Chronicle of a city’s agony
In 1995, a Great Remembering began. That year marked the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Manila, and survivors who had spent decades focused on living began sharing their memories of the destruction of the capital.
That remembering continued — and continues — so that, as those who lived through that tragedy prepare for the 75th anniversary next year, those who weren’t around then have been able to learn a lot more over the past quarter-century than was the case in the immediate half-century that preceded the start of that process of sharing, and unburdening, of the horrific memories of a city’s desolation.
That Great Remembering, in articles, interviews and memoirs, have provided the raw material for books that serve to consolidate, and thus transmit, for future generations, the experiences of those who witnessed so much death and devastation that they couldn’t bear to recall it for decades.
Three British military historians, Richard Connaughton, John Pimlott and Duncan Anderson, did the first draft, so to speak, with the publication of their Battle of Manila in 1995. It was a grand tour d’horizon of the circumstances that combined to result in the street-by-street fighting for the capital.
Alfonso J. Aluit, for his part, in “By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II, 3 February-3 March 1945,” told the story from the point of view of the civilians systematically exterminated by Japanese troops as survivors were caught in the crossfire. Six years later, in 2006, Jose Ma. Escoda would undertake a similar grisly compendium of first-person accounts in “Warsaw of Asia: The Rape of Manila.”
On Feb. 12, at 4:30 p.m., another book, “Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila” by an American, James M. Scott, will be launched at the Ayala Museum under the auspices of the Filipinas Heritage Library (repository of the Roderick Hall Collection on World War II in the Philippines) and National Bookstore, distributor of the book. This book is different from the books that have come before, in the author’s fusing of interviews of survivors still living with the affidavits and testimonies in war crimes trial proceedings, and those of other survivors soon after the events took place, together with a quite astounding survey of eyewitness accounts and observations in diaries of individuals as diverse as an anonymous Japanese soldier recording their daily catalog of killings, and the renowned novelist John Dos Passos, who was a war correspondent covering American military operations.
The newspapers of the time were consulted, too, providing a contrast between the glowing accounts in the press and the private thoughts of the soldiers, civilians and journalists actually in the field.
What sets this book apart is its sense of place and not just time. Though the mania for renaming streets means that many specific street names might not ring a bell with present-day Filipino readers, there are places aplenty that still stand or existed recently enough for readers to grasp not only what was going on, but where — and how the day-by-day, hour-by-hour stories of events flow into each other. I have read the books mentioned above, but this volume tells the story best of all, because not only the what, who and where but the why is laid out, in a manner that assures you that the author didn’t just do the due diligence of poring over the contents of archives and the transcriptions of interviews, but also went and saw, and walked around, the city himself.
It may well be that this will be the last time a writer will be able to combine the records of the past with consultations with still-living witnesses to these events. Thus, its publication comes not a moment too soon — but also, as a fitting commemoration in anticipation of the last milestone commemoration. The Great Remembering is coming to an end; in this book, the various threads of Filipino, American and Japanese, of friends and foes, have been tied together, creating a tapestry that proves the pain of reliving memories was worth it. They did not die in vain, if there are those who will remember long after those who survived are themselves long gone.