‘Now we’re all sons of bitches’

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MAURO GIA SAMONTE

(Continued from Sunday)
COME August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped Little Boy, code name for the first ever atomic bomb used in warfare, over Hiroshima, instantly turning the city in shambles; more than 80,000 civilians were killed, with 70,000 wounded. As Japan still failed to signify agreement with the Potsdam Declaraion, another atomic bomb was dropped over Nagasaki, with a total of 75,000 killed and wounded. On August 15, Emperor Hirohito announced his acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration, and on September 2, 1945, the Emperor officially signed the document of surrender.

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In an upcoming book I have written on the life of Dr. Jose P. Laurel, I devoted an entire chapter on the Trinity Test, as a context of the late President’s bearing the nation on his shoulders at a time nobody else would. Observing that neither in Dr. Laurel’s War Memoirs nor in his son Doy Laurel’s A Child’s Footnote To History do the two make mention at all of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—when at the time of the bombing Dr. Laurel and party had been sheltered in Naga Hotel, in the city of the same name which was adjacent to Hiroshima, I wrote thus:

Intriguing hiatus
With all the day-to-day worries of bare survival the Laurel party had to attend to, it was next to impossible that any of them would ever sense even the scantiest interconnectivity of their odyssey with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In any social phenomenon, man simply acts according to social impulses at work in any given situation, without ever ascertaining why those impulses are at work.

If at the advent of the Allies push toward Baguio the impulse was to bring the Philippine government to the safety offered in Japan, then the order of the Japan Supreme War Council to evacuate the Filipino leaders to that country was the imperative that must be met—regardless of whether or not those leaders wanted to go. Regardless still of whether or not the Allied push this time was already being perceived as planned full-scale invasion of the Japanese mainland.

The execution of the Manhattan Project all the way to the Trinity test explosion had been carried out in such a secretive manner that it gave Japan no inkling whatsoever of her imminent defeat. If Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the turning points in Japan’s war with the Allies and Japan had known about it, then early on Emperor Hirohito would have acquiesced to the Potsdam Declaration and spared Japan the untold carnage and devastation she suffered.

But such are social phenomena, entirely imperceptible by human partakers at the moment of their occurrence. Their full impact gets realized only when it is no longer possible to change the course they had taken.

So, it must be beyond either Dr. Laurel or Doy Laurel to have ever perceived at the moment of its occurrence the clear confluence of their journey to Japan with the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And so, though it intrigues, it is quite understandable that neither Dr. Laurel in his War Memoirs nor Vice President Doy Laurel in his A Child’s Footnote To History makes mention of the interconnectivity of the Laurel odyssey to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

In his memoirs, Dr. Laurel simply writes: “We were accommodated at the Nara Hotel where we stayed until Speaker Aquino, I and Laurel III were arrested by Lt. Col. Turner and flown to Atsugi airport on September 15, 1945 and from there taken to the Yokohama Prison House, otherwise known as Stockade No. 1, Corps XI, Yokohama.”

Between arrival at Nara Hotel and arrest by Turner is a big blank but for the meetings among Dr. Laurel, Ambassador Vargas, Speaker Aquino, and Minister Osias in which were decided the dissolution of the Philippine Republic and matters for the disposition of the government treasury. Still, in that period was a big blank within which the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki should fit in prominently but don’t.

On the other hand, the same omission is very evident in Doy Laurel’s own narrative in his A Child’s Footnote To History. From an entry on June 11 regarding their arrival in Nara, the next entry is dated August 15 in which he describes the mass anguish of a defeated Japanese people, with the menfolk chanting their sorrow prior to committing suicide. The grievous chants are in reaction to Emperor Hirohito’s broadcast of Japan’s surrender to the Allies.

In both narratives, there appears to be a failure to touch on the topic of the atomic bombings. Such a failure must not be a simple case of oversight. Dr. Laurel and Doy Laurel are definitely not the type to ignore such an extremely significant event as the leveling of a city and the obliteration of a great mass of its population.

Deliberate omission?
Or is the omission deliberate? If it was, then it must be in the light of MacArthur imposing general censorship of information all over Japan upon his assumption as Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP), tasked with overall administration of the occupation of Japan at war’s end. Along with censorship of such medium of information as newspapers, radio broadcast, motion pictures, and school textbooks, no criticism of the occupation was allowed—including discussions on the effects of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Under the circumstances in which Dr. Laurel and Doy Laurel were writing their chronicles of the times, it would be easy to understand why their accounts do not contain discussions of a banned subject matter. Dr. Laurel was already in prison when he wrote his memoirs—and at that, between the lines on the pages of a book which was the only material allowed him to possess in his prison cell. For him to write about the atomic bombings would have meant further damnation from MacArthur, who had never been tolerant of Dr. Laurel’s propensity to assert Filipinism in dealings with Americans. It was Dr. Laurel who questioned the MacArthur decision to leave him together with other Filipino leaders to face up to the imminent Japanese occupation back in 1941.

But whatever the reason is, what the omission of the atomic bombings in the documents of Dr. Laurel and Doy Laurel effects is its not putting a closure to the issue of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On the contrary, itkeeps the issue alive—which in fact it has been since then.

For one thing, the atomic bomb did not subdue Japan; it empowered others after America—Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, Britain, France, the list had gone long since then—bringing about, in the words of Emperor Hirohito, a “general trend” where war is now threatening to result in a “total extinction of human civilization.”

For another thing, it had set Japan herself eventually on a strong partnership with the United States together with Great Britain and Australia in once again confronting another prospect of a world war, this time against erstwhile US allies Russia and China.

Japan has by now long joined in the fray.

Think, then, of Bainbridge’s figure of speech: “Now we’re all sons of bitches.”

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