World War II is probably one of the most influential events in all of human history and continues to affect the modern world even as we speak. While World War I was actually more brutal and the Cold War had much more horrifying implications, World War II is certainly the go-to point in history when people want to tell stories of either epic heroism or unspeakable villainy. What’s sad though is that many Filipinos don’t understand the full implication of that great and terrible conflict and how it continues to shape many policies of today such as human rights and the laws that are established to prevent war crimes.
With the youth today, despite the fact that the Philippines was occupied by Imperial Japan for at least two years, most will just say something like this: “The Japanese came, raped a lot of women, killed a lot of people and the Americans came and kicked them all out.” While this isn’t far from the truth, one can note that the circumstances were far more complicated than that and that everything that happened here in the Philippines was also related to what was happening on a worldwide scale. The participation of Filipinos in fighting the Axis Powers is largely downplayed in media, especially in local ones, even though the Philippines was actually a crucial part of the war.
Anyhow, without further ado…
This is perhaps the most popular of all the atrocities that took place during World War II but I think a few others like the rape on Nanjing are every bit as horrific or even more so. Nonetheless, based on statistics, more people were killed in the Holocaust than just about any other genocide and is why nothing speaks “human rights violation” more than the Nazis. Contrary to popular belief, Jews weren’t the only victims of the Holocaust although they were probably the most numerous alongside the Romani (Gypsies) folk and Soviet POW’s. Other victims included homosexuals, people with disabilities and anyone who opposed the Nazi regime and its ideologies like the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Freemasons.
When it all started of course, nobody seemed to care. The Jews, the Romani and homosexuals have been receiving plenty of discrimination even since before then and, before the Holocaust began, probably just thought: “They’ve been bullying us for centuries now, I doubt they’ll really go through with it.” Remember also that Jews, Romani and homosexuals weren’t just hated in Germany, or Europe for that matter, they were hated throughout the world for being deviants with a penchant for criminality. Even the Americans hated them and note how the word “Hudyo” (Jew) in the Philippines is often (or at least once was) a derogatory term which my (Filipino) grandparents and parents used as a way to describe greedy people.
What mattered was, despite evidence to the contrary, many of the Holocaust victims (except for maybe the Soviets who also hated the Nazis with a passion) didn’t believe that the Nazis would never go through with their threats of annihilation. Sure, they would probably be bullied and they already were but they probably didn’t expect the terrible massacres that would follow. In the end, the death toll of the Holocaust was about around 5.93 million Jews, 2-3 million Soviet POW’s, around 2 million Polish people, maybe 200,000 Romani and 15,000 homosexuals.
War Crimes of Imperial Japan
To put things in perspective, majority of the Japanese soldiers who fought for the army back then were conscripts, normal citizens who were forced into the army and trained through rather inhumane methods in order to become capable combatants. However, this does not excuse the terrible atrocities they would go on to perpetrate over the course of the war against the Chinese, Koreans, Allied POW’s and, of course, Filipinos. Given the order to “rape all, kill all, burn all” by Emperor Hirohito, many Japanese soldiers did just that, violating and slaughtering all the captives they could find. Unfortunately, despite all the terrible atrocities that they committed, many Japanese officials continue to deny some claims and mitigate the rest.
One of these of course is the Rape of Nanking when the forces of the Japanese Imperial Army stormed the city and committed just about every heinous act possible against the hapless citizens and refugees in the city. The Japanese troops raped just about every girl and woman they could get their hands on and raped them on a regular basis and often outright killed them afterward. Men were just outright killed or were at least brutally tortured first before they were butchered like animals. With the order to “KILL ALL CAPTIVES”, there were around 200,000 victims of the Rape of Nanking and, while many Japanese citizens of today want to apologize for what happened, many elements of their government refuse to even acknowledge the event and there are those who insist on removing it from Japanese history books.
The Japanese were also notoriously cruel to their prisoners. In the Philippines alone, there were quite a few prison camps where the Japanese killed Allied prisoners (including Americans, Australians, British and Filipinos) by the thousands. Let’s not also forget the Bataan Death March that involved marching POW’s across 97 kilometers with very little food or rest and any stragglers being shot out of pure spite. More than 70,000 participants, at least 10,000 of said POW’s never made it to their destination.
To top it all off, the Japanese are quite infamous for their creation of a ring of sexual slavery in East Asia. There has been much talk on the subject of comfort women for quite some time now but many government officials in Japan continue to deny it. My grandmother almost became one but narrowly avoided that fate by hiding with some of her relatives in the dense woods of Ilocos. There have also been quite a few women throughout East Asia who have admitted to becoming victims of the Japanese Imperial Army including Ms. Rosa Henson of the Philippines and Jan Ruff O’Herne, a Dutch Australian.
So I say this to President Aquino after his infamous speech about “crushing” the critics of his administration. Your ancestors sided with the Japanese Axis Powers during World War II. These are the same people who destroyed Manila and raped and killed countless hapless citizens there. So now, if you’re really serious about what you said, then by all means do it. Your ancestors allowed so many of our fellows to die miserably at the hands of Japanese soldiers. So go on, show us that you’re one of them. You’ve shown quite a bit already after your refusal to admit to so many mishaps that have happened in this country from the recent hostage crisis, the Yolanda victims to the Fallen 44, showing us that you’re no different from the Nazis or the Imperial Japanese Army isn’t going to surprise me anymore.
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