“Occupation: 1942-1945” is a record of the Japanese occupation of the Philippines by Benito J. Legarda Jr. It is the sort of historical writing that would-be historians should emulate.
This volume of articles originally written for a newspaper presents the sweep of events roiling over the islands during the occupation. The author uses facts coupled with an enviable and detailed grasp of events. He includes disturbing as well as edifying vignettes of life as lived under an occupation that tested every man’s core, making the book not only highly informative but also highly readable.
A fine example of this precision and grasp of events is the sections on the Battle for Leyte Gulf consisting of several battles that sought to entrap MacArthur’s forces. Time, places, ordnance, battleships, carriers and their positions in the various straits are named and described.
Commanding officers, sea routes taken and aborted in a cat-and-mouse game that sought to thwart Macarthur and his armada arouse the interest and the passion of the reader.
The quandaries of both Admiral Kurita and Admiral Halsey, as they played out the moves and maneuvers , are also presented, as are the conflicting ideas of the higher authorities looming over each combatant.
Legarda’s narrative includes the often overlooked, seldom praised Juan de la Cruz. When he rises to nobility, few notice.
Valeriano Abello was one such man. Has anybody bothered to guess what might have been had Abello hesitated or decided not to act on his signal observations? Obviously it involved not only danger to his own person, but also ridicule and shame if proven wrong.
But Abello did not hesitate. With two friends, he reached a command ship to relay information that he perceived to be of military importance. Legarda did well to include him on his roster of men worthy of praise and delineate his role for posterity.
Details of the horrors and the bestiality inflicted on our civilian population, especially women and children, for part of these articles that seamlessly coalesce into a balanced record of those years. These details, unflinchingly spelled out, are painful to read.
Survivors tend to blur or dismiss war memories, for in remembering is sorrow, pain, revulsion and regret. But clarity is necessary, painful though the process be. In the graphic descriptions of rapes and their aftermath, drawn in gory, bestial details, the reader is compelled to pause. The scene becomes clearer, demanding a stand on what are still issues today.
Do we support or ignore the issues raised by the comfort women of the occupation? Do we celebrate the deaths of our youths by building shrines to their killers?
The horrors of war become almost too vivid when Legarda recounts the crunching sound of bones as a vehicle traversed Manila, a ravaged city with untended corpses littering its streets. Cold statistics of the dead cannot conjure the enormity of the destruction as this recounting does.
Seemingly minor details recorded by the writer are etched into our consciousness and deepen our sense of what it means to be truly human: An officer refraining from showing the slightest aversion to the stench before a dying soldier visualizes for us the human content of a war we all know but seldom visualize.
Legarda also addresses the coping mechanisms to survive. A description of how “home economics” worked is certainly amusing, as are the inclusion of musical “attempts” and events, perhaps the sole salve of those years. But the most poignant manner of coping was the silence with which one bore the indignities the war inflicted, a silence demanded by loyalty, duty and fear.
This is an author who speaks his mind. What should be censured is censured; what is commendable is praised; and what merits more thought is brought to the fore.
There is responsible journalism, scholarly respect for the truth, and a still questioning glance at the past. This should be in every Filipino’s home library. —CONTRIBUTED