War and remembrance for better foreign policy | Inquirer Opinion
On The Move

War and remembrance for better foreign policy

In trying to illustrate the concept of user experience, I recently asked my students the difference between two types of delivery as experienced by the user: a bouquet of 30 roses delivered at one time, or one rose over 30 days. The consensus of the ladies was that the latter delivery option gave more thrill and satisfaction, evidencing more thoughtfulness and effort, and therefore signifying deeper affection. By their silence, the gentlemen did not seem to see any difference.

Without minimizing the personal pain of families of the victims of the Duterte drug war over six years, there has been less nationwide reprehension than for single extreme atrocities such as the Maguindanao massacre of 2009. It seems that the abhorrence associated with multiple murders is less if they are done by trickles (Duterte drug war’s estimated 12,000 victims over six years) rather than by the bucket (Mamasapano’s 58 journalists and others, in one day).

I ponder this as I observe the seeming moral confusion that abounds in the world today about matters that world wars were fought for to settle with factual and moral finality. We thought, apparently wrongly, that the Holocaust would be an indelible human touchstone. Now there is a real, seemingly increasing subscription to the idea that the Holocaust where six million Jews were exterminated was “fake news.”


Rather than this polluted racist water remaining only at the heel level, we now are alarmed at how neck-high it has gotten. No less than the presidents of Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania, when queried whether rhetoric calling for genocide against Jews should be condemned, failed to answer squarely in the affirmative. They suffered a striking public opinion backlash that they hurriedly backpedaled their positions.


There is also indolent ambiguity in the Philippine position on the Hamas-Israeli war. The Philippines has failed to enunciate a policy that showed its independence, diplomatic maturity, and capacity to promote its long-term interest. It has been too convenient to automatically side with the United States in taking the cudgels for Israel, as it has done for decades. The Philippines should have enunciated a more nuanced position, acknowledging Israel’s right to self-defense, but equally calling for an end to the massacre of Palestinian civilians as being beyond the metes and bounds of Israeli self-defense. This Philippine policy, in the context of a nation with its struggles against predatory powers and seeking the intercession and support of international organizations, international law, and world public opinion, must be strongly and consistently signified in the halls of the United Nations and other international organizations, and tangibly acted in support of bringing emergency aid to the Palestinians of Gaza.

Many Filipinos do not realize that there is an uncanny Philippine parallel in the massacre of Palestinians trapped in Gaza, pounded by Israeli artillery, bombs, and missiles. In the battle of Manila, over 100,000 civilians, men, women, children, and infants, were killed.

Army historian Robert R. Smith reports that the American generals on the ground, faced by stiff Japanese resistance holed up in Intramuros, planned “a massive artillery preparation that would last from 17 to 23 February and would include indirect fire at ranges up to 8,000 yards as well as direct, point-blank fire from ranges as short as 250 yards. They would employ all available corps and division artillery from 240mm howitzers down … Just how civilian lives could be saved by this type of preparation, as opposed to aerial bombardment, is unknown. The net result would be the same: Intramuros would be practically razed.”

It is estimated that American artillery and military operations may have caused 40 percent of total noncombatant Filipino deaths during the battle for Manila. Smith wryly comments: “American lives were understandably far more valuable than historic landmarks. The destruction stemmed from the American decision to save lives in a battle against Japanese troops who had decided to sacrifice their lives as dearly as possible.”

Well, just the same, Israelis would argue their pugnacity would perhaps be less if the Hamas forces had not decided to sacrifice their lives.

I suggest our top government officials visit the Plazuela de Santa Isabel, about 100 meters at the back of the Manila Cathedral in Intramuros. There stands the Memorare-Manila 1945, a memorial to these civilian victims of the Battle of Manila. Doing so might help them craft for Filipinos a more secure future.


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TAGS: foreign policy, On The Move, War

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