Learning from wars

World War II relics remind of the horrors of armed conflict.

September 9, 2022

I went to Corregidor Island last week with an intern from Taiwan to see the tunnels and emplacements built in the American colonial period and what World War II had left there.

What impressed me most in Corregidor was the Malinta tunnel, which once served as the seat of the Philippine Commonwealth government under then President Manuel L. Quezon, had a 1,000-bed hospital, and where thousands of soldiers lived for almost six months.

It is hard to imagine how people could cope with the difficult living conditions and not knowing when they would be able to leave the tunnel, and that thousands of soldiers just lost their lives on the island without people knowing their names, and most of their remains could not be found and retrieved.

I also visited two exhibits in Fort Santiago last July and August. One was the Remembering World War II Exhibit featuring rare photographs from the collections of WWII historian Dr. Ricardo T. Jose and WWII expert Anthony S. Feredo. The other was an exhibit held by the International Committee of the Red Cross showing objects from Mindanao and Iraq illustrated the severe impact of wars on cities.

I remember being shocked when I visited Fort Santiago for the first time and saw the dungeons where 600 Filipinos were imprisoned during WWII and all of them were found dead after the Battle of Manila. What was equally shocking was that 100,000 Filipino civilians were brutally killed during the battle. Manila was turned into a battleground and the history of the city was ruined after the conflict.

Rachel T. Malaguit, the public relations officer of ICRC, said that cities are turned to rubble, with houses, infrastructure, schools, means of livelihood, and cultural sites destroyed. Services essential for human survival collapse, leaving entire populations without access to water, sanitation, electricity, or health care, and trigger displacement. The education of children is disrupted.

Paul, a WWII expert from Australia told me in the Remembering World War II Exhibit that the battle of Manila “was a shocking period of history which a lot of people cannot understand how truly shocking or tragic it was. There’s no glory in a war. There’s no glory in territorial extension. The battle of Manila was a tragedy by every measure.”

I couldn’t agree with them more.

I grew up in a small town in Taiwan where a sugar refinery factory has been located since the Japanese colonial period. During WWII, the small town was also bombed fiercely by the United States air force and in the park in the neighborhood where I grew up, there is still an air-raid shelter built at that time.

For most Taiwanese, I believe that even though we don’t have wartime memories, none of us really consider that wars are far from us.

Our fathers and brothers had to fulfill the mandatory military service. If you raise the subject of military service, almost every Taiwanese guy would have a bunch of memories to share with you. When my younger brother was drawing his lot for military enlistment to decide where he would be assigned, I even drew the lot for him because he thought I had better luck than him.

As a female, while I didn’t have to serve in the military, high schools and universities in Taiwan had military training courses, and there was a military marching song contest in the high school I attended which each student must participate in. And every Taiwanese citizen must have experienced the yearly Wan An national air defense exercise. Once you hear the air-raid siren, you need to go or stay indoors until the siren stops. It is for everyone to stay alert and prepared for possible attacks against Taiwan.

Nobody wants a war. That’s why learning from wars is always necessary and countries have to be prepared for wars to warn possible enemies that there is a price to pay if a war starts.

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