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Rant #66
(published Late in the Year, 2001)
The Promise
by Manuel L. Quezon III

The sixtieth anniversary of the beginning of World War II for the United States passed with commemorations made more poignant by an American again at war. An America suddenly finding itself with the shadow of its "greatest generation" peering over its shoulders. An America led by a former pilot, and himself the son of a former president who, in that noblest of all wars, served as a Black Widow pilot in the reconquest of the Philippines: that former president himself being the son of a New England senator who had thought up the U.S.O. -itself called back into service sans Bob Hope and instead, under the glib Wayne Newton.

So in a new war, America finds itself led by the son of a veteran of the very war triggered by Pearl Harbor, and the grandson, at that, of a member of the U.S. Senate that was part of the government that prosecuted the war against Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo.

And yet in all the misty-eyed, patriotic recollections of December 7, 1941, sixty years later, another country and people who also suffered the effects of a dastardly attack were hardly mentioned, and if remembered at all, in the most perfunctory manner: the Filipinos and the Philippines.

For the Philippines and the United States, the 60th Anniversary of the start of the Pacific War was the last time a major anniversary of this sort will occur within the lifetimes of those who lived through those years -painful, horrifying years, years when Filipinos, then citizens of a Commonwealth assured of independence in 1946, but still under the American flag, proved we were willing not just to live, but to die, for our country. And yet those that lost their brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers, who suffered as civilians and fought and starved as soldiers, did not get, that day, even the most token sign of appreciation from a younger generation of Americans whose parents and grandparents we once called our Allies and brothers-in-arms.

The greatest tragedy is compounded by the sad fact that a younger generation of Filipinos has decided to make up its mind that the generation that suffered and died, that endured and survived, the war did so out of a naive faith in America and nothing else. Yet it was the same alien conqueror that other Asians fought for precisely the same reasons we did. In then-French Indochina, Ho Chi Minh led the resistance to the Japanese for the same unimpeachable reason Filipinos did: the Japanese invaded their shores. The same goes for the Chinese; the same even goes for Thailand, the government of which meekly allowed the Japanese to occupy its territory, but some of whose officials refused to accept the fact and set up a government in exile to prove to the world that Thailand was better than a mere doormat for the Imperial Japanese Army.

The high and mighty, the influential and wealthy, the poor peasant, all of them Filipinos -all died for the cause of the redemption of an assured independence. An independence, we should not forget, that the young Soekarno in Indonesia despaired of ever achieving, which is why he preferred to welcome the Japanese rather than resist in aid of the cruel colonialism of the Dutch. an indepedence assured to an extent that the student of Philippine history, ignorant of the experiences of other colonized countries, today sneers was to be somewhat farcical: but just how farcical was it? Even India, the other envy of the colonized world for its resistance to British rule, would remain more firmly subjected to British influence after its independence was achieved a year after ours was recognized; there are those who still sneer and call pathetic the "so-called" independence we achieved under the Philippines' first independent president, Manuel Roxas. And yet staunch nationalist heroes of the Third World such as Pandit Nehru would find themselves subject to the whims of a Governor-General, Lord Louis Mountbatten, who interfered and even vetoed decisions by the great Indian Prime Minister, in the interest of preserving the defective, rushed partition of India into two nations, India and Pakistan, resulting in the never-ending contention of Kashmir.

If the generation of Filipinos that lived and fought during World War II may be faulted for anything, it would be for pinning all its hope and faith in the promises of one man, a man whom we must recall as was as much a friend of the Filipinos as any foreign leader with his own national priorities in mind could have had: Franklin D. Roosevelt. He assured a desperate nation that its independence would be protected and "redeemed" -and indeed it was, though at such a great cost that the redemption, known to us as Liberation, was the death of so many more of our best and brightest.

But that Liberation was viewed as such; and wrong is the Filipino to question what a previous generation gladly accepted, with few exceptions, as the price that had to be paid rather than endure a moment longer the alien heel of the Japanese and their Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Indeed after the gory price of Liberation, faith in our Allies remained strong; for Roosevelt was around; and had he not promised that the losses of the Philippines would be compensated, down to the last carabao? Such was FDR's intention to fulfill this promise, that his very last press conference, was precisely about the need to reconstruct the ravaged capital of the Philippines, shelled to ruins by orders of Douglas MacArthur.

But Roosevelt died soon after; and Filipinos were to realize that the pledges of one man were not binding on his successor. Harry S. Truman would preside over a fight to preserve democracy in Europe, resulting once more, in the sidetracking of the legitimate and just interests of the Filipinos; our veterans were denied the equal pay and benefits sought by MacArthur, our own government, and which Roosevelt would have pushed through: no GI Bill, no equal pay and pensions, for Filipino veterans drafted to fight under the Armed Forces of America. A Republican-controlled Congress fighting the Soviets by any means, left its allies in the Pacific in the lurch.

There had been a time when Mao Zedong and Ho Chi Minh had toyed with the idea of approaching Roosevelt, who was the salvation of the great imperial powers but feared and not trusted by them precisely because FDR viewed a postwar world in which the lowering of the American flag over the Philippines would be an impetus and a prelude to the lowering of the flags of colonial powers throughout the world. He much preferred influence gained by trade and the free market, to the subjugation of nations by the European powers: the American view indeed, typical and yet somehow less pernicious than the outright imperialism of Britain, France and Holland. The facts bear this out; the treatment of our own government-in-exile, which was given the honors and priviliges of a de facto independent nation, alarmed the Dutch and the British to the extent they furiously reacted to what would serve as a source of envy to their colonial subjects.

And so we were: a source of envy to colonized peoples. Who among our neighbors can claim the honor of resistance to fascism as a people? Only ourselves, the Vietnamese, and the Chinese. The real disgrace is that we have forgotten this source of pride, and bow down to Japan with the sort of enthusiasm a Filipino sixty years ago would never have contemplated accepting. The real disgrace is America has forgotten its greatest defeat in its history, and those that went down to defeat with them. Tens of thousands of Americans died and were captured in the Philippines; hundreds of thousands of Filipino soldiers perished; countless Filipino civilians risked death to give humiliated and beaten American soldiers a sip of water, a cup of rice, a means of escape. Therein lies the true tragedy of our collective experience with the war: it taught us Filipinos neither pride in honorable defeat, nor an honorable persistence in preserving the dignity we spilled blood to show the world. And it did not teach even America's greatest generation that those who were once your Allies must always be treated as your friends, lest the sacrifice of lives and treasure be recalled not with common pride, but with a sense of shame and regret.

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