In Which I Get All History-Nerdy

July 12, 2014

Did you know that it’s injudicious, skin-appearance-wise, to spend an entire day dressed in full length jeans and a waterproof jacket under a sun that’s burning a heat index of 106?  I didn’t drink water, either, like some kind of dope.  I wound up with a full body rash for three days and some serious heat-related coma-like symptoms, but it was worth it.

Yes, today, we went to the island of Corregidor.

This trip is an 80 minute boat ride, and you should know that Corregidor was, according to its website, “a key bastion for the Allies during the war.”  It’s located in Manila Bay, and the struggle for it and for Manila played a big giant role in how Japanese fates unraveled.

I did not know this.  Just like when I learned a couple of weeks ago that the Philippines was subjected to sustained invasion just the day after Pearl Harbor, I felt really ignorant upon finding out.  This feeling continued throughout the day.

One of the first things I learned was that “banzai” means “may you live ten thousand years”, and not, as I’m embarrassed to have thought, something simplistic and cartoony like “hiiiii-YA!”  It was also a really difficult fact to corroborate via Internet until I stopped spelling the darned word like it was a set description for Mr. Miyagi.  There you go, though.  The Filipino word “mabuhay” means the same thing.  Good to know, since I’ve been hearing it for two weeks and it could have just as easily meant “look!  A tall blonde mutant.”  Regardless, I like the Filipino usage much better as it’s more reassuring to hear it as a welcome rather than as a suicide pilot’s farewell howl.

Oh- suicide pilots.  That’s another piece of lesson I need to revamp when we get back to the States.  When I taught Japanese history and culture this spring and got to the World War II section, kids had tons of questions about the kamikaze pilots, and why on earth anybody would ever do something like that, let alone hundreds of people.  We traced Japanese culture all the way back centuries, back to the samurai code, bushido, the way of the warrior.  To a code that dictated harakiri, a ritual and suicidal disembowelment for anyone who behaved dishonorably.  The samurai were pretty much torn apart by Emperor Meiji in the 1860s, but their code and culture had run the country for hundreds of years, and you can’t just change people’s ways of thinking merely by declaring them obsolete.

So imagine a culture in which dishonor, for centuries, was treated with a self-inflicted death wound.  If Japanese soldiers fled from battle or otherwise shamed themselves in their duty to the emperor, it’s easier to see why their superiors could more easily convince them to “volunteer” for kamikaze missions.

It’s even easier to see when you know that they were also pumped full of drugs, as I learned today.  And that some of them were actually Koreans or Taiwanese whose countries had been forcibly occupied by the Japanese empire for decades.

Those are new details that will change my answers when students ask in the future.

The guide also mentioned that Japanese tourists got an entirely different tour on Corregidor, one in which they end up mostly discussing Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  It got me to thinking about how awkward and apologetic I’d be if I were sitting with domestic tourists at the nuclear bomb sites.  I found a book- by a Japanese author but written or translated in English- about Hiroshima in the library of Shinagawa Gakuen last year, and I felt so terrible reading it that I had to hide in the aisles and cry on the floor.  It reinforced a fierce belief to never judge a people by its government.

And the government of World War-era Japan was just filled with despicable jerks who perpetrated and encouraged what should be inhuman behavior.  The guide was just telling us about some of the “comfort women” forced into servility when a bunch of macaques interrupted by crossing the road, which I frankly kind of needed as distraction.

You should note, though, that the original Japanese plan had the Philippines conquered in 50 days, after which the Nippon military would move on to Hawaii and Australia.  The American and Filipino troops held them off for almost five months, though, destroying the plan and potentially saving our sorry buns from a world of suffering and hurt.

I’m not always proud of our military’s history, and I often bank on an internationally shared belief not to judge people by whomever holds power over them.

It’s just that new info makes everything so darned complex.

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