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  • Karl Jason Calimag

An Open Letter To My World War II Denying Bullies

Warning from the editing team:

This article contains experiences in Japan that other readers may not agree with.

What NOT to Say About World War II

It was a long time ago. Get over it.

Japan didn’t do that; we didn't learn about it in school.

We didn’t do it, so why should we care?

How do you think this made me feel while talking about my family’s experiences in World War II? Japanese students hurled these insults at me while getting my degree at a Japanese college.

Here’s what I wish they knew.

My tita– aunt– was born a year before the bombs fell, and World War II erupted. Tita Ji was one of many young children of a poor fisherman in the central Visayas region of the Philippines. When the Japanese appeared, young lolo–grandpa– Cris’ life and tita Ji’s childhood innocence sank to the bottom of Leyte Gulf. Instead of eating fish soup and myriads of Lola’s– grandma’s– cooking, lolo Cris ate little but nothing and tita Ji ate merely salt with rice cooked underground without the luxuries of lola’s colorful pots. This is the true cost of war. Lolo, lola, and tita, all paid in sweat, tears, and hunger pains because the American occupiers that ruled their lives before the Japanese thought dark Morenos– dark-skinned Filipinos– were just dumb, brown, and unintelligent children. You can look it up, it’s called benevolent assimilation.

There was nothing benevolent about Japan’s occupation of the Philippines. As Filipinos, we never consented nor took lightly how they assailed our homeland. Surviving every day in itself was an act of resistance. My aunt was one of the lucky ones because tita was too young to go to Nippongo schoolcolonial Japanese school, but not so lucky. My aunt’s lack of early education meant she couldn’t learn well as an adult and she only ever graduated middle school. Tita’s lack of educational achievement was a scar of World War II that never escaped her. She never got to throw up her cap, sing a senior song, or get any kind of diploma like I did.

But there I was, at a Japanese college, doing everything tita couldn’t have done. All grown-up with baby fat and then some on my belly, an expansive vocabulary, and a leather-bound high school diploma ready to do something my aunt would have dreamt to do. Yet, I was met with such vitriol and disrespect. I was incensed, furious, and thrown into a deep madness. I couldn’t even bring myself to respond. If I did, I might have even been suspended or expelled for how much tension surged from my brain to my tightly balled-up fists.

Now I can.

To say World War II was a long time ago is completely untrue. I am one generation separated from my aunt. Tita is literally my mother’s sister, and she even raised us when my parents were out of the house working themselves to try to afford to raise my family. I heard the stories that I just told you and more of how she suffered– how she can’t ever see blood without being triggered or forgive Japan for what they did to her. War, violence at the magnitude of World War II, and seeing your home destroyed are traumas you can’t “just get over”. Horrors like those stick with you for the rest of your life. Tita Ji told me stories about how she'd hide in churches to avoid being assaulted by Japanese soldiers or how she ran in the forest away from gunfire as if it happened one hour ago. Her dreams weren’t much better, and she couldn’t sleep well later in life from all the memories playing out in her dreams.

These weren’t merely just hallucinations. Those experiences are living and irrefutable proof that they happened. The scars on her feet and her bent teeth didn’t just happen because she was a hyperactive child. Tita Ji’s body shows what exploding bombs, gunfire, and the constant threat of heinous violence do to a child.

TIta Ji matters, what the Japanese did to her matters, no matter when and no matter where. Otherwise, these horrific tragedies will repeat themselves if they continue to be unacknowledged. To deny the experiences of survivors of a war their trauma is to say that it was okay. In short, a tacit approval. Whether intended or not, ignorant or willfully insolent, not caring is violent and dangerous. It’s ironic really. Our college’s vision was to create “global citizens'', but to be global citizens is to understand and respect global perspectives. Japanese people owe us that. We definitely try to understand them. Just look at how many anime fans are Filipino.

In short, I don’t hate Japanese people. However, I vehemently disagree with their views on what they did to my aunt and other fellow victims of World War II. The refusal of their role in empowering ideas that tacitly approve of violence and war crimes sets an offensive and dangerous precedent that does not conform with the ideas of global citizenship, mutual respect, and ethics. I hope one day that in the halls of Japanese universities stories like Tita’s are told.

About the writer:

Karl Jason Calimag is an editor at the Filipino-American LABAN Magazine, founder of the YouTube channel Bulag Bandit Media, and graduate of Tokai University in Peace Studies. Karl covers topics such as disability advocacy, Filipino history and culture, and media YouTube Instagram Twitter

Edited by Emiru Okada

Graphic by Ayumi White


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