Pacifists (Philippine Star)

Some years ago I had a memorable dinner with a Japanese family. It was remarkable not just because the modest house with a lovely garden was nestled in a picturesque hillside neighborhood with a panoramic view of Hiroshima, but also because my host and head of the household fought Filipino and US forces during World War II in Lingayen, Pangasinan.

Even more remarkable was that the man and his wife, who showed me how to cook miso soup, were both survivors of “Little Boy,” the atomic bomb that flattened Hiroshima and created those eerie shadows preserved in concrete of those who were obliterated.

The two were apart when their city was nuked on Aug. 6, 1945, and they could only attribute their survival to fate. But for the rest of their life, they along with their two daughters need to undergo regular medical checkups so their government can keep track of any illnesses that may be linked to radiation. The daughters told me that so far, they’ve had no serious health problems.

Opening out to the garden was an area in the house with a tatami mat where the family could pray before a Shinto shrine. Beside the shrine alcove, my host showed me a closet full of memorabilia from his days as a soldier in the Philippines.

I decided to tell him that my great-grandfather was a member of the Army Scout Rangers and his only son, my paternal grandfather who was a member of the US Army Forces in the Far East, survived the Death March but was crippled for life. I told my host that he might have fought my grandparents.

Rather than create rancor, this story made my reception even warmer in that household. War fatigue and the desire for healing and reconciliation are palpable in Hiroshima, many decades after the war. A visit to the city’s extraordinary Peace Memorial will show why. It’s one of two museums in the world the other being the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington that gave me goose bumps throughout the tour.

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Yesterday Japan commemorated the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki. The less-publicized attack was in fact more powerful, with plutonium used in the bomb called “Fat Man” to raze the city. At least 74,000 were killed, with more dying later from radiation sickness.

The Japanese commemorated the calamitous event as public debates raged over the country’s gradual shift away from its post-war pacifist stance. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe doesn’t look like he’s backing down from his goal of raising Japan’s military profile in the region to counter the increasing muscle-flexing of China.

Since the Philippines is on the receiving end of that muscle-flexing, ours is one of the countries supporting a greater military role for Japan. This doesn’t mean either country wants war.

Asia has flourished in seven decades of peace. Japan became the world’s second largest economy in that peaceful environment with no violent internal strife.

Post-Armistice peace has also been good for South Korea. And China rose to economic prosperity, supplanting Japan as the world’s second largest economy, in a region that has been without war since 1975.

Asians understand the value of peace. But what happens when that peace is threatened by territorial grabbing and trampling of other nations by the biggest kid on the block? For starters, the smaller or weaker kids band together and prepare a collective defense against aggression.

The Philippines and Japan are ganging up on China? We’re just trying to find strength in numbers.

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In a fairly new development, I’ve been informed that the Philippines has been getting a more positive coverage in the Chinese media. This, I was told, started only in the past two weeks or so, with certain news organizations getting “reportorial instructions” from their government.

I asked our paper’s resident Tsinoy for help in translating a recent report from China about the Philippines, and it’s true: the title said the Chinese have been misreading our country. The article noted that bilateral trade has grown steadily in the past years despite the maritime dispute, and that China has become our second largest single trading partner.

It also said Chinese commentaries against the Philippines were unfair and not helpful to the sea dispute as well as President Xi Jinping’s “string of pearls” policy and envisioned creation of a 21st century Maritime Silk Road running across Southeast Asia to South and Central Asia. President Aquino’s survey ratings, contrary to recent portrayals, had not sunk to dismal levels, the article pointed out. The Philippines, like other countries in the region, is a partner of China, according to the article, which was carried by a Beijing-based financial news portal.

Maybe the kinder media treatment is in preparation for the November summit in Manila of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Xi has not confirmed his attendance.

Perhaps Beijing will also issue “reportorial instructions” to its media to clarify that our arbitration case before the United Nations is not meant to settle a territorial dispute as reported in China but to define our maritime entitlements under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

The creation of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is part of the overall plan for the Silk Road.

Creating a Silk Road is a national policy of China. Why should other countries go along with it? The mindset behind this is the same one that’s trying to sell the idea that newly reclaimed reefs in the South China Sea, where the Chinese flag flies, are meant for the peaceful, common use of all countries.

Seeing images of the airstrip that’s rapidly taking shape on Kagitingan or Fiery Cross Reef, with numerous Chinese ships on patrol, it’s easier to believe an article in The Week magazine, which described the artificial islands as “unsinkable aircraft carriers” that are part of China’s “kill chain.”

If only as a deterrent, threatened nations are ramping up their capability for self-defense. With our weak firepower, we are compelled to turn to others for help. This may have to be factored in by the Japanese in their raging national debate and fears that their pacifist stance is threatened.

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