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Dec. 8: A day of infamy in the PH

/ 04:04 AM December 08, 2021

Of the many Immaculate Conception homilies I have endured in my life, one stands out simply because it opened with a compelling story, with history, and concluded with the theology I forgot soon after.

Homilist was Fr. Jose Cruz, Ateneo president during the Marcos years, who narrated how on the early morning of Dec. 8, 1941, as his family was preparing to leave their home for early morning Mass someone came in with terrible news. Japan had bombed Pearl Harbor in Hawaii the day before and at daybreak, the Japanese were flying over the Philippines bombing Davao, Baguio, Clark Field in Angeles, Pampanga. War had been in people’s minds for weeks, there were air raid drills in the day and blackout practice at night. Filipinos felt war was coming, sometime in 1942, and were caught by surprise. Before Pearl Harbor, Filipinos felt America was invincible, they could not even imagine the terror that was the Japanese Occupation.

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My parents were spared the horrors of the war because they were not in Manila. In 1941, my mother was eight years old and her childhood memories of Taguig, Rizal, was that it was like one long vacation from school. My father was 16 in Minalin, Pampanga, and his only bad memory of the war was being stopped by a Japanese sentry who slapped his younger brother in the face because he did not bow properly. What little I know about World War II came mostly from black and white films where the Filipino hero single-handedly mows down a platoon of Japanese soldiers with one gun.

Pearl Harbor woke up to a deadly Japanese offensive at 7:55 a.m. on Dec. 7, 1941, that was 2:25 a.m. in Manila. Five minutes after the attack, Hawaii sent a report to Manila received at 2:30 a.m. Douglas MacArthur officially received the news at 3:40 a.m. and in his memoirs he claims that as late as 9:30 a.m. “I was still under the impression that the Japanese had suffered a setback at Pearl Harbor.” Whichever source the chronology was based on, the end result was that the Far East Air Force stationed in the Philippines was eliminated by the Japanese who then began a land invasion unimpeded.

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The US National Archives website has uploaded the different versions of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) short but powerful speech to the US Congress that opens with a declaration that Dec. 7, 1941 is “a date that will live in infamy.” FDR composed the speech in his head and dictated it to his secretary who typed out Version 1 that was then edited in the president’s own hand. Typed out was the line ”Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.” Underneath with a mark indicating new paragraphs FDR added: “Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.” In the final version he read before Congress he added three other places targeted by the Japanese: Hong Kong, Wake Island, and Midway Island.

On the front page of the New York Times for Dec. 9, 1941 was a story headlined with: “Philippines Pounded All Day As Raiders Strike at Troops — Air Base Near Capital Among Targets Hit by Japanese — Landing on Lubang with Aid of Fifth Columnists Reported.” On page nine the places bombed are indicated on a map. “The Manila area’s first experience with bombs was a climax to a day and night of tension and activity,” reported correspondent H. Ford Wilkins, “The explosions could be heard throughout the city, which was under an all-night blackout but was lighted by a brilliant moon.” This and more eyewitness coverage is available online at the “NY Times Machine” that brings in more detail to textbook history.

What we are not told in Araling Panlipunan, however, was that Commonwealth President Manuel Quezon advised that the Philippines be granted independence earlier than 1946 so that it could assert neutrality and be spared unnecessary bloodshed and destruction from the Japanese. Quezon was ignored. Since the Philippines was deemed indefensible, the US abandoned her colony and focused on the war in Europe. Disappointed Quezon is quoted to have said of FDR: “Come, listen to this scoundrel! Que demonio! How typical of America to writhe in anguish at the fate of a distant cousin, Europe, while a daughter, the Philippines, is being raped in the back room!” Historians Teodoro Agoncillo, Benito Legarda, and Ricardo Jose have written much on the Japanese Occupation not yet reflected in our textbook history.

Comments are welcome at [email protected]
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TAGS: Ambeth R. Ocampo, Japanese Occupation, Looking Back, Pearl Harbor attack, World War II
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