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Somebody Gives A Damn!

Dr. Paul Ashton

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From the book "Bataan Diary"
Page 9 of 12
The truck stopped at one of the Filipino show houses and I realized that my Japanese friends had known of this afternoon performance and had planned this whole expedition around it. We entered the unlighted theatre and it was pitch dark, though the movie was in progress. I had no idea of what to expect. As my eyes became accustomed, I surveyed the situation. It was a large room with rows of fixed wooden seats, very close together, as in most Filipino show houses and there was no space for my knees. We sat down after finding seats in the crowded rows.

The Filipinos peered curiously at us--obviously. Two Japanese soldiers and an American were the last people they might have expected here. The movie brought me back to my childhood in a flash, entirely away from this mad, incongruous theatre-party. I had not seen one of these "serials" since I was ten. The kind that was shown only every Saturday afternoon, the half-hour episode of a continued show. The hero always finds himself in some impossibly dangerous situation; the parachute did not open after rescuing the winsome damsel and then--"Continued Next Saturday." You were left hanging! This one, however, was what we had all waited for. After the first episode, the 2nd quickly followed, and one after another appeared, until all eight or ten were finished, punctuated each half hour by a flash of empty frames, leaving the hero each time in a new and more precarious state. The Filipinos were engrossed like children in every more frightening problem encountered by our tireless hero, each worse than the last. Then flashed, "Continued Next Saturday" until they were gradually built up, along with the Japanese, to an exceedingly high level of excitement.

They could not understand the English quite well enough and were constantly digging me in the ribs to tell them quickly if this one or that one was a "gooda boy" or a "bada man." This went on for hours, "him very gooda boy?" We all had a great time; then the show was over and we came back to reality and left the theatre. They had a few questions on the way to Manila regarding the show and giggled like kids at the answers, which I explained with proper dignity. They stopped at a store in Manila and we all had a hallo-hallo (fruit and beans in crushed ice with syrup over the top, the Filipino equivalent of an ice cream soda). Before long we came to the gate of Bilibid, where they let me off. I met my friends, got some sulfa and plasma, and waited outside the guardhouse at the entrance to the prison, for the Japanese to return.

Heda Gocho and the sergeant drove up, and I boarded the truck in back, in full view of the Bilibid guards whom I felt disapproved of me being left unguarded. After leaving the prison, the Japanese had some errand to do nearby, so they parked the truck at the intersection of two streets and went off again, leaving me alone.

I looked around, thinking how easy it would be to escape, and idly watching across the street where there was a grammar school. The small children, all Japanese, were leaving for the day. Their mothers or sisters had come to escort them home, dressed mostly in soldier and sailor suits. They all had to cross the street, just opposite from where I waited. I began to notice that these little kids were like all others, running about and shouting, but with a difference. Whether they were alone, or with mama-san, or playing ball with some other warrior, as they came to the middle of the street, they stopped whatever they were doing, came to attention, took off their caps, turned toward the north and bowed to the Emperor. Then, on with the caps and back to playing as before. Not one of them skipped it or looked to see if anyone, especially grown-ups, was looking. They all did it, all ages. It occurred to me that here was exhibited a powerful, age old force. I felt that we do not have a blind, magnetic belief built in to us as strong as the Emperor-God of the Japanese, that even impels them to die with ease. I had seen it in many forms since my contact with the Nips, and was uncomfortable about this unfathomable weapon. Before I could consider further, the sergeants had returned and we were off down the road to Little Baguio, and "home."

Copyright 1997 Paul Ashton, M.D.
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