War veteran, vicariously

At twelve, I was a World War II veteran and D-Day survivor in Normandy. Vicariously of course, only vicariously.

Blame it, first, on the weekly episodes of Combat!, which at six I began to watch with my brothers and cousins at my aunt Maura’s house along nearby Scout Fuentebella Street, which had television. Blame it, second, on our family driver Manong Natoy, who brought us kids to watch the film The Longest Day, a cinematic retelling of the June 1944 Allied landings in Nazi-occupied France, when I was seven. Both the TV show and the movie made a huge impression on me.

The frenzy of a Normandy beach in 1944
The frenzy of a Normandy beach in 1944, by the famous war photographer Robert Capa.

Continue reading “War veteran, vicariously”

Romancing the sword (4)

This is Part 4 of a multi-part essay written for my “Pathless Travels” column. It was originally published in Northern Weekly Dispatch, 21 Aug 2005, and which I then reposted a few months later on my defunct blog hosted at Blogspot. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.
The year was 2005, and the GMA broadcast network had scored a big hit with the sword-and-sorcery TV series Encantadia. Sword battle movies were on the comeback trail worldwide, from Hollywood to China, and the genre seemed to appeal to Filipino sensitivities. But does it really unlock insights to our own history? From our rich historical military legacy as a people, are we learning anything practical and applicable to our own times?
Suicide volunteers had their limbs and torsos tightly bound in fibrous cloth or leather strips. Then, on signal, they assaulted the enemy lines with kampilan, kalis or bolo tied with thongs to the wrist of each hand, as they shouted “Allah’u akbar!” or “Mabuhay ang Pilipinas!” or simply “Tadtad!” Illustration is by Ellsworth Young, from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/22407/22407-h/images/p227.jpg

I hope that you, most patient readers, have followed me thus far. Maybe you get in a vague way what I’m trying to say but can’t pin it down. Some of you might suspect that this is merely a nostalgia trip that meanders from one hazy idea to the next. So let me try and summarize the whole nebulous thought in one short paragraph:

War is too important to society to be left only to the professional soldiery. It must be the serious and routine business of the whole citizenry. Let us learn from our rich military legacy, not just through films and books, but by preserving and using what is still of practical use. Continue reading “Romancing the sword (4)”

Romancing the sword (3)

This is Part 3 of a multi-part essay written for my “Pathless Travels” column. It was originally published in Northern Weekly Dispatch, 14 Aug 2005, and which I then reposted a few months later on my defunct blog hosted at Blogspot. Read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 4 here.
The year was 2005, and the GMA broadcast network had scored a big hit with the sword-and-sorcery TV series Encantadia. Sword battle movies were on the comeback trail worldwide, from Hollywood to China, and the genre seemed to appeal to Filipino sensitivities. But are they really unlocking insights to our own history?
Lapu-lapu- coching13
Some of the most romanticized events and figures of a nation’s history, rightly or wrongly, have to do with wars and revolutions. This is understandable. After all, most nations were actually born and steeled into maturity in the throes of such violent crises, and their national heroes emerged as leaders in such conflicts.The problem begins, however, when the public is fed mostly with over-romanticized notions of war and combat heroics, while only the military establishment is given the chance to study real strategy and tactics. It is one thing to romanticize armies and wars. It is another thing to educate the public in military science and history so they can cope better in a real war.

In most countries, the collective past is painstakingly preserved in history books, research publications, archives and museums. There are monuments, restored ruins, tombs and landmarks, paintings and prints, bas reliefs, dioramas. There are even live and filmed reenactments, usually on the very sites where memorable events happened.

Some of the most romanticized events and figures of a nation’s history, rightly or wrongly, have to do with wars and revolutions. It is as if the emergence of a nation or hero required bloodshed, like a person’s birth and passage to adulthood.

This is understandable. After all, most nations were actually born and steeled into maturity in the throes of such violent crises. Many national heroes have emerged as leaders in such conflicts.

The problem begins, however, when the public is fed mostly with over-romanticized notions of war and combat heroics, while only the military establishment is given the chance to study real strategy and tactics. Continue reading “Romancing the sword (3)”