Diary of Leon Ma. Guerrero

9th February 1945

The Japanese are blaming the Americans for the destruction of Manila. A Domei dispatch carried by the Mainichi today quotes the spokesman of the Japanese forces in the Philippines as follows: “With a view to saving the traditional cultural establishments of Manila from the havoc of fire and to prevent innocent inhabitants from suffering untold distresses, the Japanese forces in this city (Manila) had beforehand removed or destroyed the important military facilities and taken away the munitions elsewhere. Leaving only a small force necessary for the maintenance of order, we had withdrawn our main strength from Manila. This step was endorsed by the Philippine government which also moved from Manila to attend to administrative duties so that the present city of Manila should be considered a mere cultural city without military or political significance. “Acting from political motives,” continues the spokesman, “the enemy American forces set an excessive strategic value on Manila…. Without regards to the means employed, the Americans behaved in such a manner as to force street-fighting in Manila. The bandit units nurtured by the Americans beforehand, as well as ill-principled men, have taken advantage of this opportunity to precipitate the city into a condition of tragic and horrible misery. For this act of robbing a free nation of its welfare and happiness, the invading American forces should be held responsible.”

Meantime San Francisco accuses the Japanese of burning and blowing up the downtown business center, entrenching themselves in pillboxes in all big buildings, massacring political prisoners in Fort Santiago, holding the entire population of the old walled city in hostage, and wreaking the most savage and unspeakable vengeance on the Filipinos within their reach. The burned and mutilated corpses of the victims of mass executions have been found in the portions of Manila taken by the Americans. It is the story of an army gone mad in the last agony of desperation, looting, burning, raping, killing, torturing every living thing within its reach, obsesses by the ferocious determination that nothing shall survive it.

For us it does not even matter, not any more, who is telling the truth. We are conscious only of a vague, impalpable, but oppressive and inescapable horror, like a poisonous fog — horror, tortured anxiety, fear, a dark anger at the whole of life, a nameless bottomless pity that pulls and wrenches us toward those we love, those we know, and those we do not know, in our burning and dying city beyond the horizon. We have not yet the heart to listen to the evidence, to fix responsibilities, to apportion the blame, to concern, to hate. We can only think in terms of a faceless ruin, death with a hidden visage and an impartial hand, blindly reaching out and striking down and squeezing and tearing — whom? One of us has a wife and six children in Manila: another has a father and mother, brother and sister; each and everyone of us has left someone behind. What has happened to them? Communiques and official statements, atrocity stories and alibis, give no names. Five hundred corpses in a bloody courtyard — if we could go and turn over one of those charred and twisted bodies and peer into its blistered and contorted face, would it be you, father, brother, friend of my youth? What were you to these lean fierce strangers in their sweat-soaked uniforms? A pale stammering old man, one more Filipino caught behind the lines, to be dragged away and bayonetted; a tight-lipped clawing biting girl to be tamed and taken in a last revenge; a dirty bloody corpse, beginning to stink, to be photographed, catalogued, indexed, released for publication, put in a book, thrown on a screen in technicolor, and copyrighted, all rights reserved. What were you to them or they to you, what were we to them or they to us. These grimy crop-haired Japanese with their fixed glinting madmen’s eyes, dragging hobnailed boots to their last stronghold in the old garage where we played handball, or these hairy sinewy Americans smelling of canned pork and toasted cigarettes and acid-neutralizing toothpaste, hurling themselves eagerly forward in their tanks and their jeeps, one more beach-head, one more native town, get those little yellow bastards, on to Tokyo — what were you to them or they to us?

Annihilate the enemy, grasp the heavenly chance for final victory, liberate them, clean up those little monkeys, ten thousand years for His Imperial Majesty, the Stars and Stripes forever — and in between and all around, underfoot and in the way, this battered plastered smashed raped and bayonetted city, this bloody mess of rubble, splintered glass, twisted steel and broken flesh and bone, this cunning trap and hold-out strong-point, objective, beach-head, political nerve-center, distribution point, symbol of prestige, best anchorage in the Far East, which is also and incidentally our home and all we know and all we are. What do you know of our city who only conquer or liberate it, camping out, digging in, passing through? They pile up their equipment in the churches where we were baptized, they uproot the graceful trees and level out the boulevard where we first kissed, they pitch their tents and ladle out their soup and stew in the shadow of the hero’s monument where our children played. They write their pieces and they shoot their pictures and they sit before a microphone and talk, thousands and millions of words, describing, accusing, blaming, praising, sympathizing, condemning, pitying, hurrah for liberation, Tenno Heika Banzai, and they do not know you, father, mother, brother, sister, wife, child, friend of my youth, nameless lover with your rotting face in technicolor, unidentified beloved in a copyright cable.