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Post Philippines in the "Co-Prosperity Sphere": My Family's Experience
Created by John Eipper on 02/08/19 2:54 AM

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Philippines in the "Co-Prosperity Sphere": My Family's Experience (Francisco Ramirez, USA, 02/08/19 2:54 am)

Like my parents and my grandparents I was born and raised in the Philippines. I was 21 when I left for the US to do doctoral studies at Stanford. One side of my family was more pro-American than than the other side. Needless to say, the less pro-American side lost more during the Spanish American War. The more pro-American side imagined MacArthur would be back soon and "sightings" of the American navy were reported as early as 1943. But neither side was pro-Japanese nor lamented the return of the Americans.

The liberation narrative is not so hard to understand, given the Bataan Death March and the killings that took place in Manila in late 1944 and 1945. On February 12 1945, 41 Christian Brothers and civilians were bayonetted to death in the chapel of De La Salle College. It is a chapel I know well and the killings took place along the stairs leading to the chapel and in the chapel itself. My mother had wanted to take refuge with the Christian Brothers and had my father consented, I would not be writing this e-mail. There is a little book that focuses on this slaughter: Andrew Gonzalez (who was my Western European literature teacher) and Alejandro Reyes, These Hallowed Halls (De La Salle University, 1982).

So, the straightforward answer to why most Filipinos regard the return of America as liberation is that their return meant the end of Japanese occupation. The latter was by far more brutal than the negatives associated with the American occupation era. I do not share Bienvenido Macario's wish for the Philippines to become a state of the US. In my youth I thought of myself as a nationalist. But there are others who think as Bienvenido and whether the timing of independence was good for the country was debated in my college years. Some argued that a later date would have lead to a more speedy recovery. There were no debates as to whether we would have better off had Japan won the war. My grandfather died as a direct result of American bombing and my aunt almost lost a leg. As fate would have it, grandfather and aunt (his daughter) were from the less pro-American side. My aunt was part of the extended family with which I grew up in the same household. Her hypothetical response to Eugenio would have been that there are Empires and there are Empires. The one that defeated Spain, thereby reducing her father from landowner in Batangas to minor government official in Manila, was by far more benevolent than the Rising Sun Empire.

My war stories came from my aunts, one of whom keep a rambling diary. I also heard from my elder sisters. I heard little from my father and nothing from my mother. I think she was traumatized. My father would wryly tell me that the best law and order years in Manila were between 1942 and 1944. In Manila the killings started in late 1944. It is interesting that no country liberated by Japan bought the Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Re Eugenio Battaglia's last sentence: Among the guerrillas was a man called Ferdinand Marcos, no communist he. Legend has that he was among the guerrillas who captured General Yamashita. I suspect that many a guerrilla would not appreciate the communist brush. Neither would the occupied Europeans who resisted the Nazis. Let us not confuse the percent of communists who resisted with the percent of resisters who were communist.

One of the reasons the collaborators never got depicted as negatively as their counterparts in Europe is that it was widely believed that they were able to convince the Japanese not to forcibly recruit Filipinos into the Japanese army. Some of them got elected after World War II, e.g. Laurel of the Laurel Langley Act, which was a step in the direction of a Commonwealth that itself was seen as a first step toward independence. Laurel was a Senator and in the Philippines election to the Senate is a nationwide matter. If he had been regarded as a traitor, this would not likely have happened. Jose Laurel III (or was it the IV) was a classmate of mine. There was no stigma associated with his lineage.

My father was less sanguine about America than many. But in our last conversation (December 1970), he told me that much as he would want me to return to Manila, my future was in America. He feared there would be a communist revolution. I assured him I would return. In December of 1971 my father died and nearly a year later something called martial law was declared. My mother told me that my future was in America.

A planned life is mostly an illusion.

JE comments:  This is a WAIS Classic-to-Be, Francisco.  Thanks!  Please tell us--is your aunt's wartime diary still extant?  Rambling or not, it deserves a wider audience.  And a curiosity from this philologist:  What language did she write in?

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  • Could the "Co-Prosperity Sphere" Have Been a Good Thing? (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 02/09/19 1:36 PM)
    The Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere "theoretically" and in peace could have been good. Trying to construct it during both conventional and guerrilla warfare was a different story. We will never know if there was good faith or not.

    Communist guerrillas are generally the dominant type, as was the case in Southern Europe during WWII. They were supplied almost until the end by the Western Allies, who later changed their attitude in the final days with the Greek experience. The communists knew of the possibility of retaliation.  While non-communist partisans tried to avoid retaliation, the communists created the most extreme situations possible, in order to provoke a retaliation that would create more hatred, as blood calls for blood.

    A person can be communist and intelligent but not in good faith. Another can be communist and show good faith but not be intelligent. Finally a third person can be intelligent and show good faith but not be a communist.

    JE comments:  To anyone who wonders what the Co-Prosperity Sphere would have looked like, consider Nanjing.  How much of the "rape" can be explained away by the ongoing war?  Yet I will agree with Eugenio Battaglia that Peacetime "Co-Prosperity" is something we never had the chance to witness, except perhaps in Korea after 1910.  Didn't the Japanese reduce the Koreans to slavery or close to it?

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