A better closure for this war
I was born five months after the end of the Japanese occupation in the Philippines. When I was growing up, there was almost nothing worth seeing that was not connected to the war just ended. Even the wooden toys I played with were shaped like American bomber planes. One looked at the affluent houses in the neighborhood and they were generously sporting steel matting fences that were resourcefully acquired from abandoned military airstrips and airfields across the archipelago. The jeeps that served as public transportation were the same military jeeps, except for the distinctive rounded roofs made of tin added. Deep into the western barrios of Tarlac with their mud and stone roads, only the weapons carriers and army trucks would do, and there were a lot that went around. Even the ambulances that were in service were the repurposed military ambulances.
My uncle, who was a Death March survivor and an automotive instructor at the trade school, was always tinkering with his military jeep that you would imagine was always in tiptop shape, and I would watch intently as he and my cousins worked on it.
Many people went about wearing khaki shirts and pants. There were no commercial knapsacks, and young kids like me wanted the military knapsacks over the poor-quality leather bags that were in fashion for kids at that time. Even the cigarettes were of World War II vintage: Lucky Strike, Chesterfield, and Fighter cigarettes.
Perhaps what makes these memories indelible is the constant retelling by parents and close relatives of violent deaths suffered by both Japanese and guerrillas alike. I have a 99-year-old cousin who up to this day remembers wistfully how his family was ambushed and their bodies never recovered.
Even my attention in my senior age easily gravitates to events related to the past war. Ahead of the 79th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor a few days ago, a report by the US Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency announced that the remains of four more sailors from that day had been identified, including two brothers—a marvel of the advances in DNA analysis not available even a couple of decades ago.
So it seems that closure has not come even for a war that has occurred almost 80 years ago. I wonder whether this extended closure time will also be true of those who would live through the triple war that we are going through right now—the war against drugs that has so far produced anywhere from 8,000 to 27,000 deaths, the war against COVID-19 that has claimed 8,500 deaths, and the war against perceived enemies of the regime that has claimed hundreds of deaths. For the families and friends of the victims, the deaths are no less sudden and heartrending, and the simultaneity with which these deaths have occurred in the space of one year magnifies the grief and impact. The retelling of sad stories has not even really begun.
I wonder what kinds of remembrances the youth will take of these times to their senior years. Just like in an ordinary war, we have seen tremendous instances of heroism, especially among frontliners, including country doctors who continued to serve until they themselves succumbed to COVID-19. There will be enough pictures of hardships of people walking to their homes hundreds of kilometers away.
But there will be differences, and not all are pleasant. The situation can be uglier than it already is. This seemingly global effort to deal with a common enemy may bring still unimagined horrors. Already, the United Nations secretary-general is warning against “vaccine nationalism,” or nations taking care only of their own. It is not even sure they can take care of all their own poor downtrodden souls. But peoples in Africa and other developing areas are in real danger of being bypassed by the drive to inoculate people against COVID-19. Unless the vaccine is a global good for all, it will be no good at all, because the infections will continue to fester in some dark corners of the globe. Hopefully, the leaders of the world can wake up to their senses and avoid an unnecessary ugly turn for the worse in the global saga against COVID-19.
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