Watch This Documentary to See WWII Through America’s Eyes

What's missing in this chapter on the Philippines? Filipinos.
IMAGE Wikimedia Commons

History is the study of the past through the eyes of the present. History grounds us to the world and lets us see things clearer. Knowing where we were then helps us understand why we are where we are today. History is factual storytelling, but its storytellers are human.

More than events, we need to also look at the presentation and the context. Details may become forgotten when they don’t fit the victors' narrative, so it's important to keep revisiting history with the ever-changing lens of the present.

Take this 2001 documentary series produced by Tri-Crown Productions titled World War II— Battlefront, for example. Using colorized wartime footage, the series narrates the events of the Second World War from beginning to bitter end. It’s mostly an excellent resource for anybody who wants to learn more about the Second World War. But check out their episode on the “Liberation of the Philippines”:

The episode raises the questions that should be asked when dealing with any historical narrative: for whom is this history being told?

As a documentary series meant for consumption by American audiences, World War II—Battlefront tells the story from an American perspective. However, at the same time, the facts that are relevant to us, as Filipinos, are missing from this narrative.

For example, missing from the documentary is the fact that, by 1944, guerrillas had already effectively wrested control of Central Luzon from the Japanese needs little mention from an American standpoint. The fact that American forces more often than not stripped guerrillas of arms, or even killed them outright is better left unsaid. The fact that Douglas MacArthur and the Americans returned, just in time for the Filipinos to finish bleeding out for their country is neatly glossed over in favor of a “liberation” narrative.

The historian Zeus A. Salazar defines a distinction between the terms history and kasaysayan. History is a study of the past. Kasaysayan comes from the root word saysay, to have meaning. Kasaysayan are stories that mean something to its audience—to us, because those are our stories. Kasaysayan is history as told by us, for us. It's time for Filipinos to listen to less stories as told by others and to start telling more of our own.



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Justin Umali
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