December 20, 1941

Still no raid last night.

What’s happened to the war?

One day, the wolf said to the jackal, my friend, let us attack the bear. He is big and slow and does not know how to defend himself and between the two of us should be easy meat. To be doubly sure, let us first make friends with him. I will promise not to attack him, which should disarm him, and as for you, he knows he has nothing to fear from you, you are entirely contemptible and do not know how to fight. You can be a nuisance, though.

Swallowing his pride, the jackal gave his assent and a few howls as well to prove that he was really, contrary to the wolf’s judgment and his own conduct in the past, a formidable fellow.

As a matter of fact, the wolf conceded, you have your uses. Everybody knows he can’t trust you.

So the wolf and the jackal made friends with the bear. Then, when they thought the time ripe, the two entered the territory of the bear, the wolf snarling and baring his fangs, the jackal yelping a safe distance behind. Meeting the tiger on the way, they induced him to join them.

So, snarling, yelping and baring fangs, they entered the domain of the bear. Occasionally, the wolf would glance at his two allies and think a secret thought. Catching the glance, the two would feel an uneasiness which they tried to put down by thinking only of the easy pickings ahead.

The bear, surprised –or not at all surprised– retreated into his cave. Making loud noises of triumph, the trio followed him inside. In the darkness of the cave, the bear fell upon them.

Alarm this afternoon. I had lunch at two. With a friend. Bob.

“This is very good for wartime,” he said.

It was, indeed, very good food. For wartime. It gave us a bad conscience. Others dying or dead and we eat well.

Late this afternoon it was announced that another part of the Philippines was being attacked by the Japanese. An undetermined number of enemy transports were carrying on landing operations at Davao in Mindanao. The enemy landed “in force” in Davao, the official communique said, and heavy fighting was going on there.

Quiet night.

December 19, 1941

No raid last night. Slept well. Rose early. U.S. Army headquarters confirmed bombing of Iloilo City yesterday. More than 30 planes participated in the raid which killed an estimated 5, wounded 34. In Manila looting cases were reported. War is war. Temperature at 8 a.m. 85 degrees, Fahrenheit. Cloudy. Possible showers.

Press conference at a former convent school for girls. Men in khaki and newspapermen in anything needing a shave. Nun in the doorway, with serene eyes. What does she think of the war?

Pray for us now and at the hour of our death…

At noon, in the Manila Hotel, while people were eating their lunch, two Japanese came in.

“My God, are they already here?”

The two Japanese, came reassurance, were American citizens, serving as interpreters in the Army.


Night-fall. In a few nights the moon will come up again, bringing bombers.

December 18, 1941

It was another raidless night –the fifth in a row.

This morning Escolta was full of people again. Some were even buying. A few picked up the pretty Christmas cards and looked at them in a tentative way. Some put them down but others, pocketing caution, bought. In the street I heard children singing.

In writing during war, a man attaches perhaps undue significance to little acts. He discovers nobility in deeds he would otherwise dismiss, in times of peace, as the work of stale custom or habit. The ordinary run of men acquires a certain splendor in the midst of pain. Suffering may not ennoble, it does magnify. A man calmly eating his lunch during an air raid challenges Roland.

The alarm finally came, at 1:50 in the afternoon. It was almost welcome. The false lull created uncertainty –the unbearable state. A man was divided between hope and knowledge that the enemy might and could come at any time. Now the enemy had come again and a man knew where he stood. After the first bad moment, a man knew there was only danger, which is better than the expectation of it.

There is, when an alarm is sounded, a half-ashamed desire to burrow into the earth. One need not be ashamed, really. The fear of death is a legitimate emotion, like jealousy or love, and it is only what you let it do to you that is important, that is good or bad.

Fear, as an occurence merely, is an act of God. None’s to blame.

We are all afraid.

The alarm caught my friend and myself on Escolta. We entered a big department store and went down into its basement where we used to go buy records. There were several floors of reassuring concrete above us and the place was air-conditioned. Somebody played a record of “Intermezzo”, and the soft, thin plaint of the violin added further to the illusion of safety and complete insulation from what was going on outside. You’d never know what hit you.

While we waited, my friend looked about him. While we waited for the thing to be over, my friend said in a hopeless voice:

“From the cave, man has progressed to the basement, which is only another name for a cave. There is air-conditioning but the principle is the same. We are still cave-bound. There has been no change. Thousands of years have passed, millions and millions of men have come and gone, every day the world is older, man is older, and there has been no improvement. You can kill more at a time now, that is all. That is the only progress.”

He was in the Manila Hotel the first time the Japanese planes came over the city, the first time we had the enemy directly over us. There was absolutely nothing to tell us that we would not get it then. The people in the hotel –Filipinos, Americans, Britishers, Spaniards– if they thought of death at all, they did not show it. They went on talking, laughing, eating, drinking while the planes roared overhead. And certainly the lean figure of death must have seemed to these people, in the midst of so much wealth and abundance, but a frail legend, true for the poor, inapplicable to them.

It was not a matter of courage, it was a matter of unbelief.

“In a corner, I saw a girl saying the rosary.”

The girl believed in it.

In the afternoon, while we were having a drink in a bar, my friend saw someone he knew and asked him to sit with us. The man had just come in from Nichols which had been bombed and he had a dark bruise on the forehead. And a story.

“I work for the quartermaster corps and I was on my way to pick up a car at Nichols Field. I was almost there when the bombings began. I saw two soldiers and I asked, ‘Is there a raid?’ a foolish question. ‘Is there a a raid!’ they said, so I got out of the car and ran to a house by the road that had been bombed before and flung myself on the ground close to a wall that was left standing. I had on my best pair of pants, too. Then the bombs came nearer and one really near and a bit of flying debris hit me on the forehead, here, and all I could think of was: Yah, you sons of bitches, I’ve paid the last premium on my insurance!”

When the raid was over and the bombers were gone, he went on to Nichols Field, and, he said, after picking his way carefully around the bomb-craters, found that the car he was supposed to pick up was not there –thus making a nice well-rounded tale.

The official communique said that “in the afternoon of Monday, December 15, a USAFFE patrol met and engaged a Japanese patrol somewhere south of Vigan. Excellent morale was shown by our men, who succeeded in pushing the enemy patrol many miles northward. Darkness stopped the fighting. There was a number of enemy casualties.”

Japanese planes on the ground at Vigan were also reportedly attacked by our air-force. Twenty-seven planes were caught on the ground and 25 of them said to be destroyed. One plane was shot down in the air. This brought to 70 the number of enemy planes officially claimed destroyed in the Philippines since the war began.

Today, Japanese motorboats, estimated at more than 100, tried to land troops in Lingayen Gulf. The first attempt was beaten off entirely, most of the boats being sunk by artillery fire from a a Philippine division. The same division also mopped up all Japanese troops which managed, in later attempts, to land.

Today the Japanese bombed the city of Iloilo.

Going through Ermita in the dusk, I saw an American soldier talking very earnestly to a pretty mestiza in a yellow dress. Man lives simultaneously on several levels: military, economic, political, erotic.

December 17, 1941

Still no raid last night. Soldiers, however, in a fanatical determination to enforce the blackout to the letter, kept firing shots in the air throughout the night to remind lax householders of the rule, contributing almost as much as a wave of enemy bombers to keeping the city restless in bed.

The war has disrupted transportation and I had to walk, with the majority, to the office, arriving –as usual but now with a good excuse– late.

The war is making city dwellers learn to use their legs. Many of us are, physically, more fit than we were when the war broke out. It is the ill wind that blows somebody good –this war– and we ought to feel grateful, I suppose.

While drinking coffee in a Chinese restaurant this morning, I heard one man reassure another thus:

“To admit fear of the Japanese is to admit that you are not as good as they are, which is ridiculous. We are better than the Japanese. Our standard of living is better.”

Give him a gun, he said, and he would establish without delay the superiority of that standard of living.

“Meanwhile,” I offered, “have a cup of coffee on me.”

There followed a long discussion regarding Japan’s reason for her unquestionably suicidal attack on the United States. It was all pure speculation, of course, but each man;s tone was that of one handing down dogma. This is the people’s war. All the people, combatant and civilian, are in it. All, by reason of direct experience, are expert witnesses and should be heard.

“Japan was being licked, slowly but surely, in China. She could neither give up the war nor finish it. She was being beaten, at the same time she could not admit defeat at the hands of the ‘inferior’ Chinese. The war she had been carrying out against them for more than four years, she still persisted in calling an ‘incident’. She cannot come home and say she has lost it. She must look elsewhere, to somebody else, to a more worthy foe. To lose, for instance, to the United States and Britain, anyone can explain that. That would be perfectly understandable. That would be defeat without too great loss of face. An honorable disaster. The Japanese people could not complain.”

December 16, 1941

There was no alarm last night. In the morning the people got out of their beds, rubbed their eyes in the chill light of dawn and congratulated each other for having a good night’s rest with a feeling usually reserved for birthdays and anniversaries.

At the office a girl called me up. She was living in Pasay and her nerves were somewhat shattered from the recent bombing of that area. To restore her calm she had been doing a bit of reading. Now there was one story –mine, as a matter of fact– which she particularly enjoyed. But if she might be frank —

“By all means.”

What, to be brief, was the point of the story?

“I am so stupid,” she apologized.

“That’s all right.”

“Have I done something?”

“You have only hurt my feelings.”

“I’m sorry.”

She had a nice voice –soft, clear, with a hint of laughter in it. It was charming. One must not let these opportunities slip by. One recalls Arnold Bennett’s advice. There is no harm in trying, if you get five per cent on your investment, you are doing well.

I told her I was the stupid one for not making my point absolutely clear –the duty of any self-respecting writer. I assured her that if she came to the office, I would be only too glad to clear up the obscurity. I will be in the office tomorrow, I told her in the friendliest manner possible, till 10:30.

“But I understand,” she said, in the friendliest manner, too, “you are never in the office before that.”

And hung up.

One of the papers is running a column devoted to the little incidents of the war — amusing sidelights, brief anecdotes that go to show how the great international upheaval has affected the little man. The column is called, inevitably, “C’est la Guerre.” This, I suppose, falls under it.

There was no alarm in the morning and the city worked uninterruptedly. The dealers in rumor were not idle. In the High Commissioner’s office, a man sidled over to one of the over-worked staff and, in a low but carrying whisper, announced:

“The Saratoga has been sunk!”

These harbingers of imaginary disasters seem to find strange comfort in their thankless occupation. The war confers a semi-legitimacy on quirks and neuroses one tries in decency to dissimulate in the clear air of peace. War makes that delicate unbalance, that ever-so-light tendency toward hysteria you are so ashamed of, respectable.

USAFFE headquarters did announce that the enemy bombed Olongapo this morning, for the second time since the war began. No details were available, but it was probably a light attack. The situation on the land appeared unchanged. “There has been no major activity on any of the land fronts,” said one release, with the terseness that the Army has adopted in all its communications with the annoying press. “No change in the situation on the ground,” said another release.

It has been an air-raidless day. The last two nights were also raidless. We must not get used to this natural quiet. We must not miss it too much when it is gone.

The Philippines was still quiet. “There is no change in the situation on the ground,” went the USAFFE communique. “No air activity has been reported since yesterday.”

The city spoke uneasily of the lull before the storm.

Today the inter-island vessel Corregidor struck a mine near the mouth of Manila Bay and sank in a few minutes. The ship was packed to the gunwales with passengers leaving the city for the southern islands, thus reintroducing the “Samarra” theme.

The number of people on board was estimated at from 600 to 1,000. The exact number may never be known. Government officials used their influence to make the ship’s agents issue them and their friends tickets. Many went up the gangplanks just before the boat sailed, thinking to get their tickets from the purser afterward, when the boat was out at sea. Each, in one way or another, properly sealed his fate.

Later in the day, I was shown a wire from a man in Iloilo asking a friend in the city to secure a ticket for his mistress on the Corregidor. The war caught the woman in Manila and the man wanted her with him. The friend, I need not say, got the ticket.

Walking home in the afternoon, I heard someone playing the piano in one of those small apartments on the ground floor whose window opens right on the street. The piano was old and the player uncertain. I suddenly remembered that I had not heard music played for quite a while.

December 15, 1941

We all have our problems. A man I know is in love with a lovely girl –truly lovely– who is constantly sleeping with other men.

“I must wait,” he said, “until it is taken out of her.”

The rest of us have the war.

Since the war began, I have slept, in seven days, in four different places. If, by always moving, the purpose is to cheat death, or to diminish the chances of death, it is not only undignified but also probably ineffectual.

Somerset Maugham has a story about death.

“There was a merchant in Bagdad who sent his servant to market to buy provisions and in a little while the servant came back, white and trembling, and said, Master, just now when I was in the market-place I was jostled by a woman in the crowd and when I turned I saw that it was Death that jostled me. She looked at me and made a threatening gesture; now, lend me your horse, and I will ride away from this city and avoid my fate. I will go to Samarra and there Death will not find me.”

“The merchant,” goes on Death, who tells the story, “lemt him his horse, and the servant mounted it, and he dug his spurs in its flanks and as fast as the horse could gallop he went. Then the merchant went to the market-place and he saw me standing in the crowd and he came to me and said, Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant when you saw him this morning? That was not a threatening gesture, I said, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Bagdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”

I have talked with many and noted down the various defenses, material and psychological, they put up against death and the thought of death. Death like the poor we have always with us. War merely tears away the gauze which children, doctors and the speed limit cast in peacetime over its dark but not always unattractive face. Somewhere, sometime, we all yield to its importunities. War merely turns the seduction into rape.

Some find cold comfort in statistics:

“More people are killed a year in automobile accidents in the United States than were killed in London under bombardment for a similar period of time.”

Create security out of the void of speculation:

“Consider how careful the enemy has been not to hit the city. Their cities are vulnerable like ours, their houses better material for fires. Their superiority in anti-aircraft is neutralized by our flying fortresses. They are as interested in having their cities spared as we are in having ours. To bomb Manila is to invite reprisal, which they cannot afford. No, they will not bomb Manila.”

Reassurance in trenches, sandbags, the number of floors overhead, the construction of shelters under the house or in the yard.

Others leave the city, in the direction, it may prove, of some Samarra.

Most remain. They adjust themselves to the new condition as others in the past did. In the Middle Ages, men left the countryside to dwell in cities that were merely fortified places. Living within the walls –we have Intramuros still– they gave up the freedom of the fields for security from robbers, marauding bands and invading armies. Within the walls they were “safe”. They could work and save. There was order and routine. They established a currency, traded and cultivated the arts. Under the shadow of the walls they created a civilization that lasted for hundreds of years.

Today we have merely extended the walls. We have ringed our cities with anti-aircraft guns and roofed them with fighter planes. Within the shell life goes on in a new dimension. When the strangeness wears off, we may yet wonder how people were able to live any other way. The excitement will die down and the bombing become normal. Part of the scheme of things. Routine. The established way of living.

Already science promises us cities safer and more comfortable underground. There is no reason to doubt the possibility of such cities or of life in them. Men have for thousands of years found life possible within the confines of a ship, to step out of which means watery death. In these cities of the future we can create a civilization, too, a mode of living, a technique of existence. Inside one would be perfectly comfortable.

It is no less possible than life in a city subject to air raid.

Air-raid alarm this morning as usual. I was in a street car on my way to the office when the siren sounded. Everybody got down and took shelter in the houses along the street. They have yet to bomb the city and every time they come, you wonder: is this it?

Reached the office at 10:30. Under the present dispensation it may take a man two hours o get to the next block. A new rhythm.

“Where are the politicians?”

“Do not concern yourself over the politicians, my friend. As sure as there are Japanese planes over us and we may at any moment die, the sons of bitches are safe. That is the character, the essence, the very definition of a politician. One who is, whatever happens to the rest, always safe.”

“Yes, that is correct. That is the truth. That is the politician. The safe ones, as you say. The safe beasts.”

“They are the price we pay for democracy.”

“They are the price we need not pay.”

During the alarm, you remind yourself of the various precautions you have failed to take. You must get a gas-mask. You must dig a trench in the yard and get some sandbags for the trench. You must buy food and keep a stock in the house –the other night you had to borrow a can of sardines from the people upstairs. You must pack your more valuable books and keep them in some secure place. It seems hardly worth the trouble.