Saturday, January 19, 2008

General Homma

About the time Magellan washed up our shores, Daidoji Yuzan wrote: “one who is samurai must, before all things, keep constantly in mind, by day and by night…..that he has to die”. Masaharu Homma was born in 1888, 11 years after the leader of the unsuccessful Satsuma Rebellion, Saigo Takamori, among the last of the samurai committed seppuku. Homma wanted to become a writer but was drawn by the “pitch of patriotism” brought about by the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War. He enrolled at the Military Academy and graduated at the top of his class.

He was sent as a military attaché to Britain, at that time an ally, and learned English. He was able to travel extensively around Europe. As a major, he lived for three years in India which he described as “the most fascinating country in the world”.

Despite his vast differences with the increasingly militaristic ideology pervading in Japan, Homma rose to become a general, assigned to various commands in China. In November of 1941 he was given a few weeks to prepare for the invasion of the Philippines. Homma wrote “War against the USA would be a disaster, I knew, but I could not show any feeling in it, as … I would have been called a traitor”.

He was the commanding general who handed the Americans their largest surrender since Appomattox and dealt our favorite General Douglas MacArthur, the Hero of the Philippines with the worst defeat in his illustrious career. Ironically, Homma was retired in 1943 because he was deemed too lenient with the Filipinos and not aggressive enough in warfare. He spent the remainder of the war in Japan until he was extradited to Manila in 1945 by the victorious American forces. There was an International Tribunal in place in Tokyo but MacArthur insisted he was running the whole show.

The trial lasted three months. It took place in what is now the American Embassy. While vigorously denying that he had knowledge of the atrocities that were committed during the Bataan Death March, the outcome of the trial was never in doubt. Homma was executed by musketry in Los Banos on April 3, 1946.

Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy who had served as Philippine High Commissioner wrote a critical dissent that was also prophetic: “this nation’s very honor is at stake. Either we conduct such a trial as this in the spirit and atmosphere of our Constitution or we abandon all pretense to justice, let the ages slip away and descend to the level of revengeful blood purges. Apparently the die has been cast in favor of the latter course. Tomorrow the precedent here established can be turned against others… . No one can foresee the end of this failure of objective thinking and adherence to our high hopes of a new world… . A nation must not perish because, in the natural frenzy of the aftermath of war, it abandoned its central theme of the dignity of the human personality and due process of law.”

Homma spent a little over a year in the Philippines. He observed: “Filipinos needed more vocational education, more social efficiency, more sense of duty and obligation.” Homma could not understand why Filipinos were so loyal to their American masters from an altogether different continent and culture. He should have considered the fact that until that time, whatever “Filipino culture” consisted of shared experiences less than 100 years old. The Japanese had had it going for 5000 years already. Obviously, we have much to learn from Japanese culture. Jose Rizal broached the idea of founding an educational institution in Japan for the express purpose of training Filipino youth.


Harry said...

This is the first time I've read anything nice regarding the "Beast of Bataan". Maybe a second look is in order.

Anonymous said...

It was interesting to read your comments about General Homma. I am Filipino American and would like to know what is the impression of General Homma with the Filipino Culture. I so happened to have lived on the Island that General Homma grew up. I was the first American High School English Teacher there.