Ian Alfredo Magno .
OPPOSITIONISTS, in the discussions on the disputed Scarborough, talk about war like it was some entertainment video match, where a handy “game over” would clean the mess up, reboot all, and sport a better-luck-next-time half-lifed second try.
In a full-scale war between nations, there are no second try. And it does not entertain either. Verily, the thrilling suspense of a war movie does not come close to the menaces of a real war. This we want everyone to realize.
In attempting to illustrate a crisp image of the undesired evils of war, words minced by me would have been the height of lip-service, since I had not been in any one of those – and certainly, as you might agree, there simply are no immediate plans to immerse loved-ones to such antic. Hence, for such purpose, this issue features Theodore H. White’s “Flight Through Kweichow” piece from Time magazine’s Jan. 8, 1945 publication. The late White was an American journalist and the author of the award-winning book “The Making of the President” back in 1972.
In 1945, during the height of the China-Japan war, as Japanese forces pushed into central China, half a million Chinese fled their homes and set out for the hinterland. Theodore White, then a Time correspondent, was with the refugees every step of the way; vividly making a detailed recordal of the sights, sounds – and deafening silence – while in the edge of life and on the brink of death in their lethal journey to Kweichow. Read on:
“All day and through the evening we drove down the road towards Kwangsi. Refugees flanked us in unbroken columns. This was the tail end of one of the longest treks in the history of China war. I had seen these refugees start their march five months before the dusty roads of Hunan, where the sun leeched from sweat from every pore, where human bodies and the fields about them were parched moistureless. Now, 600 miles away, these refugees were still trudging – the friendless, the halt and the sick – overtaken by the merciless blast of the Kweichow winter.
“There are certain clinical phenomena that characterize mass flight in China. First is exhaustion. Second is the beastlike silence broken only by children’s chattering. You get technical after you have seen millions of people suffering for years. You examine the children’s hair to see whether it is dry and brittle; when a child starts to go, his hair loses oil and it cracks easily. You look down at people’s feet to see how many are pus-laden and split by wind of frost. Most of all you listen to the quality of their silence. The longer the trek, the more intense the silence, the more deadly the apathy.
“The silence on this road was prodigious. Faces were expressionless, beyond the point of suffering. They were carved blocks of puffy human flesh with holes for eyes, a red spot for a nose, two cracking flaps for a mouth. Some had rags on their feet. Those who had no rags trudged in straw sandals, the flesh of their feet peeling away in frostbitten rawness.
“Only the children laughed or talked loudly, still resilient in suffering. One man carried a child pickaback (he stopped us and asked in good, crisp English what the news was from the German battlefront). Others carried children in baskets slung from shoulder staves. One enormous Bactrian camel bore a little child between its two humps. Family groups in fours and fives pushed and pulled at carts loaded with their possessions. There were trucks of all kinds, American trucks almost new and G.M.C.s ready for the junk yard. There were old German trucks burning stinking diesel oil, commercial trucks burning sweet-smelling alcohol. Every truck was piled five to ten feet high with baggage or goods. Humanity clustered over the baggage on the trucks, over the mudguards, over the driver’s cab.
“Every mile of road had its quota of trucks stopped for repairs, with mechanics under the chassis or the hood, and frigid passengers thawing themselves by the roadside with a fire of rice stubble. Some vehicles were parked for the evening with passengers and crew sleeping underneath for shelter against the wind. Others had broken down completely. They had been stripped bare of every useful article – tires, lamps, seats, even motors. Abandoned beside them lay cargoes of bombs and ammunition, shining and useless in the biting cold.
“Along the route of flight lay little towns, deserted by their inhabitants and now only stopping places for the refugees. They stank of humanity. In huts and booths people gathered, warmed themselves at feeble fires of rice stubble. We passed a large lumber dump. Refugees clustered about it, hacking off wood slivers for fires with knives and sharp stones. Occasionally we saw what was left of a horse, donkey or cow. Always the carcass had been stripped to its skeleton, for the refugees fell on any dead thing and picked its bones clean. Only once we saw a freshly dead animal; refugees were thick about it, tearing voraciously at the still warm corpse. A food vender passed one column as we stopped to talk, and the famished marchers were on him in an instant, wolfing his hot buns while he wailed to the heavens.
“And there were the human dead as they had fallen, on roadsides, in ditches, and nearby paddies. They were shriveled and brown. Even the body of a teen-age boy looked older than time in its silent rest. Some bodies were twisted and torn, but most were quiet and calm. The freshly dead were still encased in woolen paddings or blue uniforms. But the older bodies lay bare. Of what use is warm padding to dead men when the living must shiver?
“One more evil thing we saw, in the evening of this long trip. Across the beam of our headlights ran a wolf, a grey, lithe creature. He looked well-fed.”
(Lawyer Ian Alfredo T. Magno is a marketing head at Philhealth. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)