‘Musashi’ and other reminders of war
First of all, let me bring to the attention of the Commander in Chief a subject that he himself brought up last December during AFP Day celebrations. In his speech, he announced the increase in the subsistence allowance of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other uniformed services from P90 to P150/day, effective Jan. 1, 2015.
To date, the measure has not been implemented as it is awaiting the signature of President Aquino, although I might add that if unacted upon, it will automatically lapse into law on March 28.
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A few days ago, Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen announced the discovery of the wreck of the Japanese battleship Musashi in the Sibuyan Sea. For those of the younger generation whose lives were not disrupted by World War II, perhaps the discovery has less significance than for those who lived in the shadow of Japanese occupation forces. For the latter, the Musashi symbolized Japanese naval power at its height, when, for a brief period, the Imperial Japanese Navy held the upper hand in the early days of the Pacific War.
In the late 1930s before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan started to build two of the most powerful battleships the world has known. The “Yamato” and the “Musashi,” both named after ancient Japanese provinces, were designed to place Japan on a par with the navies of western powers, particularly the United States. Both capital ships displaced some 70,000 tons at full load, and were armed with nine 18.1-inch guns.
The Musashi served as the flagship of the commander in chief of the Combined Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.
Yamamoto graduated from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy and fought at the Battle of Tsushima in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. He was immediately recognized for his leadership skills. Originally a gunnery officer, he shifted to naval aviation and developed a fascination for air power. He was sent to Harvard for advanced studies and later assigned to Washington, DC, as naval attaché.
Throughout his career, he opposed many of Japan’s military adventures—Manchuria, China—and was also vocal about conflict with the United States. He warned Japanese leaders that if forced to fight the United States, he expected success for no more than six months to a year. After that, nothing was guaranteed.
With war almost unavoidable, he advocated a quick first strike to destroy the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. With stunning success, five American battleships were sunk, three were damaged, 11 other cruisers, destroyers and auxiliaries were seriously damaged. Unfortunately—for the Japanese—American aircraft carriers were not in port at the time of the attack.
In April 1943, while on an inspection trip of Japanese bases in the South Pacific, Yamamoto’s plane was attacked by P-38 fighter planes near Bougainville. In an operation code-named “Vengeance,” US Navy crypto-analysts were able to break Japanese codes and establish his flight route. An ambush was set up and his plane shot down in the attack. Yamamoto’s remains were recovered in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. After cremation, his ashes were kept in his wardroom on the Musashi and returned to Japan.
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On Oct. 24, 1944, the Musashi was sunk by carrier-based aircraft at the Battle of Leyte Gulf after being hit by 19 torpedoes and 17 bombs. Almost half of its crew perished with the ship, including its captain Toshihira Inoguchi.
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Last month, Manila marked the 70th anniversary of the Battle for Manila. Over 100,000 men, women and children were killed, “mainly victims of heinous acts perpetrated by Japanese Imperial forces and the heavy artillery barrage of American forces” (National Historical Institute marker).
The monthlong struggle covered the period Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945.
Not many people know that a week after Manila went through its month of hell-on-Earth, Tokyo was devastated by the deadliest conventional bombing strike ever.
In a single night on March 9, 1945, some 334 B-29 Superfortress bombers dropped 2,000 tons of incendiary cluster bombs equipped with napalm on Tokyo, reducing one-fourth of the city to rubble and killing more than 105,000 people. In the words of Gen. Curtis LeMay, commander of US Strategic Air Forces in the Pacific, “It was the biggest firecracker Japan had ever seen.” The attack, carried out at low-level altitude of 2,000 feet, caused more casualties than the Aug. 9 atomic bombing of Nagasaki and was on a par with the earlier Hiroshima attack. In order to increase their bomb load, the planes were stripped of all guns except for those in the tail section.
While earlier raids targeted military installations, the Tokyo fire bombing was aimed at civilian places, where people lived in traditional wooden and paper homes. It was the single deadliest air raid of World War II, resulting in greater devastation than was inflicted on Germany.
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One could say that the Tokyo fire bombing was payback for the destruction of Manila during the battle for its liberation. One thing is certain: In any conflict, it is the noncombatant civilians that suffer the most. In Manila, it was women and children; in Tokyo, no doubt it must have been the same group of victims.
Somehow we must find solutions to our problems without resorting to war and combat. In the end, those who will suffer most will be the civilians. The image of displaced families moving their meager belongings in order to avoid conflict areas, like Maguindanao, will continue to haunt us—unless we are willing to make the difficult decisions to bring about peace and social justice throughout the land.
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