In Which I Get All History-Nerdy

July 12, 2014

My legs are spotted like a Martian cheetah’s, but I can see them!  Some pleasant headway in the battle against repercussions of living 11 days in the sugar capital of the country, each resident of which wanted to share his favorite way of indulging.  I have lost roughly eight pounds in water weight today.

I’m spotted, though, because of denim. 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’d like to get a picture of Carrie in heat,” said Uriel, making a much more interesting sentence by leaving out that indefinite article.  I sloshed buckets of toxins through my pores this morning (I ran out by this afternoon- too worried about the toilet scene to drink any replenishing water) but they were cool with it because they were finally breathing air instead of exhaust fumes.  

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

I have to admit to being skeptical about the trip, because we were supposed to leave by 6:30 this morning and it was allegedly going to be another 12 hour day.  I’d googled the place and mentally checked it “uninteresting”, but boy was I glad to be slapped in the face with all my wrong.

For starters, it’s an 80 minute boat ride.  I got to dive into my book for awhile, emerging only for the hilarious turtle scene with Jackie Chan.  And then, as it turns out, we got to do some interesting history, too!  Such good stuff, and I’m going to share it with you.  

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 damned 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 by declaring them obsolete.  If that were true, a heck of a lot more grandparents would be pink-haired hipsters taking molly.  It just doesn’t work that way.  

That’s probably not even a current trend, but I listened to Karen Carpenter today so I’m sure that further proves that people stick with what they know.  

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 assholes who perpetrated and encouraged what should be inhuman behavior.  The guide was just telling us about some of the “comfort women” forced into servility and prostitution when a bunch of macaques crossed the road, which I frankly kind of needed as distraction.

There’s more stuff about hell ships and the American troops who had to temporarily surrender but didn’t want Japanese soldier to have the benefit of their provisions.  They were thus raging drunk when they exited the tunnel, but I’m not going to tell any more because it’s time to meet the cohort for a dinner on our last night here.

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.  

A belated bear hug and thank you to the combined forces of the ‘40s, though.  

We might not have Karen Carpenter songs without you. 

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