Sunday, March 29, 2009

Memories of War

My eldest brought home a borrowed DVD from a friend, entitled The Great Raid, starring Benjamin Bratt (Miss Congeniality), Joseph Fiennes (Shakespeare in Love), James Franco (Spiderman) and our very own Cesar Montano. Set in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecijia, the film tackled one of the most dangerous missions that American soldiers undertook towards the end of WWII, which was to rescue POWs in a concentration camp. The catch line of the movie is "the most dangerous mission of our time is a story that has never been told". Interesting indeed, because that mission is considered as the most successful rescue mission made by American soldiers. Before they undertook the mission, their commander announced to all of them that there is no place for atheists in his regiment. He encouraged his soldiers to call upon God to make their mission successful and for them to bring home to America the POWs who were the remaining survivors of the ill-fated Death March. They were able to rescue 511 POWs. On that mission, there were only three American casualties, Filipinos had 21, and they wiped out the whole Japanese army stationed in that camp. As the movie credits were being shown, actual footages of these rescued POWs were shown, up to the time they returned to the US.

My son, knowing that my parents like to watch war movies, invited them to view the movie in our home. My mother, now 72 years old, came. I didn't like to watch it as I really hate it when someone good dies in a movie. But I found myself glued to the television watching most of the scenes, along with my husband. Even my dog was there beside my mother watching the action scenes. Interspersed with the movie were my own mother's snippets of memories of the horrors of war.

She was only 6 years old that time, and as expected, she was very passionate while watching the movie, and I could see that she really has kept her sad memories with her. My son assured her that only one lead character would die in the movie, and she answered back that there are still many undocumented atrocities that the Japanese committed at that time.

And that's true. Most of the oldtimers now can attest to the harsh experiences people had during the war. In Leyte, where my parents were born and raised, my mother witnessed people supportive of America being dragged by military jeepneys and paraded for everyone to see, finally ending in the plaza where they were executed. My mother even pointed to the scars on her legs which she got from running across fields where blades of grass cut her young legs, and they had to stay hidden in the water up to 2 days, without food, resulting to infection of her cuts. She learned how to breath using a bamboo stick while hidden beneath the water in the river. She talked about cooking rice, with no smoke at all, because creating smoke would mean that the Japanese would be able to detect their location and raid them. She talked about American soldiers telling them to go to the shore because an air raid would most probably happen soon and staying on the shore would be safer for them because they're in the water. The Filipinos followed the instruction and many ran to the shore. The Japanese air raiders were quick to understand the strategy and instead of attacking the American airplanes, they first raided the shore where by then hundreds of Filipinos were already gathered. My grandmother told my mother to lie face flat and she personally witnessed a couple beside her being unfortunately hit by bullets.

My father's younger brother was a victim of the Japanese atrocity. The elder brothers of my father joined the guerrila forces. Left at home were their mother, my father, who was 14 at that time, and his younger brother, aged 8. One day the Japanese came to their house, accompanied by a member of Makapili, a militant group organized by Filipinos to give military aid to Japan. Apparently, the Makapili informed the Japanese that my father's elder brothers were part of the underground guerilla movement. The Japanese grabbed the youngest brother, in spite of the pleadings of my father and their mother. They thought that a young boy would tell the truth anytime, compared with my father who was older. The boy didn't say anything and the Japanese kept on torturing him, wringing his neck, which resulted in his tongue coming out permanently. The boy died 4 days later, and it caused my father extreme heartache which is with him to this day, not being able to do anything for his younger brother. Right after Liberation, my father's elder brother went straight to the house of the Makapili and shot him dead.

Many Filipinos now have almost forgotten this tragic chapter of Philippine history. Though they are aware of the fact that Japan ruled our country for a few years, most of them however, can no longer relate to the heartaches and pains felt by the older generations who experienced war. The number of Filipino war veterans is dwindling fast, many of them hoping to finally get the recognition they so rightly deserve.

No country can truly claim that it won a war. In all cases, we are all losers. We lost loved ones, we lost opportunities, we lost time. A war tends to rewrite a country's history and leaves a permanent toll to the nation. God never wants people to fight one another. War among ourselves was never in His agenda. People who decide to enter into war justify their decision that war is a necessary evil. But no matter how necessary it is, as they say, it is still evil. I always pray to God that my children, their children and their children's children (and so on) will never experience the horrors of war. My son once commented that future wars will be so unlike World War II, because it will most probably be a nuclear war. A single nuclear bomb would kill hundreds of thousands without anyone having time to realize what hit them (remember Terminator II).

In our present world where people are so occupied with issues such as global financial crisis and climate change, I fervently hope our politicians are wise enough not to enter into war. If you will observe, it is usually a country's politicians who start war, not the military. But then, it's the military who are the frontliners, and not the politicians. Our politicians have the power to make major decisions that are more complex than their thinking processes. If only we can enact a law that politicians should lead the battle if ever they declare war, then our world would definitely be a more peaceful place to live in.

"War does not determine who is right - only who is left."
--Bertrand Russell

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