Pangasinan, bringing rice to my relatives in Manila. The buy- and-sell business flourished, Divisoria in Manila, the center. In June of 1944, I enrolled in preparatory medicine at the University of Santo Tomas walking every morning from Antipolo Street near Blumentritt all the way to Intramuros. The streetcars still ran but they were extremely crowded. The rich had dokars–fancy calesas drawn by retired racehorses. Only the Japanese and their powerful puppets had cars.

One morning, while we were having Nippongo lessons, suddenly the anti-aircraft guns atop San Juan de Letran College nearby started popping, then gray, stubby planes with a white star and bars roared over Intramuros. Some flew so low, their canopies open, we could see the pilots waving. Americans! The whole class started jumping, shouting, shrieking. Our instructor–a young Japanese officer with his sword on his side always–slinked away. Classes were permanently stopped. And that afternoon, at around 2, the second wave came, so many planes, they darkened the sky. Anti- aircraft guns spat at them, their black puffs dotting the sky, but not a single plane was shot down. When they came again the following day, the anti- aircraft guns were silent.

By this time, there was already very little food in the city. Even gutter rats were trapped and eaten. We stayed on for another month, then in early November, my mother, a cousin and I left Manila with a small bag of rice, a cooking pot, and some dried fish. We walked all the way to Pangasinan for seven days.

The highway was deserted in the daytime but for people like us fleeing the starving city. American planes from Leyte ranged the plains, the highways, blasting bridges and trucks–we came across one burning in Angeles, the dead Japanese in it. At night, we slept under empty houses along the highway–their inhabitants had fled to the interior. And at night we could hear the Japanese marching, retreating.

In early January 1945, the Americans finally returned to Luzon. From that distance in Rosales we could hear the big guns off Lingayen as battleships pounded the beaches for the landing. That was a terrible waste for the Japanese had all left.

When the Americans got to Rosales, at the first opportunity I joined a medical unit of the Combat Engineers. I had one ambition–to go to Japan with the invasion, and once there, first chance I got, I woull kill as many Japanese as I can.

That was 60 years ago and thinking back, this is how I truly felt and, I am sure, so did many others, particularly those who lost their loved ones to Japanese villainy. It embarrasses me to recall this objective–a result of my witnessing what they did and in a way, what they did to me which certainly is nothing compared to those who survived Fort Santiago, and the torture sessions with their kempei-tai.

Collateral damage–some blame the Americans for the destruction of Ermita-Malate and Intramuros and the death of thousands there. But the Japanese were there, raping, burning, killing. If they were not killed, what would have happened? Was there ever a less violent alternative?

We can get sentimental and nostalgic over history in mind and we must restore Intramuros as a reminder of our past and as a tourist attraction. But we must also never forget that Intramuros was the seat of a colonial power that shackled us for three centuries, just as Ermita-Malate–and the beautiful antiseptic Makati today–was the seat of domestic imperialism which keeps us poor.

Many aspects of that three-year Occupation need to be studied more for they reveal so much of the Filipino character, of the myriad reasons why this society has evolved into what it is now, almost rudderless, without any lasting memory and therefore, without a sense of nation–this, in spite of the heroic sacrifice of many Filipinos. After all, while much of the region succumbed easily to Japanese blandishments and power, we Filipinos fought them tenaciously, valiantly.

But in the guerrilla war, for instance, all too often the guerrillas were not fighting the Japanese alone–they were also fighting each other over turf, over leaderships. Perhaps as many Filipinos were killed by the guerrillas as by the Japanese.

It is the height of irony that the best organized, and the most courageous guerrilla group that fought the Japanese–the Hukbalahap–was demonized almost immediately after World War II, to preserve the hold of the landlords and their American allies on government.

The Occupation showed how the peasant in such adversity could survive and thrive and as the Huks had abundantly shown; the peasants could also fight and win. If at all, the Occupation strengthened the grassroots movement, infused iron into the peasant’s backbone and his liberation could, perhaps, be this blighted nation’s hope as well.

Developments such as these cannot be quantified–they can only be perceived.

For a brief period during the Occupation, Filipinos also got to know a bit more about Japanese culture, what an accomplished people they are and, most of all, how they modernized their country in just one generation by adopting Western technology but never abandoning their Japaneseness.

And finally, the issue of collaboration, not just with the Japanese but with all the colonizers who ravaged this nation.

In looking at this issue, perhaps it is also time that we attended to one man whose unique position in our history is clouded by controversy and misinterpretation.

I am now very clear in my understanding of Artemio Ricarte, the Ilokano general who was one of the leaders of our 1896 revolution. He had refused to pledge allegiance to the United States after the defeat of the rag-tag revolutionary army. Steadfast in his refusal to accept American rule, he eventually fled into exile in Japan from 1911 until his return to the Philippines with the Japanese in 1941.

He was not given a high position by his Japanese friends. He was too old then–late ’70s–but he served them particularly in their pacification campaign.

When the Japanese retreated from Baguio deep into the Cordilleras in 1945, Ricarte went with them. Without his knowing it, the Japanese executed some 20 of his relatives because the Japanese feared that these relatives knew too much. His own grandson, Besulmino, would have been executed, too, had he not understood what the Japanese were saying and pleaded with them to spare his life.

Ricarte had no choice but to join the Japanese. He was afraid of the guerrillas who were by then better armed with the continuous arrival of aid from the Americans.

In Funduang, in Ifugao, he was afflicted with dysentery. With very little to eat, he fell ill and died. I was able to interview one of the Japanese civilians who was with him to the very end. His aide wrote a book about Ricarte titled Even the Devil Will Weep–for that, indeed, was the tragedy of this Filipino revolutionary and patriot whose undoing was his stubbornness, and his dependence on a foreign power.

Ricarte teaches us one very important lesson–a nationalist revolution must never, never seek outside assistance, in ideology as well as in resources. It must triumph with its native genius and sinews.

The political ramifications of collaboration with the Japanese extended into the political life and destiny of the nation. Those who collaborated with the Japanese. Claro M. Recto, for instance, was instrumental in developing a post-war inward- looking nationalism that was virulently anti-American, much to our disadvantage. We had a foot in the door to the vast United States market–a market which was exploited by Korea, Japan, Taiwan. We didn’t exploit it. Imprisoned by the Americans in Iwahig for his collaboration with the Japanese, he vowed never to let the Americans forget what they did, claiming that Roxas collaborated more than him.

At the very least, those who collaborated with the Japanese were granted amnesty by Roxas. But those who collaborated with Marcos, who helped him plunder this nation, are now openly in power without an amnesty from the Filipino people.

What else should we remember of the Occupation? It exacerbated our moral decline. During that period, all rules were thrown out and it was each man for himself. So much of this attitude remains even after the invader had left.

Our elites had collaborated with whoever ruled–the Spaniards, the Japanese, the Americans, and Marcos. As a political issue, collaboration with the Japanese died when Jose Laurel, the Japanese puppet president, got elected to the Senate. But as a moral issue, collaboration still rankles, and because we have not collectively denounced and punished those collaborators, does this mean then that we are not a moral people?

There is such a huge gap between being 18 and being 80. Today, I now have several Japanese friends and I value their friendships. We do not talk about World War II, about Hiroshima–they know how I feel. But while we do not talk, this does not mean that we will forget. Many Japanese feel guilty over their country’s past, many do not approve of Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasakuni shrine which honors their war dead, including some war criminals. This issue has no consensus in Japan although it is evident that the swing towards rationalizing and justifying that war is gaining ground.

Life must go on and our future, which is bleak indeed, demands our intelligent attention, our hindsight.

In 1905, Japan defeated Russia and emerged from that war a Pacific power with vaulting nationalist confidence to embark on an expansion into Korea, Manchuria, China, then the Greater Co-Prosperity Sphere.

A hundred years later, today, 2005 we see the emergence of China rivaling not just Japan but America.

In 1955, the American scholar Theodore Friend wrote a book, Between Two Empires–that is us–the Philippines–caught between America and Japan. In that book, he concluded: "Could the Philippines accomplish the work of economic diversification and social and cultural unification necessary to make a national community out of an ex-colony? How long would the Philippines remain in confusion between two civilizations, inherent and emergent, as well as in peril between two empires, Chinese and American?"

In our relations with China, we must not forget that we have a small but powerful Chinese minority which controls 80 percent of the economy, who are in manufacturing, trade, banking, media, shipping–you name it.

These taipans came to the Philippines very poor as all immigrants from China were. Through their industry, cunning and exploitation of elite politics, they built profitable conglomerates, then remit billions made in this country to China, billions that should have stayed here to build industries so our women don’t have to go abroad as housemaids and prostitutes.

There is an old Asian saying that when elephants quarrel, the grass gets trampled. A corollary to that is, when the elephants make peace, the grass gets eaten.

But this, perhaps, is the subject for another conference.
* * *
This was presented by the author at the conference on World War II August 16-17 sponsored by The National Historical Institute at UST.
Thank you for maintaining this blog. I am an avid F. Sionil Jose reader. -Chris
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?