Sunday, October 7, 2012

Notes on "Sayonara"

The lives of great people and the events that led to great changes in civilizations around the world are enshrined in the pages of history. Members of any society are taught at an early age that the mistakes of the past should never be repeated while the victories of old should be celebrated. However history often creates glossed over images of the past. Often times, the people mentioned in the accounts of a nation’s history become mere caricatures. Men and women who achieved greatness or infamy are simplified into heroes and villains, forgetting that they were once daughters, son, wives, husbands, or friends.

World War II is described as one of the darkest hours of humanity. In the Philippines alone, about 16 million lost their lives. The Fall of Corregidor on May 6, 1942 marked the total domination of Imperial Japan of the Philippines and the rest of Asia and though many of the Allied Forces surrendered, some Filipinos escaped and continued fighting as guerillas.

Edilberto Tiempo’s “Sayonara” is a short story describing the capture and eventual execution of three Filipino guerillas. Tiempo portrays Amando, Ladisloa, and Pascual as “real” people having distinct personalities. In the opening, we see the three characters commit mistakes, revealing them as members of the guerilla movement to the Japanese soldiers.

The Japanese officer suddenly bellowed him, “Tenshun!”
Pascual stood at attention, and immediately saw his mistake.
. . .
“All right, we are guerillas,” said Amando.
Pascual and Ladislao looked at him. What in Satan’s name did he do that for? In the next instant, however, Pascual realized his automatic response to the “Attention” command was an open betrayal, too.
The heroes in history do not make trivial slipups or surrender so easily information to the enemy. Neither do they spit on the faces of their enemies. Jose Rizal, the national hero of the Philippines is placed on a very high pedestal that in some areas of the country, he is worshipped as a god. Many Filipinos would have a hard time imagining Jose Rizal as a human being capable of doing foolishness. Tiempo, with his story, reminds the readers that the brave heroes mentioned in history books who have fought for the country’s freedom are humans, having their own flaws and fears.

The character of the Japanese corporal also had the same function. The corporal sharing his story to Pascual reveals the human face of the enemy.

“That rock,” the Japanese was mumbling to himself. “It has a different use. So very sorry. Its a sinker. To pull you down to the sea bottom.”

There was no cruelty in the voice, indeed it sounded like an apology.   
The Japanese corporal has some unexpected connections with the Philippines. His grandfather was a Christian and his uncle had a wonderful life in the Philippines before the war broke out. The corporal was able to detach himself from what was happening around him and see the war from a bigger perspective. Although a war can only end when one side is defeated and other one, victorious; everyone is a victim.

“Do you thing he was happy joining the Japanese Army?”

“Maybe not. No. But he has his duty.” The corporal became quiet. “You asked me why I am giving you a chance. My uncle is one reason. The other reason is my grandfather. That is all.”      

It appears that if the corporal had met Pascaul under different circumstances, then they would have become friends. In the closing, as Pascual was thrown into the sea, the Japanese corporal bids his farewell.

“Sayonara,” the corporal said, as he carefully dropped the rock with the fall of Pascual’s body. It seemed that the parting word spoken deliberately within the hearing of all was a defiance flung against his own kind.

The corporal’s subtle act of defiance teaches readers that there are things people cannot control; nonetheless, people are not completely powerless. Under extreme circumstance, the men and women who find ways to practice kindness to others regardless of their creed, religion, or race have left a legacy the continues on even though history has forgotten them.  

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