Ordeals of war
During the holidays I watched three films, all about Japanese atrocities during World War II. There was the “Rape of Nanking”, “Rising Sun Over Malaysia” and “The Railroad Man”. The first two were documentaries. The third is a true story of a railroad engineer in the British Army who was captured and forced to build a railroad bridge over the River Kwai in Thailand. This bridge, now a major tourist attraction in the country was also a subject of a movie, “The Bridge over the River Kwai”. I visited this bridge some years back. There is nothing spectacular about it but for the history about Japanese brutality and the conflict between duty and defiance.
In 1979, I was allowed to see in the underground archives at the US Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. the collection of photographs of the victims of the massacre of civilians during the Japanese occupation of Manila and the murderous rampage of the Japanese rear units as the main body retreated to the Mountain Province. The photographs, kept in the vaults, are unimaginable, shocking and sickening.
The photographs of the victims and the narratives of survivors are difficult to describe. We cannot fathom the extent of man's capacity to brutalize innocent civilians even in a state of war. The imaginative and ingenious ways of torture can only be defined as demonic. The extent of these brutalities have made many Japanese then and even today to deny that they ever happened. Indeed how can a Japanese, gentle and courteous, become a senseless brute?
I struggled with that question because I met so many Japanese and even during their occupation of La Castellana I had fun with some of the soldiers. Perhaps, war makes us brutes. But the documents during my years of research on WW II in Negros showed that in fact, brutalities did happen here.
In 2006, I edited the story narrated by guerrilla Lt. Jose S. Villacin of Cadiz, father of cardiologist Dr. Luciene. His book recounted his life during the war. I translated, organized and edited his work that came out as book, “Ordeals of War”. A first person account, the book brings us into the experiences of civilians and guerrillas in constant fear and readiness against Japanese attacks and the killings of innocents. The reader will share the experience of the sufferings and deprivations of people in times of war. In times of peace we cannot believe that the ordeal they went through could have happened.
Lt. Villacin tells his story in a conversational way, not the kind of hard, emotionless history writing. That is the reason we an “get” into and feel his ordeal.
The story of Lt. Villacin and his family is different from those in the two documentaries and experience of a British engineer. But there are episodes that confirm the fact that the Japanese occupiers in Negros were just as brutal as those in Manila, Malaysia, China and Thailand. Villacin tells the horror of the execution of his brother and several people of Cadiz.
Villacin narrated that his brother, Celestino, who was vice mayor of Cadiz when the Japanese arrived in Negros in May 1942, was executed merely on the word of a man whose head was covered with a libon (straw basket). The Japanese suspected that all the Villacin brothers - Jose (Seque) and Heracleo (Racling) were guerrillas, which they really were.
The Japanese suspected every male was a soldier who did not surrender. One afternoon several trucks of Japanese soldiers entered Cadiz and rounded up all the men. A libon covered spy indiscriminately pointed to young men who were brought to the Japanese camp in Fabrica, possibly tortured, then executed.
Two weeks after, the Japanese returned to Cadiz, sprayed the houses with machine guns fires and shot those who tried to flee. The Japanese did not discriminate - men, women and children, were shot. Those that fled to the rivers were also used for target practice and those who ran for cover in the nearby corn field were gunned down. The Cadiz Massacre, emptied the town.
Spread out in my book, “Against the Rising Sun” about the Japanese occupation in Negros are dozens more of these brutalities and mainly against civilians. They can comprise a book by themselves.*
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