Category Diary of Teodoro M. Locsin

December 29, 1941

The war holds your problems in grateful suspension. You almost dread the coming of peace which will once more precipitate them. For the moment, they have lost their urgency. That trouble with your family, the uncompleted novel, the hopeless passion for a girl who does not love you, which had formerly so troubled you, must now stand humbly at the door while you occupy yourself with matters more pressing, of life and death. That fine emotional balance, that delicate synchronization of all your parts, that rich fulfillment you thought was so necessary to your happiness have ceased to concern you, for the reason that happiness has become, for the duration, superfluous. No longer necessary. The war has given you a breathing spell.

The war has given me what I never had before: time to read as much as I like. I had several books I bought and never found the leisure to read. I had given them up as money lost. During the last three weeks, I was able, between alarms and all-clears, to finish reading them all. The war has been an unexpected dividend.

It has changed, though, the character of my reading. I have a collection of detective novels still unread. I used to enjoy few things more than to run through their gory pages at the end of the day. Now I cannot read them.Their dismay over the killing of one, two or three people seems to me rather petty. Now.

Now I find comfort and relish in the pages of the philosophers whose conclusions may be briefly stated:

Nothing matters.

The war has also affected our drinking habits. Those who drank as a matter of habit are drinking more than ever. They drank for relief, as a means of escape from the intolerable self. Now they drink to escape, simply, the war.

Those who drank on occasion have, on the other hand, stopped drinking altogether. They drank as others read books, listen to music, collect paintings or go to the movies, to relieve boredom. The war has taken boredom away. Bombers coming over in perfect formation, glistening with death, are the equivalent of a good stiff drink. Bombs rushing through the air overhead are an all-night revel.

At the Arcade bar a man started a collection for a soldier who had just come back to the city from Lingayen and was now in a hospital for treatment of his wounds before returning to the front.

“I want to have enough to buy him a complete suit.”

When the Japanese captured the boy, they stripped him of his clothes except his underwear, leaving him shivering in the December cold. Managing to escape from prison camp, the boy reached Manila the other day, undaunted, naked except for his undershirt and shorts.

The narrator, a Dutchman who had once been district commissioner in the Netherlands East Indies, had retained his youthful admiration for Oscar Wilde’s wit. Now he concluded his little tale:

“He kept his pants up.”

What happens to a man is his private concern. It can hardly be of interest to anyone but himself. If he has a wife and children, it touches them. Otherwise, he goes alone.

But what happens today to a man is happening, in greater or less degree, to other men all over the world. The war has descended on us all. We are its heirs, joint and solitary. It cannot be disposed of separately.

We live a common life and the fate of one becomes, in time, by a new necessity, the fate of all. The order of the day has replaced “I” –precious relic from the past– with the collective “we”. We are all, under an absolute clause, parties to the act.

At the bar I heard a man complain to another about his bad luck. He had bought several yards of Irish linen some time ago and taken them to his tailor in Intramuros to have them made into suits. The suits were finished.

“I reminded myself to pass by Intramuros on the way home in the afternoon and get the suits. I never did. It was one thing or another, the days went by and the suits remained with the tailor. Yesterday, after the bombing, I went to Intramuros. There were no longer any suits. There was no longer any tailor.”

The man he was telling the story to asked him the name of the tailor. When he gave it, the man said:

“He was my tailor, too. I had two suits with him.”

The first man said he would be damned.

“I have a drink with a stranger, tell him about the suits I lost in the raid, and what does he tell me –this perfect stranger– he had lost his, too, in the same place, with the same tailor, in the same raid!”

“We are all in the same war.”

Including the tailor.

The people are taking to the war easily. They have adjusted themselves to having to walk to work in the morning, to salary cuts, to unemployment, to the possibility of death during the day. They have few possessions, and the war finds them singularly unencumbered except for the wish to survive without loss of character, to give no way to fear.

The rich and the influential are the pitiful ones. They have so much to lose! They shake for their lives, they shake for their office, they shake for their bank accounts. They read all the literature on the established methods of avoiding death and damage by bomb, bullet, and gas. They sit in a circle all day and worry over every rumor and report of disaster. They scan every threat to their security with the passion of scholars poring over a newly recovered line from the Greek Anthology.

The war freshly illumines a paradox:

One may be casual about one’s life but rarely over one’s property.

In high good humor the people are compiling a list of dishonor. With infinite malice they treasure each new story of how their lords and masters have disgraced themselves.

A prominent politician who used to set the National Assembly on fire with his oratory, when the bombs began to fall last week in one part of the city, flung himself on the floor of his office so hard he broke an arm.

A former executive, who liked to make a show of independence of spirit and about whom I had, with the careless accuracy of journalism, written admiringly in the past, made the Manila Hotel, which has the best air-raid shelter in the city, his home, careful not to leave its premises unless absolutely necessary. He was having a drink with a woman at the hotel bar when the first bomb fell on Port Area. At the thud of the bomb, he left lady and drink at the bar and scurried for shelter. The following day, the woman was having lunch with a friend in the dining-room when the father of his province passed by. Seeing the woman he had so casually deserted the day before and seeing no way out of it, he came over and made small talk as though nothing had happened. The woman, after listening to him for a while, smiled amiably.

“Gotten over your jitters now?” she asked, shattering him.

And here’s a story:

The first time Japanese bombers came over the city, students manning a machine-gun unit on top of their college building debated among themselves where the bombs were falling.

“Nichols Field.”

“No, it’s Fort McKinley.”

“It’s the Nielson air-port.”

The debate went on. American officers from another unit came over and listened to the Filipino boys argue which part of their country was being bombed by the Japanese. They broke into pure laughter when a boy of 19 put an end to the fruitless debate by declaring with a grave and judicious mien:

“The Philippines.”

This morning an army officer came to the office and offered two to one that Manila would never be taken.

“We have not even begun to use our army. We let the Japanese come through, then we cut them down. Down in the South we let Japanese trucks loaded with soldiers come up the road, then, from the hillside, we cut them down with machine-gun fire. You could see the trucks turn over and spill the bodies of the Japanese all over the road.”

They would never take Manila.

December 28, 1941

Today in the papers the evidence of the enemy’s bad aim the day before. It was very bad, indeed.

“Now, nobody is safe.”

Among the objects the enemy did not aim at was the Santo Domingo church. Built in the 16th century, it has been destroyed several times by typhoons and earthquakes, as many times rebuilt. It took the Japanese to destroy it by mistake.

Heavy with history, the structure enclosed the venerated Lady of the Rosary. The bejewelled image, valued at a cool million, had been placed in a steel vault. It was saved.

Less fortunate were the Dominican “convento” and the Santa Rosa College, both destroyed. The Intendencia building, which housed the Philippine mint, was directly hit several times. The Santa Catalina College, the old building of the University of Santo Tomas and the Intramuros Primary School were partly destroyed.

Nor were these all.

For many days to come, the city will look back on that day and each one will recall, in his own way, how close he had been to the bombing, how, but for some business or other, he might have been that day in Intramuros.

Today they bombed Manila again. Again the ships still in the Pasig River drew the Japanese fire. From 11:45 a.m. till 1:10 p.m., Japanese bombers, free from any threat of anti-aircraft fire, swooped down the river raining bombs. They hit the Letran College, the Intendencia building again, Engineer Island, the NARIC bodega near the mouth of the river, the San Fernando Fire Station in Binondo, and, their aim improved from practice, some of the ships in the river.

I was at the house of a friend, near enough the bombing to hear, for the first time, the sound that a bomb makes as it comes through the air. If the bomb is near, it makes a sound like that of a car going very fast down the street, with the barest hint of rustling leaves. It was all very poetic and sinister.

During the bombing, one said:

“This is the first time I have lain flat on the floor during a raid. I don’t like it. In this position, I can’t feel brave and unruffled. I feel I am letting myself down.”

The USAFFE declared, for the third day, that fighting was desultory in the north, but very heavy in the south. The Japanese, it was admitted, were reinforcing their northern troops as well as those at Atimonan. Enemy activity in the air was heavy.

Another communique explained why Manila was declared open. It was a much better explanation than the first. The guns being used to defend Manila were needed elsewhere, where they could be of greater use.

“The declaration of Manila as an open city was intended not only to preserve the city from the ravages of war, but also intended to increase the possibilities of the defenses in the outlying areas.”

The city was satisfied. It was a military necessity. And would serve, besides, since the enemy has shown no sign of respecting the declaration, to condemn him beyond argument. It serves our purpose and the enemy cannot plead extenuation.

Tonight, so that the character of Manila as an open city may be placed beyond cavil, so that even the near-sighted may see, the authorities lifted the blackout order. The city is now open day and night. The people may keep their lights shining.

Few –we have grown accustomed to the dark– did.

I had just gone out of the house for a breath of fresh air. I saw two or three lighted windows. The rest along the street were dark. Intramuros, however, burning on my left, made up for them.

The city is lighted up, all right.

December 27, 1941

All night last night the fire across the river continued to burn and the smoke roll across the moon-lighted sky. It made quite a picture, one of silver and black to which  the explosions that came at irregular intervals brought angry flashes of orange and red.

Today, the open city of Manila, but two days old, unexpectedly came of age. Suddenly it felt very old.

There were no military forces, either defensive or offensive, inside the city and its suburbs. There were no anti-aircraft guns in or near Manila. We had been quite thorough about being an open city.

Just below the Jones Bridge over the Pasig were docked four interisland vessels. Across the river and closer to its mouth were several others. Their owners had been ordered to move the ships out into the bay at least a week ago, but the ships remained where they were. Moving the ships meant trouble and expense. These were bad times. We must retrench, gentlemen.

Shortly before noon, for three whole hours, Japanese bombers tried to get those ships. Their aim was truly execrable, not one of the ships was hit, but before they went away, they killed 43 people, wounded at least 150 and destroyed 5,000,000 pesos worth of public and private buildings.

The open city of Manila had failed to take into account one thing. There was one factor it had overlooked. It had not considered the enemy’s bad aim.

Now that the bad business of declaring Manila open had been found bankrupt, now that we were in the war again, now that we had been relieved of our secret shame, the city took heart once more and strangers in the streets looked into each other’s eyes and gave each other a small significant smile. The city had recovered its honor and need not fear to face the soldiers when they come back.

And in spite of the death and the damage done, because they were done by the enemy’s bad aim, the city felt it was scored a victory.

I was on Escolta when the bombers came. When the bombs came –sounding so near– some of the people in the store I was caught in by the raid fell on their faces as they had read in the papers they should do in such emergencies. But the others, while the bombs came “thud-thud-thud”, made no movement but stood where they were. The salesgirls grew pale but kept their places behind the glass counters. After the explosions, those who had flung themselves on the floor got up and grinned sheepishly. Then the bombs thudded again and they resumed their former position. Somebody said something and swift laughter went though the store like a point of light in a blackout.

Someday, someone will write in detail about the men and women of Manila, how they conducted themselves, under bombardment. Meanwhile, these men and women, who used to look up and down the street so carefully before crossing, now go downtown and face the possibility of death without thinking too much about it.

“It is remarkable,” observed a woman I knew, “how the human being can take, how the human frame can adjust itself to all sorts of conditions.”

She herself is going to have a baby.

The enemy continued to advance slowly in the north and in the south and land reinforcements. In the north the battle-line followed the Agno River, in the south the fighting was clustered in the Atimonan area.

In Washington, the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, declared that the democracies would take the initiative in 1943.

“The United States and Britain will give Japan a lesson the Japanese and the world will never forget.”

December 26, 1941

We are now reconciled –there were six alarms today– to having an air raid announce breakfast, serve lunch and interrupt dinner. One wonders at the indefatigable newsboys, undismayed by the news they cry, innocent of the meaning of the stuff they sell. Since the war began, there has been wedding after wedding in the city. How many of these marriages, contracted in the heady air of war, will survive the calm, slightly enervating air of peace? Well might you ask the livelong day. Reports of tanks rolling to meet the enemy thousands of miles away, in the Philippines, must now bring comfort to the isolationists. They had done their best to keep those tanks from getting here at all. We must have no hate or bitterness toward anyone –even Lindbergh. Thoughts of a dry brain in a dry season, as the poet says.

The story persists that Filipino soldiers, most of whom came from the farm, just before going over the top inquire of their officers if they may fight in any way they choose.

“Fight any way you like.”

And the Filipino soldiers do –without shoes.


Today, Manila was declared an open city. All military centers have been destroyed and all soldiers withdrawn from the city. It is now armless and harmless. It has earned the right not to be bombed. It is no longer in the war. It has made what Hemingway called a separate peace. It is a little ashamed of it.

Elsewhere the military situation was regarded as completely under control. A military spokesman declared that our forces were not only holding their own but doing better, even, than had been expected. On the northern front, the action consisted mainly of artillery duels between the two forces. The enemy continued to bring up artillery to increase pressure on our line. In the southeast, from Atimonan to Mauban, the enemy continued to effect landings. Our forces advanced to prevent the enemy from using these beach-heads as bases for a blitz drive on Manila, which is entirely open, the spokesman said.

Turning from my desk at the office to look out of the window, I saw a tall column of smoke rising from one part of the city. The thick black smoke billowed into the serene sky, obscuring the morning sun which at moments shot through a rift in the smoke a shaft, such as you see slanting down from the glass window of a cathedral during an early Mass –of light.

One man said it was the National Development Company, which was only a block or two from my home. I thought of my books, which I had acquired, through so many denials, over a period of so many years. As the smoke continued to rise, I told myself my books were gone. I suddenly felt empty but free. I no longer gave a damn.

When, much later, I learned that the fire was across the river and home and my books were safe, I felt I had, by renouncing my goods in my mind, somehow saved them. I felt I had personally outwitted the enemy.

Coming home in the afternoon, I saw the sun like a white-hot coin shining through the smoke.

I am living now very much alone.

December 25, 1941

Home all day. There was no work, and there was no place to go. At noon, waves of Japanese bombers circled and circled over the city unopposed and untouched. Is this the meaning of open city?

The declaration of Manila as an open city would mean its complete demilitarization, the removal or destruction of all military installations, and a hypothetical freedom from bombing. The cases of Rome, Paris, and Brussels, which were declared open and were not bombed, were cited as an argument for the declaration of Manila as of the same category. On the other hand, who wants to be like Rome, Paris and Brussels? Look at them now.

There is, besides, no guarantee that the enemy would, in the present case, respect the “open city.” The declaration would create a “right” which the enemy may or may not recognize. One man’s right may be another man’s inconvenience, and convenience is the sole law of war. We would have, therefore, for the declaration, immunity of a sort, if it pleases the enemy, and against the declaration, what amounts to surrender.

Meanwhile, as the headquarters of the United States Army Forces in the Far East, along with Gen. Douglas MacArthur, the commanding general, left the city, Manila prepared to assume the supine role of non-combatant.

This morning the enemy raided Nichols Field –what is there left to raid? More reports on yesterday’s raid on Port Area placed the number of persons killed at 43, those wounded at 150. At Atimonan, the enemy’s landing force advanced a mile inland a short distance but was driven back by our force. The enemy, however, continued to bring up more reinforcements and Tayabas, where there had been previously little more than desultory patrol activity, now flamed into the third major battleground of the Philippines. Davao and Lingayen are, of course, the other two. USAFFE headquarters declared itself satisfied with the conduct of American and Filipino troops.

Listening to the radio in the evening, I caught an announcement that “the city will be evacuated within 24 hours”. Later, the announcer carefully corrected himself and informed his listeners that the evacuation of the city would “begin within 24 hours”. It was, as far as I was concerned, the worst moment of the war. I must leave home, books, work. A sense of utter loss washed over me. At the end of the broadcast, it was announced that the city to be evacuated was Cebu, not –as many misunderstood– Manila.

Merry Christmas, after all.

December 24, 1941

Today was bad. They bombed the city.

I was in Wilson Building. I had a ringside seat. I saw the bombers —nine of them, in beautiful formation— shining in the sun. When they were over the building and could no longer be seen, the newsmen turned to the typewriter or the telephone. Then suddenly, three strong explosions. The building shook. I ran to the window and saw the bombs flower—as young Mussolini so prettily put it—in Port Area. They looked just like the newsreels of them. After a while, I saw two fires start.

They dropped bombs along a line running from Chicago and 13th Streets across Port Area to the vicinity of the Marsman building. The Myers building, the Manila Port Terminal bonded warehouse and the U.S. Army quarter master corps laundry were directly hit. About 150 people were either killed or wounded.

Shortly after the bombs fell, starting fires, the acrid smell of burning rubber and the sight of soldiers putting on their gasmasks spread the wild rumor of gas. This was the first real case of panic. The rumor circulated one night ago that the water had been poisoned had upset a few stomachs extremely susceptible to suggestion, nothing more. The rumor of gas, the fear of this new –to the city– form of death shattered the calm of those it reached, which the no less certain promise of death by bombs had failed to do.

One man dipped his handkerchief into the water in the gutter and covered his nose with what he hoped would be a fair substitute for the standard anti-gas. According to a newspaperman whose veracity in this case may be gravely held in doubt –it is such a good story– the man promptly fainted.

Had lunch and went back to the office. There I was told that we had the afternoon off. I had forgotten that the next day was Christmas. We always had the afternoon off the day before Christmas.

The man who told me the good news looked rather peaked and I asked him what was the matter. He had a brother, he told me, working in the bureau of printing, one of the places hit.

“He was standing with some men in the doorway when the first bomb fell. He went inside. The others remained where they were and the next bomb killed them. Had my brother stayed with them….”

Several alarms in the afternoon. The authorities are reported to be considering the proposition of declaring Manila an open city. Just because they bombed us once.

“Are we asking quarter of the enemy? Are we no longer sure of victory? What is a city?”

The people dream of guns and the opportunity of fighting the enemy if necessary in the streets. The people cannot understand this business of open city.

In the dusk a man in the uniform of a major of the United States Army walked into the yard and told us to put out a fire we had made under a mango tree. Earlier in the afternoon we had gathered the dead leaves in the yard and made of them a small bonfire. There was very little left of the blaze, only a bit of smoke still curling up from the ashy pile. Surely, not enough to constitute a violation of the blackout…

The previous night we had repeatedly called the attention of the man in uniform to a light that was showing through one of the windows of his house. Now, we thought, he was trying to be revenged on our “officiousness”. Because of his vesture of authority, we had no choice but to comply with his order. We saw him, as we stamped out the embers, walk stiffly out the yard.

That night a squad of soldiers, armed with rifles and a machinegun, surrounded the house of the man in a major’s uniform and we saw our visitor of the dusk walk out of the house and surrender quietly to the soldiers. He had been sending, we learned from one of the soldiers –they had to go through our yard to get to the man’s place– information to the enemy.

I tried to remember how he looked when he talked to us in the afternoon. In my mind I saw again the straight military bearing of the man, the close-cropped hair, the well-trimmed mustache, the hard grey eyes and inflexible lips, the neutral voice, the correct accent. I thought of the possible combination of circumstances that led him to take up such an occupation. I wondered if he had a wife and children, waiting for his return. I wondered what kind of a future he might have had if they had not caught him. I wondered, as they led him away, what kind of a man he was.

I suppose they shot him.

Forty Japanese transports were sighted today off the coast of Atimonan, Tayabas. Despite heavy losses, the enemy was able to effect a landing. Our troops were reported to be “behaving very well”. They were, as usual, outnumbered.

Several Japanese transports were also sighted off the coast of Batangas. No landing, however, was attempted.

USAFFE headquarters said nothing about the situation in Davao. It remained, to be precise, “obscure”.

December 23, 1941

The war reveals the parasite, the non-essential man self-confessed. He who does not produce is regarded, with suddenly clear eyes, as an enemy. In peacetime he often occupies an honored position, being then only a thief who lives lawfully on what his neighbor makes.

The war leaves us with only human values to go by. It is not very comfortable. It either shows a man or shows him up. Out of this new revelation may come a new society, a true society, a society of man.

There are economic problems because there are rich men and poor men. There are wars because there are economic problems. Let us, simply, eliminate the rich men?

From Washington, D.C. came the following communique, issued by the war department:

“Philippine theater: Heavy fighting is in progress in Lingayen Gulf, 150 miles north of Manila, where the Japanese are attempting a landing in force.

“Under a strong naval and air escort a fleet of about 80 troop ships appeared off the west coast of Luzon. Soon afterward a large number of about 150-man barges entered Lingayen Gulf, attempting a landing in the vicinity of Agoo (La Union) Some of them succeeded in getting ashore.

“The Japanese force is estimated at from 80,000 to 100,000, from six to eight divisions. The attempted invasion is being met with fierce resistance by American and Filipino troops.

“Fighting is continuing near Davao on the island of Mindanao.

“There is nothing to report from other areas.”

Reports filtering into the city from the front told how the Lingayen beaches were piled high with Japanese dead, the water filled with the bobbing heads of Japanese soldiers whose boats had been sunk. The enemy, nevertheless, continued to gain.

Air-raid alarm this afternoon, catching the city on its way back from lunch to work. I was in a bookstore when the alarm came. I found a chair and a copy of Peter Arno’s usually very amusing cartoons. I was not amused, though I tried hard to be. The necessity of maintaining a decent serenity during a raid leaves a man not quite up to the enjoyment of even the most Rabelaisian humor.

“They can’t do this to me,” said a wounded one from Murphy, indicating what, in fact, they had done.

In an invasion the invaders are always grim, earnest and “proceed according to plan.” The invaded, bewildered at the beginning by the sudden onslaught of the enemy who had so recently been talking amity and peace, minimize by whimsy and humor the offs against them and set up a wall of lightheartedness between themselves and the desperate character of their situation. It is no longer fashionable to believe in heroes. Even as men conduct themselves unmistakably as such, they perversely refuse to acknowledge it. They die with their boots and a quip on.

They refuse to honor the enemy by taking him –at least in their speech– seriously. This is more than a case of whistling in the dark –the practice of adolescence. This, they vaguely feel, is the proper attitude to be adopted by the host toward an uninvited guest. Impolite and distant.

December 22, 1941

I am writing this under a small funnel of light in a blacked-out room. I can see a book, a pack of cigarettes, a pile of paper, a glass of water and the typewriter. Everything else in the room lies in the dark.

The war has blacked out everything in our lives but a few essentials. A man is left with very little. Yet, he finds, enough. A man has few needs. Peace multiplies them and gives the superfluous the urgency of the necessary. We confuse indulgence with need. Now the war leaves a man with only the bare wish to survive honorably, the obligation to do one’s work as well as ever, and a new humility:

“I have dug a trench four feet deep and two feet wide. When the bombs can no longer be disregarded, I will take my wife and my children and we will get into the trench and keep our heads below the level of the ground. Short of a direct hit, against which there is no provision, we should be safe enough. In case of a direct hit, we will not know what hit us. A man cannot reasonably ask to be safe in case of a direct hit. That would be asking too much these days.”

In this way, those who are not yet fighting may keep their lives –and self-respect, too.

Outside a sliver of moon lights up the space between the houses. In the sky a clear December night has raised a cloud of stars. Against the bright multitude are outlined the sleeping roofs. Now and then there is the faint glow of a cigarette. The shapes of men and women pass as in a dream. You hear a dog barking, then silence.

You are alone.

Walking in the yard, smoking a furtive cigarette, delaying for another moment the return to my stuffy room, I was struck by the similarity of the new regime to another I had known. I had lived on a farm, far from town, where when you step out of the house, you enter a darkness as complete as that which now envelopes the city. There are only the shadowy path at your feet, the stars above you and the shape of the mountain at your right. It is a perfectly natural condition and men submit to it cheerfully, every day of their simple lives. It is only in the city that men have learned to demand that the night be turned into day.

In the city, even at night, men cannot bear to lose sight of their possessions and of each other. Now the war is teaching them a new but elsewhere normal loneliness.

It is endowing us with an unaccustomed self-sufficiency. In the desolation of the blackout, you have only yourself and it must do. You are compelled to cultivate your garden.

The war should make many philosophers.

The blackout endows man with a new sensitiveness to light and sound. The shutting of a door is like a thunderclap and the lighting of a match a conflagration. The senses reacquire the sharpness they once possessed, when man dwelt in the forests and must ever be on guard against a million unknown enemies. Now he lives in cities and must be on guard against man.

Air-raid alarm this morning and again at lunch-time.

At the sound of the alarm there is a sudden stillness ruptured only by the whistles of suddenly active wardens and guards. The siren rises and falls in an agonized wail full of all sorts of dreadful implications. Each alarm is like the trumpet of the last day. The whole city stops dead in its tracks and prepares for death or mutilation. Everybody is quite calm about it.

Rifle-fire –very foolish– punctuates the throbbing quiet. Then you hear the drone of the approaching bombers, the burst of anti-aircraft, the chatter of machine-gun fire. Now is the moment of fear, the wisdom of taking cover. Such, however, is human frailty, instead of covering behind some kind of protection against shrapnel and such, men have to be kept, more or less forcibly, from coming out into the open to watch the show. Curiosity overcomes caution and men stretch out heedless hands into the fire for the chestnut of a possible dogfight or the sight of a plane falling. Until the novelty wears off, men will continue to exchange safety for spectacle and get out into the streets as the bombers come over.

After the raiders are gone, all impatiently await the all-clear, to send them on their separate ways. After the all-clear, small boys lightheartedly imitate the sound of the alarm. They have become quite adept at it.

Early this morning USAFFE headquarters declared that there was increased activity south of Vigan, but nothing serious, it said reassuringly, had developed. Then, at 11, came this:

“There was sighted this morning off Lingayen Gulf a huge enemy fleet estimated at 80 transports. Undoubtedly this is a major expeditionary drive aimed at the Philippines.”

At four o’clock and again an hour later, in a special communique, USAFFE headquarters said that heavy guns drove off a landing attempt at one point of Lingayen Gulf. Both sides were using tanks. Our troops, said the Army spokesman, damning with situation with faint praise, “behaved well”.

The Japanese transport fleet was supported by fleet and air units. Destroyers guarded it against submarine attack. Rumor –and the papers, which had surrendered to its allurements– reported from three to 37 transports of the enemy as having been sunk. The truth was:

“The enemy in great force is pushing the attack. Heavy fighting is going on in the north.”

We know the strength of the enemy, we have to speculate on our own. This, the authorities have kept, perhaps with good cause, secret. It is probably wise and necessary, but no one enjoys it.

Tales of reinforcements from the United States are scattered about and the city grabs at each straw of comfort that is thrown its way.

Said a man with heavy humor:

“We don’t know our own strength.”

In the noonday raid (on Camp Murphy) the enemy killed and wounded 130. More, perhaps.

December 21, 1941

Today the fighting increased in intensity in Davao. The situation, said Army headquarters, “remained obscure”. There was patrol activity south of Vigan and north of Legaspi, with the enemy pushing forces forward at both points. Our own patrols penetrated Japanese lines.

We have more than 7,000 islands. We cannot hope to keep the Japanese out of every one of them. We can, however, make his stay temporary.

The war is not observing the six-day week. This morning, Japanese bombers came over the city. I could hear their motors but they must have been flying very high or kept well behind the clouds that were scattered all over the sky, for I did not see them nor heard, where I stood, anti-aircraft fire.

Late in the afternoon, I heard about a whore –not pretty, just a plain, run-of-the-mill whore, and no longer young. She had little to recommend her. She had been too long at it. The good-looking ones, however, seemed to have all left the city and she had no competition. She was very much in demand.

“The war has been a bit of luck for me,” she said.

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.