The Philippines in Nagasaki
Nagasaki is a name most people associate with Hiroshima and the atomic bombs that hastened the end of World War II. When I joined a field trip to Nagasaki organized by the Japan Foundation and the International House of Japan, I wondered why they did not take us to the more popular Hiroshima Monument and Museum. But in the end I think I left with more useful knowledge and experience because there are so many historical connections between the Philippines and Nagasaki—connections that predate the Japanese occupation of the Philippines during the war and go all the way back to the 16th and 17th centuries not well covered in our textbook history.
The Nagasaki Peace Museum, built close to the hypocenter of the explosion, did not disappoint. Photos, artifacts, and videos were carefully curated to deliver the shock value that would make all visitors leave with the resolve that nuclear weapons should never be used again. The atomic bombs that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 marked the first and last time nuclear weapons were used, but in our age of extremism and terrorism the possibility of some lunatic launching such weapons to destroy the world is a scary reality because we have no real-life James Bond or Superman to thwart it.
Walking through the museum, one could not help but feel sympathy for the destruction of Nagasaki. One could not help but be repelled by the images of mangled limbs and corpses burnt so badly that the victims must have wished for a quick death to end their agony. When I stepped out of the museum into natural light, I could not help but ask: Why did the Peace Museum depict Japan as a victim? It is true that the innocent inhabitants of Nagasaki were victims of the bomb, but the museum had only one reference to Japan’s occupation of the Philippines and other parts of Southeast Asia—and this reference stopped short of stating the brutal conduct of the Japanese Imperial Army in occupied territory.
As a Filipino, I felt that maybe the Japanese visiting this museum should be reminded not just of the atomic bomb but also of Japan’s part in the war that made the bombs necessary. When I asked a Japanese to comment on this, he said: “It is true that Japan did evil things to your country and countrymen, but the majority of the people killed in Hiroshima and Nagasaki were noncombatants, they were innocent civilians.”
I replied: “Young Japanese should know about the sins of their forefathers. In February of 1945 the soldiers of the Japanese Imperial Army, knowing they were on the losing end of the war, decided to torch Manila and massacred innocent civilians—women, children and elderly people in the most barbaric ways: infants tossed in the air and bayoneted in front of their wailing mothers; women brutally raped in front of helpless husbands, fathers, and brothers who were then shot or beheaded after the soldiers had satisfied their lust. The violation did not stop there, as there are reports that the soldiers then poked their hands into the private parts of dead women in search of money, watches and jewelry they believed were hidden there. These things are not in the Japanese history textbooks, and if young Japanese learn of these, then maybe there will be a stronger resolution to prevent war and the use of nuclear weapons.”
After the museum visit we visited a simple black memorial that marked the hypocenter of the nuclear blast in Nagasaki. While everyone was taking souvenir photos I wondered if there was any residual radiation we would unknowingly catch there. Friends have been telling me to avoid Japan after Fukushima, but I go anyway. They say I should avoid eating contaminated fish or drinking contaminated water, but I do anyway. I tell my friends that sick people in Manila pay a lot for radiation in hospitals, so why shouldn’t I stock up where it comes free?
The first Philippine reference I found in the Nagasaki trip was in the Peace Museum where a timeline provided the chronology of events leading to the attack on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, with a bomb that used uranium, and the attack on Nagasaki on Aug. 9, 1945, with a bomb that used plutonium. When the choice of targets was drawn up, 17 cities were identified as places where the impact was to cause maximum damage to life and structures; it was also decided that damage was not only to be physical but psychological and cultural as well. In May 1945, after a succession of meetings, the targets were whittled down to three: Kyoto, Hiroshima and Niigata. Kyoto was taken off the list by US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson because he had visited it during his honeymoon, before the war. Stimson was a name that rang a bell in my head because he served as governor-general of the Philippines from 1927 to 1929.
Stimson was not the only Philippine historical reference I found in this trip to Nagasaki because the next day, to learn more about the “hidden Christians” in Japan, we visited the Shrine to the 26 Martyrs of Japan who were martyred by crucifixion on a hill outside Nagasaki in 1597. This group included San Pedro Bautista, who came from the Spanish Philippines. Then, in 1637, another group of Christian martyrs met slow and terrible deaths on the same hill in Nagasaki that included Lorenzo Ruiz, the first Filipino saint.
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