Skip to content

December 22, 1941

I am writing this under a small funnel of light in a blacked-out room. I can see a book, a pack of cigarettes, a pile of paper, a glass of water and the typewriter. Everything else in the room lies in the dark.

The war has blacked out everything in our lives but a few essentials. A man is left with very little. Yet, he finds, enough. A man has few needs. Peace multiplies them and gives the superfluous the urgency of the necessary. We confuse indulgence with need. Now the war leaves a man with only the bare wish to survive honorably, the obligation to do one’s work as well as ever, and a new humility:

“I have dug a trench four feet deep and two feet wide. When the bombs can no longer be disregarded, I will take my wife and my children and we will get into the trench and keep our heads below the level of the ground. Short of a direct hit, against which there is no provision, we should be safe enough. In case of a direct hit, we will not know what hit us. A man cannot reasonably ask to be safe in case of a direct hit. That would be asking too much these days.”

In this way, those who are not yet fighting may keep their lives –and self-respect, too.

Outside a sliver of moon lights up the space between the houses. In the sky a clear December night has raised a cloud of stars. Against the bright multitude are outlined the sleeping roofs. Now and then there is the faint glow of a cigarette. The shapes of men and women pass as in a dream. You hear a dog barking, then silence.

You are alone.

Walking in the yard, smoking a furtive cigarette, delaying for another moment the return to my stuffy room, I was struck by the similarity of the new regime to another I had known. I had lived on a farm, far from town, where when you step out of the house, you enter a darkness as complete as that which now envelopes the city. There are only the shadowy path at your feet, the stars above you and the shape of the mountain at your right. It is a perfectly natural condition and men submit to it cheerfully, every day of their simple lives. It is only in the city that men have learned to demand that the night be turned into day.

In the city, even at night, men cannot bear to lose sight of their possessions and of each other. Now the war is teaching them a new but elsewhere normal loneliness.

It is endowing us with an unaccustomed self-sufficiency. In the desolation of the blackout, you have only yourself and it must do. You are compelled to cultivate your garden.

The war should make many philosophers.

The blackout endows man with a new sensitiveness to light and sound. The shutting of a door is like a thunderclap and the lighting of a match a conflagration. The senses reacquire the sharpness they once possessed, when man dwelt in the forests and must ever be on guard against a million unknown enemies. Now he lives in cities and must be on guard against man.

Air-raid alarm this morning and again at lunch-time.

At the sound of the alarm there is a sudden stillness ruptured only by the whistles of suddenly active wardens and guards. The siren rises and falls in an agonized wail full of all sorts of dreadful implications. Each alarm is like the trumpet of the last day. The whole city stops dead in its tracks and prepares for death or mutilation. Everybody is quite calm about it.

Rifle-fire –very foolish– punctuates the throbbing quiet. Then you hear the drone of the approaching bombers, the burst of anti-aircraft, the chatter of machine-gun fire. Now is the moment of fear, the wisdom of taking cover. Such, however, is human frailty, instead of covering behind some kind of protection against shrapnel and such, men have to be kept, more or less forcibly, from coming out into the open to watch the show. Curiosity overcomes caution and men stretch out heedless hands into the fire for the chestnut of a possible dogfight or the sight of a plane falling. Until the novelty wears off, men will continue to exchange safety for spectacle and get out into the streets as the bombers come over.

After the raiders are gone, all impatiently await the all-clear, to send them on their separate ways. After the all-clear, small boys lightheartedly imitate the sound of the alarm. They have become quite adept at it.

Early this morning USAFFE headquarters declared that there was increased activity south of Vigan, but nothing serious, it said reassuringly, had developed. Then, at 11, came this:

“There was sighted this morning off Lingayen Gulf a huge enemy fleet estimated at 80 transports. Undoubtedly this is a major expeditionary drive aimed at the Philippines.”

At four o’clock and again an hour later, in a special communique, USAFFE headquarters said that heavy guns drove off a landing attempt at one point of Lingayen Gulf. Both sides were using tanks. Our troops, said the Army spokesman, damning with situation with faint praise, “behaved well”.

The Japanese transport fleet was supported by fleet and air units. Destroyers guarded it against submarine attack. Rumor –and the papers, which had surrendered to its allurements– reported from three to 37 transports of the enemy as having been sunk. The truth was:

“The enemy in great force is pushing the attack. Heavy fighting is going on in the north.”

We know the strength of the enemy, we have to speculate on our own. This, the authorities have kept, perhaps with good cause, secret. It is probably wise and necessary, but no one enjoys it.

Tales of reinforcements from the United States are scattered about and the city grabs at each straw of comfort that is thrown its way.

Said a man with heavy humor:

“We don’t know our own strength.”

In the noonday raid (on Camp Murphy) the enemy killed and wounded 130. More, perhaps.