Monday, November 12, 2012

While Swaying on a Hammock: When tears fall

Like most youngsters, I could enjoy playing with my siblings, cousins and neighborhood playmates, as well as playing just by myself; letting loose my imagination with my toy soldiers or small collection of Matchbox cars. I would often do it at the living room where my mother and aunts congregated for their leisurely conversations.

Hearing some of their talks, I could remember what my mother often answered when sometimes asked what it was she was most grateful for -- the opportunity to raise her children in time of peace.

Although my mother rarely spoke about it, she went through harrowing experiences during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. At that time, my three eldest siblings were already born, though the youngest was a mere infant then. With my father being hunted by the Japanese for having provided munitions to some guerilla forces in Zambales, she and my father spent most of the occupation period evading capture; moving from province to province, as well as hiding in the caves up in the mountains with three young kids in tow.

She was also stricken with malaria a month or so before liberation. Had it not been for a couple of guerillas who braved the treacherous travel to meet the American forces to get the required medicine, she never would have made it. Thus, having lived through such perilous wartime experiences, she would become a mother obsessed with providing comfort and safety for her children — to a fault at times.

Summertime in our house during my childhood would always include my aunts in Subic sending over two of their maids to help out. Our maid needed all the help she could get, for there were constant piles of laundry from eight kids taking at least three baths a day.

And to her five boys, our mother’s primary rule of behavior towards the opposite sex is to never make them cry. She would also relentlessly remind us that if ever we touched disrespectfully any of the household help, she would have the culprit marry the maid. Period.

It wasn’t until I got older that I realized our mother’s concern for our maids in particular and with women in general. It was borne by the gruesome acts against women that were committed by the Japanese military forces during the war, which my mother had partly witnessed or heard directly from some of the survivors she had met at the camps in the mountains.

Like all lessons taught by our mother, I brought it with me into adulthood, but since I grew up during the era years after the liberation, I soon forgot about these war crimes until I found this book at the National Bookstore the other day by Armando A. Ang, “The Brutal Holocaust — Japan’s World War II Atrocities and their Aftermath.” I was compelled to purchase it.

The Japanese, according to this book, have always considered themselves to be a chosen people by divine providence. Its mission was to conquer and rule other countries. Jimmu Tenno, the first emperor of Japan, was said to have given the divine command, Hakko Ichiu, to bring the world under its rule. This divine command has been resurrected several times in its long history.

The militaristic nature of the Japanese then — its culture of extreme brutality and fanaticism from the past — impacted the Japanese society as a whole for centuries. Early in life, children were indoctrinated into believing that they were a superior race and that others would eventually serve them, especially the white prisoners of war who would dishonor themselves by surrendering. In short, they were racist and racism was adopted as part of their life. Their ancient Shinto religion, strongly nationalist and racist in character, was fostered wholeheartedly. Hence, the Chinese were originally singled out and considered subhuman or vermin; killing them was of no major significance. When World War II broke out, the other Asian nations were also regarded as vermin to be annihilated from the face of the earth.

One of the book’s most troubling chapters is about the comfort women. It is not my intention to echo its details, but will only mention that thousands of Filipino women, as well as prepubuscent girls and boys were forcibly abducted by the Japanese forces, and subjected to routine sadistic gang rapes and murder. Such systematic crimes against humanity were common occurrences not only in the Philippines but throughout any Asian country invaded and occupied by the Japanese forces. The most horrific account of which on record was by Iris Chang 's “The Rape of Nanking.”

As for the overall despicable behavior demonstrated by the Japanese invading forces, one historian at the Southern Illinois University had this to say: “In terms of measures and cruelty of the genocide, its duration and large numbers of people killed, neither Hiroshima nor the Jewish Holocaust can rival the Nanking Massacre. The manner in which the victims had met their death was extremely cruel and diverse, so ghastly in fact that it made Auschwitz gas chamber appear humane. The victims of the Jewish holocaust were seldom physically mistreated.”

And because these atrocities were committed by the Japanese mostly against their fellow Asians (Chinese, Koreans, Thais, and Filipinos to name a few) the Americans, led by General Douglas MacArthur never pursued these war crimes to provide their victims, living or dead, their due justice. Yet, to this day, there are thousands of living survivors who are still trying to demand an official apology from the Japanese government and full recompense for their pain and suffering.

This entry is not intended as a general indictment against the Japanese people and society of today, for many things have changed since these tragic wartime events took place several decades ago. Political forces have realigned that enemies have become friends and atrocities have been forgotten to the detriment of those whose justice had not been served.

Notwithstanding, it is my hope that we continue to support even in thought the remaining living survivors — especially the comfort women — in their efforts to find justice, recompense, and ultimately, inner peace.

Orchidarium at Rizal Park, Manila

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