I sat in the common room waiting for Jerry to make cocoa after checkers. All around were couples, pitiful couples, hungry for each other and kept apart by war and hate and evil minds. Young couples deeply in love, married only a year or two, some with one baby and wanting another; sitting together, a few gazing drowned into each other’s eyes, not daring to touch; others holding hands, quietly, patiently, smiling a little; some flirting openly, with sparkling eyes and speech; some trying to read Bible chapters and not succeeding too well in the uproar. The crowd broke up early, drifting off, away from provocation, wanting to be normal yet helplessly channeled into abnormality, thwarted, repressed, treated like children or idiots. All the suppressions of war were in the atmosphere of that room. They will all want to pen up the invader, make him know the torture of denial, going without normal instinctive satisfactions. This is only one form, for many are built up for revenge. That living body dragged along the road before it was beaten to death, one of their own countrywomen who was married to an American—force, sadism, unmentionable primitive depths and experiences must have been built up in the enemy who does this. Will we want to do the same? Can there be no end, no outgrowing?
A New Year is here, and we hope again, as we hoped all of 1942, but we are still concentrated, our teeth crumbling, our bodies lacking Vitamin B, still lacking toilet paper and using septic tanks for 517 which were intended for 250. As Dr. Hall says, this camp has 18th-century sanitation.
It is a constant struggle to get spoons enough to set the table, bowls in line, to keep track of tins or soap. Once a thing is set down and left, it is never there after sixty seconds. Pails disappear like magic, onion tops are snatched up, the mental process apparently being that it is not wanted and in the discard. It is a wild life of fighting to hold your own, to keep the little you have and not do others’ work way beyond your share.
Dr. Skerl is growing yeast for those needing Vitamin B. Jerry, whose ankles have long been swollen, has been much helped by it. Many with this symptom are on the verge of beriberi or pellagra (B-complex deficiency). Mrs. Tangen brought in the start of yeast. One thing leads to another—she advertised on the board to sell starts to those who are cooking.
The camp News for Dec. 14 says, “This was one of the ‘no’ mornings; no syrup, no salt, no coffee, at times no spoons, no plates; one of those days upon which a person, after a suitable wait in line, is served and sits down to contemplate the pleasure of eating soft rice, completely flavorless, with a fork, seasoning the mixture with what passes for a banana—the kind of a day one realizes, if he hasn’t already done so, where he is and why.”
During lunch, after several days buildup of watching and trailing Mr. Menzies, the guards beat him. They found a five-gallon can and four bottles of gin cached in the grass near the cottages. They stopped all the work and said nothing more could be taken from the cottages for building until the owner of the gin confessed. A guard, Miss Shore, and our liaison man were seen with Mr. Menzies, who claimed he knew nothing of it, wished it were his. An hour later, from our windows, we watched him standing at the guardhouse, taking it. About eight guards standing around him, before our eyes, two beat him with bamboo sticks—legs, back, head, anywhere it fell. He tried to shield an infected swollen thumb and a boil on his head. Finally they closed in, made him lie on the ground, beat him with army belts, a golf club, baseball bats, anything at hand, until he was unconscious. His screams at the last were horrible to hear. It was degrading to see, nauseating to witness, and the children watched. He was taken to the hospital and no bones were broken. He had been warned two days ago.
A type of rugged camp humor: One man raved about marriage and his love for his wife, which grows with the years like a flower. Another tough customer asks, “Yes, and how are you managing to keep the flower watered in these times?”
A guard went off with a bayonet in a car. An hour later, without any warning of newcomers, it returned and spewed out five forlorn, gaunt, possessionless Americans. They had been living in the hills eleven months, all from Itogon mine, comfortable and well fed until November 17 when they were betrayed and the soldiers walked in without warning. Our crowd gathered around them, and they were fed as faces pressed against every screen and closed in on every mouthful, talking and asking avidly. Young, sensitive, Filipino Dr. Biason had been with them, his pretty, dainty American wife, who was a nurse, and his sister. The last two were shot in the abdomen, he was not allowed to go near them, and his wife was still alive when he was led away, beaten, head held in a tub of water—all that sadists can think up to do. The two women were cremated that night. The others, elderly Mr. and Mrs. Perles, Tod and Ruth and a child younger than June, were made to go without any mats, blankets, or belongings, walking fifteen miles on empty stomachs, he tied up for four hours, in jail eleven days in a room eight by three feet. The thirty-one prisoners had only two bowls of rice and two glasses of water a day. The Japanese told them that thirteen others were captured and that most of us had gone to the States and they would probably go too. In Baguio they were questioned closely about Mrs. Klappert—the Japanese want her for hostage against her husband. The price on him is high, but she is the one they want to locate, for they can reach a man by capturing his love. Dr. Biason is said to be in Baguio, released, his child with him, a bullet through her middle, but she is alive. He wanted to die, he felt so responsible. They tried to pry much information from him, to make him pay for his loyalty to Americans. These newcomers say that people everywhere are terrified of the invader, for villages are burned, people beaten and tied up, tortured.
During Special Diet serving, eight booted officers, including a real live general, inspected camp with a bodyguard of eight soldiers with bayonets. These last pressed their faces against the screen to watch the children eat, smiling and laughing. They are so curious, so interested, that often I feel sad for them, fury mixed with sympathy and understanding of their plight, their fate being to fight us when they feel friendly. I can see how their minds worked with the reasons they were given, and for many common soldiers I feel pity and respect. It is terrible involvement for us all, so many killed in our defeat, so many more to die in theirs. We cannot go back or stop, only go on remorselessly.
By chewing on my front teeth I can enjoy one peanut at a time. A number of New England habits have been invaluable in this parsimonious and pioneer existence, habits I didn’t have to acquire. Kidded about them in the past, now they are normal.
Several are showing symptoms of lack of Vitamin B—pains in the hands, numbness of hands and arms as though they had gone to sleep. The doctors give tikitiki. Massage may help, but it is chiefly dietary.
Now there is said to be a battle going on down in the valley below, machine guns and pounders and fighting. It can be seen from the hospital. It may be just ruthless mopping up of a village. Thunder and guns, which is which; we had both today. By dinner time, it had become landings and battle in Lingayen Gulf. While they fight and die in the valley within our sight, flower-arrangement class adjusts bouquets exquisitely on the porch and the choir practices in the nipa shed. After supper, drama, scandal, made its entrance. Mattresses were seen going to the guardhouse, and the word went around that one of the venturesome, young married couples had been caught out of bounds and commingling, both major offenses at the moment.
Miss McKim [Nellie McKim, a bilingual American who served as the internees’ interpreter] went to the guardhouse, a relative went there, a missionary, and both of our liaison men. There was a huge flurry and much stewing. After several hours of talk, scolding from the guard, pleas from Miss McKim, whose tact, diplomacy, and comprehension of Japanese intricacy is above reproach—it was decided the culprits were to remain in a small room at the guardhouse for twenty-four hours, without any mattresses, only blankets and a pillow, to sleep on the floor with a guard between.
Everyone is whispering sympathetically (having the same desire to be normal). A crazy world, the center of the great psychosis War! Our people worked till ten trying to abate the penalty. The humble centers of the storm were finally permitted to return to their separate barracks after that.
A new light was on toward the pigpen, and someone asked, “Aren’t the pigs allowed to commingle either?” Apparently only the goats can be normal in a war-torn world.
Jerry brought sub-coffee, fried mush, and pomolo in sugar for early breakfast. I tied my hair back, unbraided, which seems to make me look younger, with Sunday lipstick. I had to do something to take off that ten-year-aging feeling of the past fortnight. It has been the worst time in camp as to morale.
Bedie seemed homesick so we sat on the porch talking till he finally had a cry, which snapped the tension. He said Daddy had a boil now and had had so many things the matter with him—“Remember that first day when we were all so hungry and Daddy gave you and June and Tish and me the last crackers, and when we tried to make him take some he almost cried and said, ‘Don’t be damn fools.’” So Bedie remembers it all too—funny little boy who never seems to be taking in such things. This evening he was feeling full of omissions and sins. We held hands tight, and the tears washed away some of the sins.
Jerry’s disposition is certainly not normal. He has no appetite or pep, looks thin, just pushes around and has no hope of any American approach or deliverance. It is low-ebb morale in camp right now anyway. But he is no comfort to us or himself unless immersed in poker, where he forgets the present world of inaction.