WE always say that we Filipinos are forgetful of our history. But I realized it’s not always the case; it really depends.
People seem to have “forgotten” the atrocities of dictatorship because only a portion of the population really suffered the extreme brutalities of the regime. People cannot easily remember the meltdown of the economy or the inefficiency of government simply because eventually we get used to it. Eventually most people don’t really care about the crimes our public officials did, the important thing for people is that these people could be useful in “our” present politics.
A fellow anchorman once told me his theory about Filipinos’ forgetfulness of their history. This is because of our geography; being situated in the Pacific Ocean and the Ring of Fire made us suffer storms and other calamities. We have to cope, and in our resilience, we have to forget. This seemed plausible until another friend reminded me that if you go to the provinces and talk to old people, they might not remember exact dates, but they tell stories using strong earthquakes or the names of the destructive storms as references, “noong Ruby Tower” (1968 Casiguran earthquake), “na-Yoling” (1970 typhoon), “noong July 16” (1990 earthquake), “na-Rosing” (1995 thypoon), “na-Ondoy” (2009 flash floods), or “na-Yolanda” (2013 typhoon).
Another unforgettable time for most Filipinos would be the Japanese occupation. Even the younger generations will have animated memories of the atrocities because the extent of them was massive and the old people were only too eager to describe them repeatedly. Teachers also teach this to the young. Most of us describe to people how babies were thrown into the air by the Japanese and caught by bayonets, even if we were not there.
It is also an enduring memory because it is against a foreign oppressor; we are always reluctant to talk about it when it is about a local oppressor, or to some extent the Americans during the Philippine-American War.
The Japanese atrocities happened not just in the Philippines, but in the rest of Southeast Asia and China: women were raped, people were tortured and killed. Men, women, old people, young people, soldiers and civilians. There were comfort women and even comfort gays. Prisoners of war were burned alive in Puerto Princesa. There was also the unbearable situation inside what were described as “hell ships.” From the Rape of Nanking in 1936 to the Rape of Manila in 1945, millions died as a result of the conflict. But do you know that Japanese textbooks don’t discuss these atrocities?
I have a copy of an old book called History of Japan written by Saburo Ienaga and published by the Japan Travel Bureau. The story of the war was encapsulated in one sentence: “The story of the Pacific War and of its aftermath needs little mention.” What???
Also, from August 2001, the former Japanese prime minister Junichiro Koizumi started to regularly visit the Yasukuni Shrine, a shrine to the Japanese war leaders, a number of whom were classified as Class-A war criminals, meaning those who had the highest responsibility for those crimes. Why are they being treated as heroes?
The people of China and Korea vehemently protested the honoring of the dead.
Shinzo Hayase, PhD of the Osaka City University and currently visiting professor at the De La Salle University History Department, is one of the Japanese historians whose advocacy is to remind a new generation of Japanese students about the atrocities of the imperial forces and the lessons of history by showing the Japanese how the whole of Southeast Asia memorializes the tragedy.
In his book A Walk Through War Memories in Southeast Asia (an English translation is available through New Day Publishers), Hayase tries to explain to outsiders why the Japanese seem to be dismissive of their war history. For the Japanese, the war in general was a painful experience and they have the Class-A war criminals convicted at the Tokyo trials to blame. Two million ordinary soldiers died following their emperor’s orders to protect their families, friends and traditions. (The Japanese propensity to fight to the death is well-known.) Their loved ones, many times receiving only a piece of paper to inform them of a soldier’s death, rarely receive their bodies. For them, they are also victims.
Shinzo explained that in the Shinto religion, the Japanese believe that the souls of their dead loved ones return to that shrine. They promised that after the war, they would see each other again, dead or alive, “under the cherry trees at Yasukuni Shrine.” It is the way an orphaned Japan copes with its own grief.
So, for many in Japan, this is why they choose to forget. We are not forgetful; we choose what we remember. Same there. Same here.
But for its lessons, we have to continue remembering.