This turned out to be such an ambitious undertaking, transcribing my grandfather’s World War 2 memoirs. I started sharing entries last year, but only posted a couple of entries on my Facebook page before kind of forgetting about it. But I returned to it this past summer and now, after four full months since August of steady updates, including a post detailing the pivotal Battle of Manila outside of the memoir, it is now complete.
It’s actually been a very enjoyable and fulfilling experience. I’m not sure that very many people have this kind of access to their family history, so it’s kind of unique to see something so close against the backdrop of real history. And the memoirs were hardly the only thing he kept records of; there are daily journals he kept as a young man in the service at the turn of the century. He was obviously a very meticulous and detail-oriented man.
He was also a man of his time, displaying the kind of racial attitudes common to the era. While he had tremendous affection for the Filipino people, he utterly despised the Japanese, as his entry following the death of his third child Arthur during the battle so utterly displayed. This attitude toward the Japanese was carried over a bit to his oldest sons Charlie and Henry, who as teenagers during the Japanese occupation would have been subject to more harassment by Japanese authorities. My own dad, a toddler at the beginning of the occupation, never displayed any animosity towards the Japanese, except to admonish us not to buy Japanese made cars (heh).
And I don’t, either. Obviously I have the benefit of growing up in a time where Japan is a close ally and friend of the United States, and while I was transcribing my grandfather’s entries I could empathize with his anger and hostility, not to mention share his outrage over the decision of the Japanese to engage in a building by building battle to the death with the American forces, committing horrible atrocities against the civilian Filipino population throughout the month long battle. Rapes, shootings, bayoneting, indiscriminate and deliberate slaughter of defenseless people, including burning down houses including my families and shooting the occupants as they fled the burning buildings; these atrocities barely scratch the surface of what they did. Especially knowing that at first, the Japanese Army had evacuated the city to fall back to the countryside, only for the Japanese Navy to disembark its sailors to occupy the city and fight to the death. Apparently the Japanese admiral in charge had his former ship sunk by the Americans during an earlier naval battle and wanted revenge. I just don’t get it.
And yet, I don’t really hold it against the Japanese, per se. I don’t believe there was anything in the Japanese character that lent itself to this, because after all the Germans succumbed to the very same thing at the same time (and to a similar degree, the Russians and Italians, as well). The mass indoctrination of a populace by a fascist government in total control of all facets of public life is a well documented phenomenon. When you start to blame people who are different than you for all your problems, when you start to classify these people as “The Other”, you begin to dehumanize them, and once you dehumanize people, it’s a frighteningly short distance to justify committing any atrocity towards them, because hey, they’re not really people, like us; they don’t share our values. They deserve what they get. No one is immune to that train of thought if you’re not careful. And it’s a lesson we should all do well to remember, today. Even here in America.
And then there’s that mysterious Japanese soldier who spared my family’s lives during the middle of the battle as they fled on foot. Who was he? Why did he spare their lives and show them the way to safety? What happened to him? Clearly, even among the diehard Japanese military there were those few with enough humanity and decency to do the right thing. I hope he made it, somehow.
And to know that so many Filipino civilians died during that horrible month—at least 100,000, if not more—including entire families who lived in the same neighborhood as my dad’s—the fact that only two family members (my great-grandmother Anding and my Uncle Arthur) out of ten lost their lives amidst bullets firing around their heads and mortar shells exploding all around them, is nothing short of miraculous. To know that you exist only by virtue of sheer luck, missed bullets, and by running into perhaps the one humane Japanese soldier in the middle of a battle to the death is a bit humbling.
So here we are at the end. I’ve gotten great feedback from people who have enjoyed reading these posts, and that’s been very much appreciated, although regardless this endeavor was worthwhile on its own merits. Knowing what happened has definitely given me perspective about material things, knowing when my family went through during those years (bed bugs?). I’ve had conversations with friends about it over drinks, and we’re sort of like, man, we in our generation haven’t done anything, have we? So much that we take for granted and so much that we’re prone to complaining about, when the truth is, we have very little if anything to truly complain about in our very fortunate lives that we get to live, by sole lottery of birth, here in this country.
So thanks again for following along on this journey. There will be one more post simply listing a directory of all of the memoir’s entries on this blog for ease of access.