Diary of Leon Ma. Guerrero

12th February 1945

A feeling of depression has overtaken the Japanese. Everyone expected Yamashita to do something big in honor of yesterday’s festival. Kigen-setsu, empire foundation day. But nothing happened.

Instead, shaking from the attacks in the diet which has closed its session, the Koiso cabinet announced a reorganization. A new chief secretary of the cabinet has been appointed with the rank of minister and new ministers have been named for the ministries of welfare and education. In Japan the ministry of welfare is a euphemism for ministry of labor; thus the reorganization may be partly due to dissatisfaction with the way the manpower problem is being handled.

Today the embassy was asked to send a representative to another of an interminable and purposeless series of conferences on Greater East Asia students in Japan. Representatives of the Thai and Burmese embassies were also present as usual. The problem is typical of Japanese bungling in empire-building. Shortly after the start of the war, in the first enthusiasm for Nipponizing the southern regions of conquered Asia, the Japanese government selected groups of young men for study and training in Japan. In the Philippines the sons of the highest officials were picked for the first batch in 1943; they were followed last year by the winners of a competitive examination. All these boys arrived in Japan, dazzled by Japanese victories, eager to learn, already a little Japanized with their hair cropped close, their trained stiff bows, their earnest smattering of Nippongo. But soon they were floundering in disillusionment, confusion, a maddening bewilderment.

Nobody in Japan seemed to know what to do with them. They were bundled off to improvised dormitories, cheated of their special rations by racketeering cooks, bullied by drill sergeants, snooped on, slapped; they were, discouraged, then forbidden, to hear Mass; their letters home were censored; worst of all, nobody seemed to know what or where they should be taught. They were pulled and rushed here and there by bureaucratic jealousies; the army, the education ministry, the ministry for greater East Asiatic affairs, disputed jurisdiction over them. The Society for International Student Friendship and the Philippine Society bickered over them. Appropriations and subsidies, spheres of interest and authority, precedence and precedents, were at stake.

When the embassy arrived, confusion grew worse confounded. The students were Filipinos but, it seemed, the embassy had no jurisdiction over them; they were Japanese government scholars whose expenses were paid by the Japanese government. The embassy could inquire, suggest, petition, but not intervene. Meantime the students, having finished their indispensable preliminary training in Nippongo, were shunted around. In the Philippines they had been solicitously asked what course they wished to pursue and assured that Japan had the best in that line. Now they were told that the Japanese authorities in the Philippines had exceeded their authority; they were not acquainted with actual conditions and facilities in Japan. Most of the schools were closed; all Japanese students were in the factories; the Filipinos could neither go to school by themselves nor work in the factories, prohibited zones for foreigners.

A new plan is how being worked out. The wishes of the students will be respected, the embassy has been assured. They will be allowed to pick their own course and school from a list of those still open throughout Japan. There will be certain qualifications: the government is firm on getting all the foreign students out of Tokyo and it is equally determined to segregate the different nationalities. It is feared that the Chinese will contaminate the Filipinos with “dangerous thoughts” and that the Filipinos will contaminate the Malays.

But it is already too late. The Japanese themselves have done the contaminating. None of the Filipino students in Japan, none of the others from Greater East Asia, will ever again want to learn from Japan. They are cynical, contemptuous, intolerant. They want to go home. Once more the Japanese have thrown away their opportunities, wasted their small hoard of goodwill in Asia, wrecking their future with puerile incompetence.

x x x

Two open trucks were parked along a side-street near the embassy today to display an exhibition of B-29 fragments to the neighborhood. Pieces of the giant tail, twisted scraps of fuselage still shiny and indubitable steel, a pair of fur-lined boots: from even this poor wreckage and flotsam the simple people could gauge the formidable quality of their enemy. They started at these menacing relics silently, reading the labels with their voiceless lips. Finally one old man put out a diffident hand and fingered a shred of parachute — yes, it was real silk, good strong silk. For a moment he could think of nothing to say. Then he laughed. “Well,” he turned to a crony, “we’ll build a bigger plane than that. But I’ll tell you something. We shan’t waste any silk on parachutes. Parachutes! Our soldiers don’t need parachutes. They don’t get shot down.”