Diary of Leon Ma. Guerrero

31st January 1945

Sometime in the middle of last year it was decided to establish a central bank in the Philippines which would issue “Republic notes”, redeem the Japanese military notes, and withdraw them from circulation, and otherwise control and manage Philippine currency. The Republic negotiated Japanese support and ordered the printing of a five-billion-peso issue, a good, and indeed the only, index to the amount of military notes with which the Japanese forces had flooded the Philippines. This week, with the Laurel government in flight, there seemed to be little point in a central bank. Vargas decided to ask whether the printing of the notes could be suspended; it would cost 10 million yen which the Laurel government did not have. Today the foreign minister gave the Japanese answer: yes, the Japanese government would be happy to stop the printing; as a matter of fact, it had already suspended the printing of the notes for the Burmese central bank. One of the reasons given was at least realistic: there was a shortage of paper and ink.

There is apparently also a shortage of blankets. In the course of his visit to Osaka this month Vargas was promised some woolen blankets by members of the Philippine society in that city. One of our interpreters, who had been sent to fetch them, returned empty-handed. There were no woolen blankets to be had, only inferior substitutes at 10 yen apiece.

He also brought back stories of a violent outraged anger against Tozyo among the businessmen there. They all believed the former premier had made millions out of the munitions ministry which he had held concurrently. Their indignation seemed to me to be vibrant with the righteous envy of unsuccessful competitors. “And once,” cried our interpreter who is an honest soul, “we thought this Tozyo was a god.”

He was toying in his mind with the possibility of peace-talks. Japan, he thought, needed an intriguer as premier, someone who would shout to the empire and to the world that Japan would never surrender while discreetly negotiating for terms through the Soviets. Such a man as Koiso, but Koiso had come in too soon, he said, and would have to go if end when the Philippines fell. He was quite bitter about the hotheads who had dragged Japan into this fatal war. But better surrender than annihilation.

I looked at him in amazement. Did he remember I asked him, that morning last summer, in the Japanese inn by the sea at Atami, when he had sworn to me that Japan had been forced into the war by the machinations of her enemies? Did he remember, I asked, that he had boasted of Japan’s unconquerable spirit, crying that every man, woman, and child of the Yamato race would slash his belly, cut her throat, throw itself into the sea, rather than surrender? He smiled shame facedly.

But I wanted to tell him not to be ashamed. He was not the first man to compromise with life, nor would he be the last. He had compromised a little earlier because he had served an apprenticeship behind the bars of a New York bank, because he had a wife and three children, because he still nursed a. homesick appetite for baseball, beer, well-cut suits, rice wine under the cherry-trees in spring, the elusive pleasures and absorbing puzzles of life. But I knew now that, sooner or later, one after the other, they would all compromise, down to the last youngster of the tokotai with the red sun painted on his breast, his shoulder, and his back.

 

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