Sunday, November 9, 2008

Remembering the Battle of Manila

Just watched Remembering the Battle of Manila, a two-hour documentary on the 1945 battle produced by Japanese television network NHK and aired on the History Channel.

The documentary had a very objective tone-- no sentimentality or emotion.  There was a good amount of discussion on objectives and tactics but hardly any mention of politics or motives.  The overarching message, though, was that most of the 100,000 Filipino civilian casualties and the almost total destruction of Manila was a result of American bombardment.  Which is quite accurate-- most of the deaths and destruction in Manila in 1945 were indeed caused by the American forces' indiscriminate use of force.  There are a lot of interviews with people-- Filipino civilians, American and Japanese soldiers-- who witnessed the battle and one can get a good picture of the suffering it caused.  One stark image is the destruction of the Philippine General Hospital by American bombers, who attacked the building and its thousands of patients and refugees "despite red crosses painted on the roof".

However, what troubles me about this documentary is what it does not say.  While it makes an indictment of American conduct during the battle, Japanese actions are mostly portrayed as defensive maneouvres.  While it does mention Japanese "outrages" committed against civilians in the name of "anti-guerilla offensives", it makes no adequate description of the gravity or the cruelty of these atrocities.  At one point it mentions the "Japanese anti-guerilla offensive" and "Filipinos fighting Filipinos" (i.e., revenge attacks against the makapili) as reasons, apart from indiscriminate American bombing, for Filipino civilian deaths, without any mention of scale or context as if the two reasons carried equal weight.  

While I didn't expect this documentary-- or any historical documentary-- to be totally objective, I did expect factual proportion.  In terms of scale, American bombs indeed killed more Filipinos and demolished more buildings, but the Japanese are at least equally to blame for the carnage.  The Americans were indiscriminate and reckless in their use of force, but the Japanese were rabid and sadistic in their retaliation, ordering their troops to fight to the last man and "annihilate all guerillas", guerilla being understood by the interviewed Japanese soldiers to mean any Filipino man, woman, or child.  While there were many graphic pictures of the victims of American bombs (women and children in particular) and even video of Filipinos mobbing a makapili, the only pictures of Japanese atrocities were Filipino men executed with their hands tied behind their backs.

Most troubling about this documentary is that it's primarily meant for a Japanese audience, being translated into English after it was made.  If PBS made this documentary for an American audience it would be a soul-searching second look at America's actions in Manila deserving of a commendation.  But it's not.  The documentary was made by NHK for a Japanese audience, making it an exercise in washing their hands of guilt.  Far from just "remembering the battle of Manila", this looks and feels more like a jab at self-vindication, as if saying, "Hey, the Americans killed more Filipinos than we did; we were just defending ourselves."  To lay the blame for the destruction of Manila and the death of 100,000 civilians at the foot of the Americans with only passing mention of Japanese atrocities is, to say the least, dishonest.

That NHK gave an unbalanced account under the veneer of fact and objectivity makes this documentary unethical.  That Japan, unlike Germany, has not truly reconciled itself with its wartime conduct makes this documentary offensive.  That militarist and revisionist elements are gaining clout in Japan makes this documentary dangerous.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

I was wrong

I thought America will fail the world yet again.  I was wrong.
I thought negative campaigns and insinuations will form most opinions.  I was wrong.
I thought refreshing high-road politics will be drowned out by the old, dirty tricks.  I was wrong.
I thought the Republican political machine will delay the results with lawsuits and technicalities.  I was wrong.
I thought fear and ignorance will drown out reason and nuanced thinking in the electoral debate.  I was wrong.
I thought hundreds of years of hate and racism will prevail over hope and change.  I was wrong.
I thought America would not, could not, elect Barack Obama.  I was wrong.

I've never been so glad to be wrong.