Remember Manila, 1945
Rescue from the horrors of Auschwitz 60 years ago was commemorated at the end of January. Civilian prisoners of the Japanese had obtained their freedom in the Philippines soon after. The battle for Manila lasted from Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945. The Holocaust remains the most monstrous crime of the 20th century, but atrocities occurred on the other side of the world, which are only briefly mentioned, if at all. Among younger generations, they are unknown.
Several thousand civilians were prisoners in the Santo Tomas (University) internment camp. Some were brutally killed while interned. As the war grew worse for the Japanese, they accelerated a campaign of deliberate starvation. Pleas by parents for food to sustain the children were ignored for months.
In October 1944, American forces landed on Leyte Island. Already scant rations were summarily reduced to 11Ú2 cups of wormy rice per day for adults and 5 ounces for children under 10. Milk for babies was stopped. By January 1945, the ration was one-half cup for adults. The prisoners scraped a native root and picked hibiscus leaves to make a thick soup. Doctors were punished for listing starvation as a cause of death. My 5-foot, 2-inch mother weighed 72 pounds when liberated, and my father, 6-foot, 3-and-a-half inches tall, weighed 135.
We also need to remember that Japanese troops killed 100,000 citizens, mostly Filipinos, during the month-long resistance. The American First Cavalry had raced through Manila to free the internees, knowing they would be killed first. During the battle for the city, 16,000 Japanese troops refused to surrender. They herded people into churches, hospitals and houses and set the building afire. Those who fled were shot, bayoneted or beheaded – men, women, children, babies. Meanwhile, military and civilian prisoners were being free from other camps. Cabanatuan, Bilibid and Los Banos added their recitation of atrocities.
Besides slave labor, other human rights violations included inhumane medical and bacteriological experiments, starvation, withholding Red Cross care packages, mayhem and rape.
Japan was finally forced to admit its crimes against the Korean comfort women and for the rape of Nanking, but that country has sanitized its history books covering the period. Young Japanese today know nothing of Pearl Harbor or of the barbarous treatment afforded prisoners of war. Germany has tried to atone, accepts its culpability and teaches students that World War II was an evil period in its history.
Japanese behavior was spawned by culture. Schoolboys were taught to honor the knights of bushido and the samurai code. To surrender meant dishonor, not only for a soldier but for his family. Death was the heroic alternative. Even common soldiers had no respect for an inferior race, as they judged the Caucasians who surrendered at Correigidor. They were deemed unfit to live. The suicides and fights to the death on far Pacific islands presented an unexpected study of the Japanese psyche. Kamikaze suicide missions provided emphasis. Young teens learned in simulators how to take off, keep a plane in the air and aim it at a ship. They didn’t practice landings. They would die gloriously for their god-emperor.
Such fanaticism influenced the decision to drop the atomic bomb. In March 1945, Tokyo was firebombed. Sixteen square miles were leveled, 83,000 were killed and a million made homeless. This was eight months before 80,000 were killed in Hiroshima (over time, the figure keeps inflating). The militarists prepared to sacrifice as much of Japan’s population as necessary. A million men at arms remained in the home islands. Neither did the second atomic bomb over Nagasaki bring immediate submission. Unrelenting raids by B-29s in the days following clinched it. The military was threatening to depose Emperor Hirohito when he made an unprecedented radio address to his people, announcing unconditional surrender.
Of almost 14,000 civilian internees from several nations, less than 3,000 were alive in 1999. About 9,000 remained of 33,600 military personnel. Survivors have, for years, sought reparations and a formal apology from Japan. That nation still denies its history. The 1951 Treaty of San Francisco freed war criminals not yet tried and absolved Japan. We needed bases there for the Korean Conflict. In the year 2000, a federal judge ruled that the peace agreement bars former prisoners of the Japanese from seeking redress. Soon there will be no survivors to make claims. Our country will feel eternal guilt for Hiroshima and U.S. relocation camps without accusing whispers from those forgotten voices echoing in its collective ear.
Gloria Thiele is a resident of Grass Valley.
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