03 Feb Hope is the Thing with Feathers*
By Tiffannie Ruth Litam
3rd Prize Winner, Battle of Manila Essay Writing Contest 2019
When we think of war and the great tragedy it imposes on those left behind to remember it, we often do so with great solemnity, anger, and pain. Whether we have personally lived through the travesty or not, our being human allows us to vicariously experience its effects. When James Scott revisited the events of the Battle of Manila last February 13, such was the experience for me. I’d learnt about the Battle of Manila from various history classes throughout the years, but I never truly realized its extent—arguably more gruesome and heinous than the Rape of Nanking—until Scott’s narration of the shocking events.
I’d recently come across a tweet that lamented the country’s being at the precipice, if not already in the midst of, a humanitarian crisis. Our people face water and electricity shortages, terrible traffic conditions and an even more terrible state of public transportation, and extrajudicial killings, to name a few. In light of all this, it’s difficult to look back at the past and see that those who have come before us had experienced something of the same caliber, if not something worse. After all, the inexplicable loss of humanity and the outright cruelty and indecency during the Battle is appalling. But for all the horrible things that was brought to light that afternoon, the one good thing that has struck me the most was what Scott shared of the American and Filipino soldiers’ lifeline during those terrible years: “We survived on hope.”
In the midst of such suffering and depravity, what did it mean to hold on to hope? On listless nights where tomorrow was an uncertainty, was hope seeing the faces of one’s brethren and being thankful for their company and familiarity in a broken land miles away from home? When the battle scars grew in number and the fallen ones too many to count, was hope touching the soul in the shape of a second chance at life, nearly missed by a hair’s breadth of a chance? And when the blood of loved ones spilled on the streets and the loss of innocence and joy hung in the air like the morning mist, did hope gently creep upon the weary fighter and grant him reprieve with the promise of the day—and the war—finally coming to an end? What did it mean to survive on hope?
For the soldiers and people of the time, to survive on hope meant more than just anxiously anticipating MacArthur’s promised return. It meant clinging onto each other and fighting for what was left of humanity in the battlefields of Manila. Surviving on hope wasn’t an ideology or mere profundity in statements made in hindsight; it was a necessary way of life. It was what kept the soldiers fighting, the people living, and the very humanity of the time thriving. While the rest of Manila was ripped apart and torn to the ground, the people’s hope found a way to hold its spirit together—battered, bruised, and broken as it was. Every day spent surviving on hope was another day won and another day closer to freedom.
The aftermath of the Battle of Manila was too horrendous for words to ever fully encapsulate. Scott lamented the loss of human capital more than anything. But if there’s one thing to be praised despite all the gloom and doom, it’s the fact that the nation and its allies never gave up on hope. And because they didn’t, we, the Philippines, are what we are today. We are told by our historians and professors of the importance of learning from the past. Perhaps what we can take away from the Battle of Manila as students, teachers, workers, and citizens of this broken but very much our country is what kept our forebears going: despite the tragedy and the wreck, we must survive on hope. And just like they overcame, so too shall we.
*The title of this essay is taken from the poem of the same name written in 1891 by Emily Dickinson.