Thu, Oct 28, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Philippines marks the birth of the `kamikaze'

LAUNCHING GROUND A statue of a World War II-era Japanese pilot stands on the field where the first suicide pilots took to the air -- to serve as a lesson for peace

AFP , MABALACAT, PHILIPPINES

Tourism officer Guy Hilbero, far left, supervises workers as they prepare to install a life-size statue of an unnamed ``kamikaze'' pilot at the Japanese war memorial in Mabalacat, the Philippines, last Sunday.

PHOTO: AFP

In a clearing by a sugar cane field a few kilometers from the former US Air Force base at Clark in the Philippines, stands a life-size statue of a Japanese kamikaze pilot.

In any other country that was occupied by the Japanese such a monument would raise howls of protest -- but in the Philippines the worst it has elicited is a few grumbles.

The sculpture stands on what used to be the east Mabalacat airfield, 80km northwest of Manila, where 60 years ago Japan unleashed its suicide squadrons in a last desperate bid to turn the tide of defeat.

According to local tourism official Guy Hilbero, the aim of the statue is to promote peace "using the lessons of war."

"It is not a memorial glorifying the kamikaze pilots," he said.

"I suppose a lot of foreigners would find that difficult to understand considering we were once occupied by the Japanese," he said. "But we Filipinos are a very forgiving people. At some point you have to forgive and move on."

He said the statue, which was unveiled earlier this week in a simple, low key ceremony in front of some 200 local and Japanese officials, should be seen as a symbol.

"A symbol for all that is wrong with war. The point being that no one wins," Hilbero said.

The original design for the statue depicted a kamikaze clutching a sword and proudly leaning on a 112.5kg bomb but Hilbero didn't think it was appropriate.

Colonel Rafael Estrada, 87, founder and chairman of the veterans group Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor said: "The site is where the Kamikazes were born. That is a historical fact.

"I have no problem with that but to mark it with a full size statue of a Kamikaze pilot is, in my opinion, not right," Estrada said.

According to Ronnie dela Cruz who runs the historical society in the town of Bamban, next door to Mabalacat, the statue is a disgrace.

"It is a symbol of military power, not peace. It glorifies the kamikaze pilots and goes beyond being just an historical marker," he said.

In the final 10 months of the war, some 7,465 kamikaze flew to their deaths, 120 US ships were sunk with many more damaged and 3,048 allied sailors were killed and another 6,025 wounded.

Today, nothing remains of the airfield except for a 500m2 plot of land donated by a farmer which has been turned into a small memorial park. In 1998 the local government passed a resolution declaring the park on what was the kamikaze east airfield a "peace memorial."

Following the Leyte landings in the eastern Visayas islands by the US and the return of General Douglas MacArthur to the occupied Philippines on Oct. 20, 1944, the Japanese found themselves heavily outnumbered on the ground, in the air and on the sea.

Vice Admiral Takijiro Ohnishi met with his officers of the First Air Fleet at what was then the Mabalacat East Airfield on Oct. 18, 1944, two days before the US invasion to outline his plan for victory.

According to Rikihei Inoguchi and Tadashi Nakajima in their book The Divine Wind, Ohnishi said: "In my opinion there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree ... That is to organize suicide attack units composed of Zero fighters armed with 250kg bombs, with each plane to crash-dive into an enemy aircraft carrier."

Inoguchi once said in an interview: "No one welcomes death but it is more understandable if one bears in mind that, considering the heavy odds that our fliers faced in 1944, their chances of coming back alive from any sortie against enemy carriers was very slim, regardless of the attack method employed."

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