Saturday, February 28, 2009
Too late the hero.
Manila is abuzz with excitement over the news that finally Filipino veterans of World War II, our homegrown soldiers who fought side by side with Americans in Corregidor but who have neither gained renown nor recompense for it, will finally be awarded their due. I am sure many of those veterans who are still alive are euphoric. In these hard times particularly, they could do well with manna from heaven, one fallen unexpectedly from the sky, in the form of half a million pesos.
But out of 240,000 to 250,000 Filipino veterans, only 18,000 remain, their ranks constantly depleted like leaves in autumn at the rate of 10 a day. Our veterans are too old now that marching to the US Embassy to comply with the requirement, proved more arduous than the Death March from Corregidor to Capas.
The compensation of the Filipino veterans is a start, but it barely scratches the surface in giving them their due. Indeed, it barely goes beyond the first step in giving this country its due. It hasn’t begun to address the powerful currents of discrimination that underlie the American neglect, albeit, betrayal, of its former colony after the war.
You don’t quite know whether to regard this as victory or defeat, as stark tragedy or black comedy. But you have to wonder why it had taken this long for the US government to finally cast an eye in our direction. Franklin D. Roosevelt had promised to indemnify every Filipino to the last carabao (water buffalo) who would take up arms against the Japanese. Of course many of them had no choice: It was their duty; they were soldiers. But many others were not, they were civilians turned by the outrage and the atrocities into guerrillas. Of course, too, Roosevelt would die before he could live up to his word, leaving Harry Truman to make good on the unpaid bill. But then he proved to be anything but a true man, turning his attention, and American money, instead to reconstructing Germany and Japan, the countries that had made hell for the world.
We Filipinos can see the discriminatory mindset even at this late date, in an American movie “The Great Raid,” which tells the story of an operation during the war that led to the freeing of more than 500 American POWs in Cabanatuan. The raid has landed in the American annals of war as one of the most daring and successful operations ever carried out by American soldiers. The film stresses the point, noting in the end, before the credits roll, that it led to the deaths of hundreds of Japanese and only two American soldiers. One POW died later from disease, making the entire casualty only three. For the record, it also adds that the raid led to the deaths of 21 Filipinos who helped carry it out.
How can an operation that led to the deaths of 24 people, presumably brothers-in-arms, be seen as having so ingenious a strategy and so miraculous an outcome? Only if you don’t look at the 21 too closely, or at all. In fact, unless you argue that the Filipinos were just too dumb to know how to dodge the Japanese bullets, you have to assume that the real daring was shown by them. They bore the brunt of the Japanese fire either because they took the lead or the more dangerous aspects of the operation. However charitable the movie looks at Filipinos by Hollywood standards, its perspective remains horribly skewed.
Change has come to America. When will it come to the world?