I hadn’t planned on writing a “book report” on either of the two books I pledged to read for my New Year resolution. But after finishing the first of those books, I’ve decided to share some observations that impressed themselves upon me. I was previously aware of most of these observations but reading about them awakened them from their nap.
The book I’ve just completed reading is “My Faraway Home.” The author is a Class of ’51 alum (although she left after ninth grade) of my Manila high school who was seven when the Japanese invaded the Philippines. Her family fled to the jungle rather than surrender and be imprisoned in an internment camp. Not surrendering brought with it the risk of execution for defying the Japanese.
My first observation was the arrogance and naïvete of Americans in the Philippines (and possibly in America). As late as one week before Pearl Harbor was attacked, Gen. MacArthur assured the author’s father that there was little possibility of war with Japan. The Japanese would not be so foolish to begin a war, MacArthur said; and even if they did do so, he assured that the Americans would win quickly. This was the near universal attitude among Americans in the Philippines.
After the Japanese invaded and MacArthur retreated to the Bataan peninsula and island fortress of Corregidor, the civilians believed the Americans could hold out there indefinitely until the navy and army arrived, presumably shortly, to rout the Japanese. After Singapore fell, it finally began to occur to them that this war may last some time. And after it was announced that MacArthur had escaped the Philippines to Australia, despair set in as they realized they were now in for the long haul. All these perceptions affected decisions they made.
Why was America so arrogant to think that its army, which last fought trench warfare in World War I, could stand up to the Japanese Army veterans who gained combat experience from years of war in China, which was a much more “modern” war which made World War I experience irrelevant? Simple….the Japanese were Asians and Asians were not equal to the white man. Or as the author put it, she had been taught that “Americans are winners; others are losers.”
I think too many Americans today share that child’s naivete and her parents’ arrogance. Both the Roman and British Empires no doubt believed they were invincible. They collapsed. I believe the era of American supremacy, which I date as beginning in 1945, is already waning. At one time, military power was an answer that easily worked; that is becoming less true. America is a very young country; perhaps that is why we behave like an adolescent. Hopefully, we will mature.
When a group of people are living under stress, that stress just as easily creates conflict as cohesion. There was regular conflict with the group about how and when to use food supplies, fuel for a generator, and many other issues.
If a small group of people often cannot agree on a course of action, how can a nation of millions have cohesion? It cannot.
This is why I believe calls for “bi-partisanship” are hollow window dressing. Conflict is the normal order of life. And whether you settle that conflict with guns or votes, there is only one winner. It is a zero-sum game.
I will never accept the “Kumbaya” thinking of politics. It is always about power and, upon achieving it, using that power to benefit the group(s) you favor. We are not one nation; we are many nations competing for power. There may be a temporary “truce”, as during the Second World War, when it is necessary for survival, but lacking that motivation, it will always be “politics as usual.”
A number of Americans were afraid that the Filipinos would betray them to the Japanese or take their food, money, and other possessions for themselves. The Japanese had placed a bounty for the capture or information leading to the capture of Americans and other Allied nationals. The Filipinos were suffering just as much as, and perhaps more, than the Americans, who had received food and other materials from the military before the surrender and had stockpiled it.
To me, this fear reflected the “guilt” that Americans felt now that their military could no longer protect them. They realized that they were foreign occupiers who really had no business in the Philippines. Without the military, they understood that the Filipinos may regard them as an enemy and act accordingly. War brought about an interesting reality check for the Americans.
In fact, for the most part, the Filipinos remained extremely loyal to the Americans and suffered terribly for it. During the Bataan Death march, any Filipino who gave food or water to the starving soldiers was executed. Near the end of the war, after a combined American parachute assault, assisted by Filipino guerillas on the ground, liberated 2,500 mostly American civilians just before they were to be executed, the Japanese massacred everyone they could find in a nearby town on the premise that they had somehow aided the raid.
The author notes that in pre-war times, the “mestizos” (mixed blood persons, such as me) ranked lower on the social hierarchy than pure Filipinos. I guess the thinking then was that these “partial” Americans had been “contaminated” by Filipino blood. (Kinda like how, in the South, anyone with 1/8 black blood was classified as “black.”)
My experience is that once the Philippines became independent, being “mestizo” had advantages. I have the luxury of calling up whichever blood line I think will be to my advantage: Filipino, Spanish, or American. And there is in fact a huge advantage if you are accepted by someone as one of “us.”
This one is perhaps my favorite one because it concerns how decisions are made. The group which the author’s family lived with at a remote mine in the jungle eventually faced a critical decision.
After Bataan fell, the Japanese began to consolidate their occupation of the country. Allied civilians were ordered to surrender; that meant imprisonment at an internment camp.
The group knew that the Japanese were aware of their location, although it was somewhat difficult to get to. Observation planes had flown over their camp.
At a group meeting where each family decided what to do, about half decided to surrender and half decided to remain at the camp and take their chances. It was expected that if the Japanese came to the camp everyone there would be executed, the typical Japanese response to defiance. Everyone had the same facts, yet half decided one way and the other half decided the other way.
This buttresses my belief that debates can rarely be settled by someone just presenting pertinent “facts” which lead to an “obvious“ conclusion. Only the most mundane decisions are made on the facts alone.
The kind of debates we so often see on these blogs will never be settled based on “facts.” That is why I often resist being drawn in such discussions. It is pointless. I will not be convinced and I will convince no one. Because disagreement is rarely the result of lacking facts.
Values, not facts, instruct our decisions. Personality also shapes our decisions. “Facts” are the least important element of a decision, yet we are continually admonished to “understand the facts.”
Although I tried to see some “pattern“ in the decisions, I saw no common ground between how each family decided. Some who surrendered had children; the author’s family had a child but did not surrender.
Perhaps those who surrendered believed that it ensured they would not be executed but in fact the Japanese tried to execute many of the imprisoned civilians as the war ended. Perhaps they believed that if they surrendered they would eat regularly and decently, receive medicine when sick, etc.
That did not happen either. There were no “facts” to support such beliefs. And given the presumption of execution for not surrendering, how does one rationally conclude that surrender will result in humane treatment from someone who would execute a civilian?
Surrendering means you have lost control of your life to someone else. So I do not surrender; I have always been a fighter. Better to die fighting than die begging.
There are so many ways you can surrender outside of war. Surrender to the verdict of “experts.” Surrender to what people say you cannot accomplish. Surrender to an unhappy situation in life.
Most folks are not defeated in life; they surrender rather than fight. You may not win the fight, but if you surrender then it is impossible to win.
In November 1944, after over two and a half years in the jungle, the author’s family was part of a group of three dozen mostly civilians who were the first ones evacuated by submarine to Australia and then, after a few months, back to the U.S. They arrived in Australia one day before Thanksgiving after about a week’s voyage.
While in Australia, the author’s family learned from evacuees arriving after them that within weeks of their escape, the Japanese had in fact converged on the group’s former remote jungle hideout and searched for them for many days. The author believes the Japanese would have found their second “safe house” a few miles from the main camp.
They also learned that the Japanese had tracked down an American family hiding in the jungle on another, nearby Philippine island. Rather than surrender for an expected execution, the father shot his family and then killed three Japanese before being killed.
Interestingly, when the submarine that rescued them arrived in the Philippines, they were greeted by a family friend: “Chick” Parsons, who taught the author how to swim before the war. Now in the Navy with a rank of Commander, he worked for Gen. MacArthur. He was the coordinator of submarine missions to the Philippines which provided supplies to the guerillas and pockets of American soldiers who had not surrendered, obtained information from them, and directed other vital activities which assisted in the planning and execution of Macarthur’s “I shall return” pledge.
Cmdr. Parsons’ son, Peter (American School of Manila Class of 1955), has produced a documentary (The Secret War) of the relatively unknown role of the Special Mission Submarines. If you’re interested in this story, visit the documentary website.
(Note: I am in Panama City this weekend, for the Mardi Gras parade and festival hosted by the Krewe of St. Andrews, so I will not be able to respond to comments until late Sunday.)
Next Sunday: I’ll discuss a different type of war which many in this country have not been winning for years but which may be changing with the recession; a turn around which the “experts” suggest is exacerbating the recession. But in any war, you have a singular goal: save yourself.