1. The internees reacted in a variety of ways to the sound of firing all around them.

    Fr. George J. Williams, S.J., had celebrated an early morning mass that morning. After mass, at 0700, he and his barracks mates lined up for the daily roll call. As he was moving to the lineup area on “shaky legs,” he turned and saw some planes coming across the lake from the north. He paid little attention because “planes had been a common sight in recent days. Only the previous afternoon the Japanese battery two miles west had been savagely strafed.” But as the planes came abreast of the camp, he noted objects dropping out of them and immediately deduced that the Americans were dropping leaflets to give them some encouragement. But then he and his friends saw the small objects blossom into parachutes. “They’re paratroopers,” they yelled and headed for their barracks as the firing around the perimeter started.

    February 23, 1945

    - Lt. Gen. E. M. Flanagan, The Los Banos Raid.

    I was talking with some of the survivors of the Battle for Manila last weekend and their stories are the stuff of nightmares and horror films. It is sobering when you realize that they lived through the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan; maybe even worse since this was their homes that were being burned and razed to the ground, their city being decimated.

    Aside from purely self-serving revisionist memoirs (like Carmen Guerrero-Nakpils’) almost to a man all are thankful that the Americans arrived. They hold no rancor towards them for shelling the city; in fact, they point out that the Japanese, by hunkering down amidst the civilian population and essentially using them as a hundred thousand human shields, left them little choice.

    They speak about the American soldiers who tried to rescue them, who offered them shelter, and for the first time in days (weeks in some cases), a warm place to sleep and hot food.

    And yes, they try to speak of the atrocities they witnessed, even as they stumble over the descriptions. There are stories of a man who survived a botched beheading, of listening to sisters and mothers being raped then gutted, of babies being bayoneted, of lovers and husbands and wives disappearing right in front of them.

    February is a fascinating month in Philippine history: It saw the most bloody fighting in the Philippine Revolution, the outbreak of the Philippine-American War, the end of the Japanese Occupation, the toppling of a dictator.

    The spirit of the Filipino, the love of his nation, and the blood shed in her defense, are writ large in February.

    (Source: ellobofilipino)

  2. The Last February

    Today marks the sixty-seventh (67th) anniversary of the commencement of the Battle for Manila. Beginning three days ago US forces began landing in Batangas and other areas, their objective the emancipation of Manila and the rest of the Philippines. For three long years the Philippines was under the thumb of Japanese rule; with far too many either outright killed or living in fear. And far too many of those among the social elites, those who chose not to fight or to at least resist (of which were the majority), were collaborating with the enemy. They hailed the Japanese Occupation as the ‘freedom of the Philippines from tyranny,’ all the while turning a blind eye to the plight of their own countrymen.

    Over one million Filipino civilians died in those three years. They were brutalized, starved, scared, and cowed into submission. Men, like Benigno Aquino, chose to aid the Japanese in oppressing their people; while heroes like Justice Jose Abad-Santos were brutally executed for refusing to bow their heads. Some, later on, took the opportunity presented by World War II to pad their own personal history, to invent medals and honors and even battles for self-aggrandizement (Ferdinand Marcos). Between those three, who do we remember best? Or, for that matter, of all the moments of bravery and self-sacrifice, of all those who fought and died in defense of their country, what do we remember? That abuse of history for personal gain, that myth-making, is what happens when a country and a people lose the perspective and context that an understanding of history provides.

    That was the story for those three years. Yet, for Manilenos the worse was still to come. February 1945 marked both the beginning of the emancipation of the Philippines and the worsening of a three year long nightmare.

    Manila and the Philippines, while not necessarily as militarily important in the Pacific Theater as other objectives, was politically and socially significant (the Bataan Death March is still remembered) for the United States. It was the chief stronghold of American influence in the East; we were their first grand experiment in exporting American style democracy. It is arguable whether that experiment succeeded, whether they should have been here in the first place (for us, never), but what cannot be ignored the fall of the Philippines was the first, and only time, that the United States has lost territory under its control. Even here we forget that while Pearl Harbor was being bombed, the Philippines was under attack as well. The loss of the Philippines struck at the very heart of American military and social might. As expressed by General Douglas MacArthur, they will be back. They had to come back.

    By this point in 1945, the Allied Forces were almost certain of victory in the European Theater; May 8, 1945 would mark Germany’s unconditional surrender. The United States and Allies had already turned its attention to the Pacific Theater, to us and other territories that had been conquered by Japan. The final offensive to end World War II was engaged.

    In 1942, when the United States lost Manila, they declared it an open city. This time around, the Japanese military leadership in Manila refused to do so (there was actually an order to open up Manila that was refused). They kept Manila as a closed city. They rounded up civilians and incarcerated them. They upped their campaign of terrorization. They took out their anger towards the progress of the war out on a helpless civilian population.

    There are few survivors left who remember Manila as it was before the War and during the War. But, when you sit down and talk with them their memories of February 1945 are harrowing. They are the stuff of nightmares. Japanese soldiers bayoneting women (after raping them) and children in the streets. Boarding up families in homes, setting the buildings on fire, and shooting anyone who tried to flee. Running from bombs and hit squads, watching mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, gunned down and killed.

    This is not to denigrate the Japanese today in anyway. This is the reality of what happened in 1945. I think Beniting Legarda said it best: "We can forgive, but we should never forget." Some survivors though, refuse to even remember; such was the horrors they saw and lived through.

    While the Battle for Manila is much overlooked and basically forgotten in histories of World War II, the numbers are staggering. Manila saw the worst and most vicious urban fighting of the entire war. Over 100,000 civilians were killed, many by the Japanese. Much of Manila was destroyed. By the end, the Pearl of the Orient was no more. The destruction and death tolls in Manila compares or even exceeds that of Warsaw, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

    Sixty-seven years ago the long month began. Manila was already gutted by then. Manila was practically non-existent by the end.

    Today it is all sort of forgotten, except in vague statements like “Manila used to be the Pearl of the Orient” or “We were the second-most destroyed city after Warsaw.” Outside of that? Nothing really. And I really do believe that loss of historical remembering directly informs how we see ourselves today and how we understand our country. We have lost the fundamentals behind the beauty that was Manila; we have forgotten the bravery and sacrifice of Filipinos who continued to fight against oppression and tyranny. We have forgotten all of that. The memory of that beauty of spirit, even amidst the destruction, of our people and our country is gone.

    And maybe, because of how we relate and understand our history, the spirit of the Filipino is diminished as well.

    Photo from Flickr

  3. The Quote

    Manila was uniquely beautiful: she was universally know as the Pearl of the Orient, a jewel beyond price. Many cities were destroyed between 1942-1945-a long list in which the names of Stalingrad, Hamburg, Warsaw, Dresden, Berlin, Hiroshima stand out prominently…Yet in the case of Manila, something rare, and something irreplaceable, was destroyed. The Philippines lost their capital, but the world had lost a city whose very evolution, drawing upon the cultures and histories of four different continents, had made it part of the international heritage.

    - The Battle for Manila (pg. 16)

    The Photo

    Aerial photograph of Intramuros and Manila taken during the 1930s.


  4. Rabble-Rousing and Bad History

    It is fairly obvious, at least I would like to think, that Attorney Fernando Topacio is using his pro-Hitler statements as an opportunity to distract from the predicament of former President Macapagal-Arroyo and her husband. From the blatant display of a Hitler portrait during an interview to his almost infantile and overly simplistic pro-Nazi statements (seriously, he basically quotes Springtime for Hitler verbatim) Topacio is egging on the public. His agenda became even more obvious when he subtly compared Hitler to President Noynoy Aquino in a follow up interview, while defending GMA.

    Talk about bad taste.

    While the natural reaction, other than ridicule, is to just dismiss these statements as the rants of a self-fashioned court jester, I firmly believe that is just as much as a disservice to history as his original statements. Argumentum ad Hitlerum should not be allowed to slide, especially when so publicly disseminated. In the wake of the first story covering his professed Hitler love one of my chief critiques of media was the lack of contextual stories. We did not see a single interview by a respected historian or specialist in the field. It was only in the follow up stories (as cited above) where even a statement by a specialist was offered to contradict his bombastic statements.

    The fact that we are letting Neo-Nazi, pro-Hitler, and anti-Semitic statements slide with a wave of a hand speaks volumes about our pervasive lack of historical appreciation and understanding in the country. If a public figure in Europe or the United States made such inflammatory statements they would be pilloried from almost all corners, and for good reason. At the very least, they would be called to defend their statements in public and offer proof to back up the assertions. Likely, statements from their clients or affiliations would be sought as well. That is how you combat ignorant and hateful speech, by putting it under a microscope. By studying why the statements were made, what was the purpose behind the statements, by bringing bigotry to light.

    The fact that Topacio is using hatespeak and inflammatory comments is par for the course, I would not expect anything less from a lawyer of his…caliber. We have seen it before from him. But there is a line, and that line is crossed when Neo-Naziism and the misrepresentation of World War II history enters the discussion. That he is allowed to almost get off scot-free by us after essentially insulting Holocaust victims is shameful. His tactics are not in question, his gross misuse and misunderstanding of World War II history, his strident defense of Hitler, his continued pursuit of the Aquino = Hitler meme, and his dismissal of over six million dead civilians at the hands of the Nazis is in question. More to the point, our medias inability to offer any sort of cogent critique is as well. Hate speak as this should not, it cannot be, waived off as grandstanding. Or dismissed as being misconstrued in the court of public opinion. Doing so allows those ideas to take root, to grow, to linger on. It is a disservice to the victims of the Nazi regime (and their allies) and to ourselves.

    The Nazi party came to power on a wave of Aryan supremacy, Teutonic myth-building, and was buoyed by anti-Semitic thought. The demonization of the ‘Other’ was central to their ability to maintain and consolidate power. The rise and fall of the Nazi party and Hitler offer stunningly topical warnings about insularity, parochialism, the abuse of history, and the power of racism, if properly understood. Perverted history in service of ideology is the playground of demagogues and dictators. In an analysis of Hitler and his anti-Semitic and pro-Teutonic sentiments Margaret MacMillan offers: “Setbacks and defeats become parts of such stories, rather than challenges of their truth. If the faithful have suffered, that is because of the plots and conspiracies of their enemies. For Hitler, of course, that meant the Jews. They had started World War I and created the Bolshevik Revolution, and they had ensured that Germany suffered under the Treaty of Versailles. He had warned them, Hitler said repeatedly, that if they dared to start another war, he would destroy them, ‘the vermin of Europe’. World War II was the fault of the Jews, and the time had come to deal with them once and for all. If any one person was responsible for that war, it was Hitler himself, but logic and reason do not enter into closed systems of viewing the world.”

    The mis-use and perversion of history, especially within the Philippine public sphere, has been on-going focus of critique within this space. It is precisely because the misappropriation of history, its abuse in other words, can go directly to the heart of a nation. When claiming history in purely political or rhetorical ways it allows an overly simplified, seldom rational, version to be presented. One that relies wholly on emotion, little on context, usually to substantiate or defend improper actions, and inevitable in whipping a populace into a frenzy; one usually pointed outward and at some manufactured Boogeyman. The mis-use and proliferation of bad history is especially dire because it is so easy to disseminate and manufacture. Bad history is not only a disservice, it can even become dangerous.

    As Eli Wiesel pointed out, anytime victims are forgotten or their memory allowed to be insulted with commensurate response it is as if we killed them a second time. By failing to offer reasoned and cogent critiques of Topacio’s grossly inappropriate statements we are abetting to the proliferation of hate speak and the continued erosion of public discourse in the Philippines.

  5. On October 20, 1944, in Leyte, General Douglas MacArthur gave truth to his famous words and returned to the Philippines…twice.

    MacArthur was (in)famous for his need to create epic moments; he had inclination towards the dramatic. On this day, his triumphant return to a territory he had abandoned two years prior, he made his landing (for the cameras of course) twice. The first take, he was not pleased with, thus a redux. Of course, posterity remembers the second take.

    There are a couple of interesting elements in this picture (beyond MacArthur’s ego). Naturally, we have Romulo stumbling and bumbling in the background, the only ‘officer’ (I use that term loosely with him) wearing an oversized helmet. He was worried about being shot; shouldn’t have been though. No one could have seen him behind everyone else (an old joke courtesy of Anding Roces). Romulo remains one of the more egregious examples of myth-making (naturally on his own) to come out of World War II.

    The common understanding is that the two Filipinos who were with MacArthur during the landing were Romulo and President Osmena. Fact is there was another prominent Filipino among them: Joseph R McMicking de Ynchausti. Not many people know about him, and those who do erroneously think he was an American. He was a Filipino, his father was at one point the Sheriff of Manila and his mother an heiress of the Ynchausti family. He would go on to marry an old childhood friend of his, Mercedes Zobel de Roxas.

    During the Battle for Manila most of Joe’s family (his grandmother, mother, and aunt, among others) was killed during the Massacre at the Masonic Temple on Taft Avenue (where almost 200 civilians were brutally shot down by the Japanese). After marrying Mercedes he assumed control of Ayala y Cia financially and organizationally. He invested his inheritance in Ayala y Cia (eventually becoming the majority shareholder with his wife) and became president. He was both the money and the mind behind the rise of Ayala Corporation; including the development of Makati, the founding of Filipino Heritage Library and Foundation (which became Ayala Foundation after his passing). Mercedes frequently remarked that it was Joe who made her family wealthy again. In the 1960s he developed Sotogrande in Spain as a ‘retirement’ project, which remains one of the premiere resort and living communities in Europe.

    The man is one of the unsung pillars of Philippine industry and one of our leading philanthropists.

    Joe passed away in 1990. Mercedes maintained the controlling interest in Ayala Corporation until she passed away in 2005. Unfortunately, the contributions of Joe have either been forgotten or minimized. But, he was there in 1942, he was there in 1944 and he not only returned to the Philippines, he remained and helped rebuild her.

  6. todaysdocument:

    Japanese Sign Final Surrender, 1945

    Newsreel footage showing the signing of the Japanese surrender documents aboard the battleship USS Missouri in the Bay of Tokyo on Sept. 2, 1945.

    And we forget.

    (Source: arcweb.archives.gov)

  7. Collaboration, at least for years after World War II, remained a contentious issue. We can hem and haw, and maybe even agree with, the decision to offer a sort of all-is-forgiven amnesty, but the medium-term effect was a lingering animosity towards those who profited during the Japanese Occupation. In a sense, we can even link the successful political careers of Senator Ninoy Aquino, President Cory Aquino, and current President Noynoy Aquino to that choice.

    Benigno A Aquino celebrated his birthday yesterday (September 3, 1894); the father of Ninoy and grandfather of Noynoy. He was also one of the most prominent collaborators during the Japanese Occupation, serving as Speaker of the “National Assembly” under President Jose P Laurel from 1943-1944. Of course, by “National Assembly” we refer to a puppet government operating under the auspices of the Imperial Japan. He also served as the Director of the KALIBAPI, the sole political party allowed by the Japanese government; it was a fascist party in which enrollment was practically mandatory. It oversaw the Preparatory Committee for Philippine Independence, a sort of constitutional assembly that gave birth to an ‘independent’ Philippines; by independent of course we mean completely subservient to Japanese authority. It was on September 4, 1943 that the Preparatory Committee adopted a ‘Constitution,’ again subservient to Japanese imperial interests. The Constitution ‘legally’ brought the Philippines into Japan’s Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere; a vision of an inter-linked Asian power bloc, under Japanese rule of course.

    All this was going-on while Filipinos were fighting and dying to preserve their country and stem the tide of Japanese military movements. We forget again that over one million Filipinos were killed by the Japanese; most were civilians, slaughtered for no other reason other than they did not want to be under Japanese rule. It is a forgotten imperial era in our history; and in truth the most immediately brutal and unforgiving. 

    Ah but then maybe that why it is forgotten. A generation, that generation, did not want to remember the atrocities they witnessed and experienced. Who would? Just as a generation of collaborators, who betrayed their country men and sought profit and power with the Japanese, wanted others to forget as well.

    Benigno Aquino Sr died of a heart attack in 1947 while watching a boxing match, while awaiting trial for treason to the Filipino people. The memory of his collaboration, must like Jose Laurels’ and so many others, forgotten in their death and after the passing of time.

    Image of Jose P Laurel’s 1943 Speech inaugurating the Philippine Constitution

  8. ellobofilipino:



    Why did Japan surrender?

    - Sixty-six years ago, we dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. Now, some historians say that’s not what ended the war.

    I love attempts to reinterprete history. Especially if they are kind of revisionist (as long as based on solid scholarship).

    With all due respect to Dr. Hasegawa, his research on the exchanges between the power brokers in the Japanese military and the Soviet hierarchy ignore the role of the Emperor and his moral authority over the general population.

    While it is true that Japan was already hanging by its fingers before the atomic bombs were dropped, the Japanese military, out of distorted adherence to the Bushido, wanted to fight on to the last Japanese.

    In fact in a meeting on August 9, 1945, the same day the second atomic bomb was dropped, historians Thomas Allen and Norman Polmar wrote that, minister of war, General Korechika Anami, even after hearing of what happened in Nagasaki, said:

    That we will inflict severe losses on the enemy when he invades Japan is certain and it is by no means impossible that we may be able to reverse the situation in our favor, pulling victory out of defeat… Our men will simply not lay down their arms.

    Anami’s dreams though of prolonging the war and causing more death on the allies were overturned when Emperor Hirohito said on August 10 that prolonging the war

    is unbearable to me… I give my sanction to the proposal to accept the Allied proclamation.

    The Emperor was of course, referring to the Potsdam Declaration, which had been issued by the allies to Japan the month before the atom bombs were dropped.

    Some say the Emperor was already contemplating on ending the war months prior to the issuance of the declaration after seeing the effects of the US firebombing campaign. The reports on the effect of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, reinforced his conviction that Japan should seek truce as soon as possible.

    The Japanese military on the other hand, was dragging its feet for various reasons, ignoring the proposal. Some say, they were waiting for more favorable proposals; others, because they were planning defensive strategies; and there were those who say they were putting the final touches on their own atomic bombs.  

    The Japanese military did not want to surrender. And I think this desire by Japanese militarists to rather have the whole Japanese population die and leave the country scorched earth was manifested in the Kyujo Incident.

    The Kyujo Incident was a coup d’etat by a handful of Japanese military officers in Tokyo for the purpose of placing the Emperor under house arrest, preventing him from issuing the declaration of Japan’s surrender on August 15. Among the leaders of the plot was Gen. Anami’s brother-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel Masahiko Takeshita.

    As early as 1AM of August 15, the coup plotters surrounded the Imperial palace and tried to get the support of other military units in Tokyo. They also occupied the NHK building, where the recorded speech of the Emperor, which would call for an end to hostilities, would be aired.

    By 5AM though, troops loyal to the Emperor started rounding up some of the coup plotters. The coup had collapsed after nearby military units refused to join and the public did not show its sympathy for the action. Some of the plotters were castigated and told that they what they had dishonored the military and disobeyed the Emperor.

    The coup leaders would later commit suicide, many through seppuku. Gen. Anami himself, despite not being directly connected with the coup, also commited seppuku in front of Lt. Col. Takeshita as the coup was unraveling. Military officers, who had knowledge of the coup but did nothing to stop it before it went full swing, also committed seppuku as honor demanded.

    By 7AM, the Emperor’s recorded message, calling for the end of hostilities and acceptance of the fate that had befallen Japan, was aired, effectively ending the war in the Pacific. 

    For Dr. Hasegawa to draw conclusions from the exchange between the Japanese and the Soviets, and cite these as the reasons behind the surrender, would be to completely ignore the sociological make up of the Japanese population during the Showa period; and how the loyalty to the Emperor, used by the militarists to launch the war, would also eventually make the surrender possible.

    The voice of the militarists may be feared. And the sound of the Russians coming to the side of the allies may have been fearful. But it was the Voice of the Crane that the people listened to and obeyed.

    I’m going to quote Hans Blix from his magisterial biography on Hirohito:

    Armed with a new doomsday weapon, however, Truman lacked the patience and foresight to wait. Japan’s leaders, on the other hand, caught in the grip of a failed and endangered ideology, were willing to sacrifice huge numbers of their own people in order to maintain their and their monarch’s power. It was partly to destroy that psychology - or, in the words of Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C Marshall, spoken in 1957, “shock them [the leaders] into action” - that Truman and Marshall justified the dropping of the atomic bombs.

    - Blix, "Hirohito And the Making of Modern Japan"

    I am curious to read Hasegawa’s complete study. But, at first blush it seems that he is placing to much importance on the Soviet’s formally declaring war; ignoring the fact that there were on-going preparations for the Soviet’s to attack Japan prior to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings. Including Stalin attempting to accelerate their invasion plans prior to the US deploying atomic weapons; essentially soon after the Potsdam Declaration.

    As you mentioned, there was a significant cultural component involved with Japan’s refusal to surrender, much as there was in how they prosecuted the war in the Pacific Theater. I have no doubt that Hasegawa weighted this in his thesis; but I wonder if there was a sense of selective weighting of historical evidence. I have little doubt that the Soviet threat played a part; just like the US promising ground warfare and continued hell from above.

    My long-held belief is that Hirohito’s mind was finally made up, provided the impetus and much needed substantiation for him to countermand his advisors, by the dropping of those bombs. The proverbial straw.

    But, there is something underlying his thesis that I think bears further scrutiny: The idea that the idea of mutually assured destruction is a flawed theory around which to build foreign policy. It has been the dominant framework for too many years; and I wonder if its time has long past.


  9. An infamous day today. The Allied Powers (US, Britain, China) requested for Japan’s unconditional surrender; else they will suffer the consequences. Which came to pass; atomic weapons were deployed.


    It was a necessary move, the declaration was made in hopes of ending further hostilities. To somehow arrest the War. By now, Manila had been retaken - to the tune of 200,000 lives lost and incalculable loss of property and heritage. The Allied Powers, the world in general, was tired of war. In that context as well, as deplorable as the dropping of the bombs is today, it becomes understandable.


  10. tetw:

    by Tony Judt

    The first work by Hannah Arendt that I read, at the age of sixteen, was Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.1 It remains, for me, the emblematic Arendt text. It is not her most philosophical book. It is not always right; and it is decidedly not her most popular piece of writing. I did not even like the book myself when I first read it…

    One of the absolute great essays. Judt on Arendt, about the banality of evil. Doesn’t get much more challenging than that.

    The connections it makes to the understanding, suitable respect offered and proper handling of subjects in the study of history are necessary concerns for historians (and modern-day propagandists).

    What I do know is that if history is to do its proper job, preserving forever the evidence of past crimes and everything else, it is best left alone. When we ransack the past for political profit—selecting the bits that can serve our purposes and recruiting history to teach opportunistic moral lessons—we get bad morality and bad history.

    (Source: tetw, via leflaneur)