That was a scene from episode, “Replacements,” of “Band of Brothers,” where the newly-liberated Dutch are shown taking a direct hand in the punishment of collaborators.
Last week’s show triggered a protest from a viewer, who said we praised, much too highly, individuals who achieved prominence not due to merit, but due to their collaborating with the dictatorship.
The viewer’s protest serves as a reminder that there are many wounds that have yet to heal, some remaining raw despite it occurring a generation or two ago. In recent years, our society has been divided on political and moral issues, too.
So I thought we should reflect on this question. Is one man’s cooperation, critical or not, another’s contemptible collaboration?
I. Lurking under the rug
Over the holidays I got to read this book, “Murder in Amsterdam: Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance” by Ian Baruma. In connection with our opening scene from “Band of Brothers,” a recollection he had, struck me.
In the book, he said that the Dutch had swept two great issues under the rug, as they concentrated on rebuilding their country after World War II. The first great issue was the shameful enthusiasm with which some of the Dutch embraced Nazi occupation, and many others turned a blind eye to the arrest and deportation of Dutch Jews.
The second great issue was the attempt by the Netherlands, to keep possession of Indonesia after World War II, and their abandonment of their allies, the Moluccans.
What was said by Baruma of the Dutch can be said of many other people, faced with similar great problems at a similar time. The French, for example, after World War II, were more focused on restoring the prestige of their country, than on confronting the question of collaboration with the Nazis.
A generation ago, the Chad Mitchell Trio made fun of the Germans themselves, with the song, “I was Not a Nazi Polka.” Let’s listen.
Each and ev’ry German dances to the strain
Of the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
All without exception join in the refrain
Of the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
Goering was a crazy; he wanted to deport.
Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
We all thought that Dachau was just a nice resort.
Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka.
The German is so cultured, he does not like to fight.
The peaceful life is what he most enjoys.
For years, the German people were utterly convinced
I.G. Farben manufactured children’s toys.
I never shot a Luger or goosed a single step.
Sing the I Was Not a Nazi Polka!
And the same could be said of us –except we tend to think that we’re somehow unique in not confronting past issues of collaboration. After World War II, everyone, it seemed, had been in the resistance. After Edsa in 1986, no one wanted to confront the question of how we could have had a dictatorship, in the first place, without popular support.
Now why am I bringing up the question of collaboration? In and of itself, it’s a nice word:
1 the action of working with someone to produce or create something
But there’s another meaning:
2 traitorous cooperation with an enemy.
In school, until quite recently, we were told that Andres Bonifacio started the Revolution in 1896 but that our nationhood dates to Emilio Aguinaldo’s proclamation as dictator-president in 1898. In the two years in between, of course, one ended up toppled by the other, from power, and one was executed on orders of the other.
Both accused the other of being a traitor: Bonifacio was accused of attempting to divide the revolution, Aguinaldo was accused of trying to reach a settlement with Spain, which he did in 1897 with the Pact of Biak-na-Bato.
In round two of our revolution, the question of collaboration arose over attitudes towards our First Republic’s one time ally, and then enemy, the United States.
The two prime ministers of the Malolos Republic, Apolinario Mabini and Pedro Paterno, both eventually took the oath of allegiance to the United States. However, Paterno did it earlier and Mabini much later.
Mabini said the difference was that even when the Republic was fighting for its life, Paterno and friends were already seeking an accommodation with America. In contrast, Mabini said he didn’t reconcile himself to American rule until the Republic was obviously, and permanently, dead and buried.
During World War II, even as our soldiers fought in Bataan, Filipino government officials left behind in Manila, which was occupied by the Japanese, had to decide what to do.
They decided to cooperate with the Japanese. Their decision was motivated by patriotism, a desire to keep serving the country, and temper the harshness of Japanese rule, but in some cases, also by fear, even ambition. Collaboration became a dirty word as it had been at the turn of the century.
In our first postwar elections, collaboration became an issue. President Osmena represented the government that had gone into exile; Senate President Roxas campaigned to vindicate those who’d been left behind in positions of authority.
While Roxas won, and tried to settle the collaboration issue by granting amnesty to those accused of treason, the electorate continued, on the whole, to prefer those who’d claimed they fought the Japanese.
Whether Magsaysay or Marcos, former guerrillas claim to active resistance resonated with the electorate. This explains why Marcos was so proud of his medals –they were an enhancement to his winnability.
The Marcos years also divided Filipinos between those who took pride in the New Society, and those who condemned it.
And its collaboration, in the sense of betrayal, that became a heated topic for discussion when Adrian Cristobal died. The intellectual, as the personification of a larger debate, when we retun.
II. Choosing sides
That was a scene from “Points,” from “Band of Brothers. In it, three soldiers end up settling, by brute force, a question at least two of them could have moral certainty over, but not legal certainty. Yet in the end, all three became a party to settling the question of perceived guilt, by violent means.
There’s a saying that history is written by the victors, but in all our great divisions, the victors have included many who, logically, ought to have been among the losers.
Let me give you an example. When Adrian Cristobal died, I pointed out that one of the ideas he helped propagate, when he served Marcos, has proven quite enduring. That’s the idea of a New Society. I also pointed out that to the end of his days, Cristobal had remained an important, even respected, man of ideas.
The noted historian Patricio Abinales, commenting in my blog, had a pointed rejoinder:
How can people praise someone who was an active participant in the grand deception of the Marcos dictatorship? Who helped write its ideological and philosophical premises, and when needed, make the regime sophisticated and cosmopolitan… — and in the process attempting to hide its true nature: that of a brutal order that killed, imprisoned, exiled thousands of Filipinos? … Does death mean a near absolution of one’s sins to humanity? What ever happened to the once-famous slogan “no reconciliation without justice”, a phrase that — in my humble opinion — applies to everyone who were part of those 15 years of suffering and darkness?
Now it seems to me that Adrian Cristobal was quite aware that both in life and death, he’d be haunted by the choices he’d made. In his book “The Tragedy of the Revolution,” he closed it by dismissing the arguments made by people, who argued Bonifacio had to die.
[Bonifacio’s trial and execution] was not a misunderstanding or a mistake. It was not necessary for the life of the Revolution. It was not an inevitable unfolding of the historical process. It was a crime, even if historical time (whatever that means) decreed there were no criminals.
Some would counsel burying the tragedy in the past where it belongs, but history is about remembering, not forgetting…
The burden of history, I hold, remains with the living, and above all, on the descendants of the players, whatever their roles, in the historical drama. If they can learn to forgive one another, then we as a people can forgive ourselves.
We always hear of appeals for reconciliation, for old quarrels to be set aside to achieve a new unity. Yet there are voices who question whether reconciliation isn’t a kind of betrayal, too.
Besides being an acclaimed novelist, a National Artist for Literature, Frankie Sionil Jose is an uncompromising social critic. Now we value all feedback from our viewers, but I must say I didn’t expect an email from him about this show.
Zach, would you please read Mr. Jose’s email, in full?
2 January 2008
I normally like your TV program but seeing it this evening, I am sorry to tell you that it did not come across as a good explanation of why we are not on top, the way it was in the fifties and sixties. First, the book that you selected for your base discussion is terribly flawed—how can an old man like me who knows most of those characters, some of them lackeys of Marcos, ever consider them as achievers when they got to the top not on merit but because of graft and political connections.
I will not honor them by calling them professionals—they are charlatans. This is sad because Macaranas has some proper things to say about culture and history. Maybe he should have stayed behind like so many of us, instead, of fleeing to America. Was his life in danger then? You should have asked the difficult questions. Or are you afraid to ask them? We cannot move forward if we don’t face some of these ugly truths about ourselves, about our society, about our leaders. And that includes Ramos and Estrada.
I hope that you will have a better program next week.
Mabuhay ka and my best wishes for 2008.
So since any viewer’s wish is our command, I thought it best to re-invite our guest from last week, to address F. Sionil Jose’s questions, and to ponder a larger one.
That question is, when opinion divides on the sides our best and brightest choose to take, must the division be permanent, or can it be resolved?
We’ll ask our guest when The Explainer returns.
I’d like to invite you to read F. Sionil Jose’s challenging collection of essays, “Why we are Poor,” as our limited time won’t let me do justice to his provocative ideas.
But in turn, he asked, of this other book, the one we discussed last week, not only why we’re poor, but why we lost the pretty good place we’d achieved by the 1950s and 1960s.
In this book, I was actually tasked with answering the question, from a political point of view. The answer is, is that a society must evolve, or perish. Every generation necessarily sees the world differently from the one that preceded it. A smooth transition from the older to the younger is the natural course of events for individuals as well as nations. When one generation, however, tries to hold back the clock, trouble ensues.
In a nutshell, timidity isn’t always prudence; and a fear of change may give you short-term satisfaction, but also guarantees further, and worse, problems, later on. Each time we’ve been confronted with the opportunity for change since the 1960s, we’ve preferred stability to change. The result is what we have: instability, and change so delayed, the lack of it is a chronic problem in world where change is occurring faster and faster.