Prophetic Prospects of War
This chapter and the one that follows, concerning my final adventures in the Pacific, were written from notes made on my journey through these areas.
All of the preceding chapters chronicling my Pacific journey—in Japan, China, Singapore, and the Dutch East Indies—were excerpted from articles, exactly as I had written them, except for grammatical editing, which I had sent to American newspapers.
My final dispatch to those papers was dated July 18, 1940 (oneand-a-half years before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war). In that dispatch, I emphasized that the Dutch were counting heavily on outside military aid, to help them retain possession of their East Indian empire. I wrote:
“Such help could be given only by Britain or America. The former would surely give it in normal times, because Australia, the British East Indies, and Malaya would be threatened by an enemy invasion of Java. But, at present, Great Britain has few resources for giving help. America (and perhaps Russia) are the great unknowns. If Japan were certain that America would not intervene, she would probably strike in the East Indies at once.”
In my notebook at that time I jotted down this summary of the Pacific dilemma as I had assessed it during my journey.
“The U.S. has three courses open. (1) Let Japan have Pacific, which means loss of trade. (2) Make objections and not follow through, which means loss of face. (3) Fight, which means a long severe struggle in which Japan would win all the frserst moves and U S. finally come out on top.”
As I departed from Java, bound for the Philippines, on a sturdy Dutch merchant ship which steamed northward across the equator, then along the coast of Borneo, I tried to visualize the future of these vast equatorial colonial possessions of the Netherlands. Halfway around the world, in Europe, Holland had just fallen to the Germans. Even now, Dutch evacuees were fleeing to these East Indies possessions.
Our vessel was bound directly for Manila, with no intermediate stops at any of the myriad islands of the Philippine archipelago that lay south of the capital city. In our trip around the world in 1925, my brother and I had wended our way, in a Japanese freighter, through these island-studded waters and had visited Davao, capital city of the Philippine’s second-largest island, Mindanao.
In subsequent reading I learned that the city of Davao has 150 Japanese to one American. Seventy percent of Davao’s roads are built by the Japanese. In 1934, ninety-eight Japanese vessels called at Davao, compared to four from the United States. Japan is reaching out.
Slowly the Dutch merchant ship carried me northward, through the eastern reaches of the China Sea. This chain of Filipino islands is enormous in length—extending a thousand miles from south to north.
Five days after leaving Batavia, when I wakened just at dawn, we were at last close to our goal, and by 9:30 A.M. were steaming through the narrow entrance to Manila Bay, with the bristling guns of Corregidor on our port side. Just beyond Corregidor lay the Bataan Peninsula, then the bay widened and it was nearly an hour before we dropped anchor outside Manila, having passed an aircraft carrier and many ships en route.
We lay at anchor two hours, waiting for a doctor to examine the 1,462 Chinese traveling in steerage, even though they were bound for Hong Kong and wouldn’t be landing here. The ship is taking on two hundred more at Manila. The hatches were opened today and I saw how they lived—packed below decks nearly to the point of suffocation, or at least it seemed so to me. The Chinese as a race have had to undergo some extreme hardships. Someday, I wonder, will they be emancipated and rule the world? Who knows?
We had lunch on board. Then came our turn with the doctor, then customs, and the immigration. Lifting anchor, we moved up to Pier 7, largest in the Orient.
My baggage was soon in the hands of the customs officials. While waiting, a young man who seemed to be an inspector, asked me a number of pertinent questions, then sought my opinions on Java and the Dutch Indies, which I gave him A photographer snapped my picture. Only then did I learn that this had been a newspaper interview. I had voiced opinions to him (thinking he was an inspector) which I would not have expressed to a reporter. When the article and picture appeared in Manila’s “Philippines Herald” my statement was played up above everything else, even though there had been more prestigious passengers aboard.
Hundreds of British women and children, evacuees from Hong Kong, had landed recently and we feared all hotel space in town would be taken. But I located a suitable room at the Y.M.C.A. for seventy-five cents a day.
It was Sunday. Also staying at the Y as his permanent home, I discovered, was a clerk from the Pan American Airways line of the “China Clipper” seaplanes which had recently begun service between Hong Kong and the United States.
Two men from my Batavia ship, who had clipper reservations for America, had told me that, with hundreds of government officials and business bigwigs flying back and forth because of the war hysteria, clipper passage was overbooked.
Perhaps my newly-made Pan American acquaintance at the Y could help me out. Almost the frserst thing I did was to enlist his aid. It was essential that my return to Hawaii and California be by plane rather than by leisurely surface vessel. Helen and our two daughters had already arrived in Hawaii where we would do some filming together before returning home to California. Already this Circle of Fire film of mine was being booked in America, and we still had to edit it. Manila is eight thousand miles from Los Angeles, a third of the distance around the world. Ship travel would be just too slow.
World’s Smallest Volcano
My first evening in Manila was made luminous by one of her best summer sunsets. Early next morning I was out to inspect the city. I strolled across the Jones Bridge over the Pasig River to the modern shopping center. I walked through the walled city, with its St. Augustine Church dating from 1599, and its university, founded two years later—the oldest under the America flag.
Then I dropped in at the Philippine Tourist Bureau and told the young man in charge, Mr. Arturo Zamora, of my need to get color motion pictures of Manila and Luzon. Within an hour he had turned his duties over to an assistant and, for the rest of my stay, he became my guide, as well as the driver of the car I rented.
We saw—and filmed—the frsene Luneta park, the Manila Hotel, Dewey Avenue which skirts the bay, the High Commissioner’s new residence just being completed, the old fort where the American flag was first raised, Rizal Stadium, and Taft Avenue leading down to the new legislative buildings.
Taking time to visit a tailor shop and order myself a linen suit, we then headed for Malacarian Palace, former home of the governor general, but now the residence of the new commonwealth president, Manuel Quezon. My guide’s uncle is social secretary to the president, so we had no trouble obtaining permission to photograph the beautiful palace on the banks of the Pasig River, with well-kept gardens, lawns, flowers, arbors, and trees.
Next day, a thirty-five mile drive south of Manila took us to Taal Lake, a great irregular body of water, with an island volcano rearing out of its center. It is said to be the smallest volcano in the world. In Java I had explored some of the world’s largest burning mountains. Now I wanted to visit the smallest. The whole area made good pictures.
Driving back to Manila, I explained to my guide the nature of my Circle of Fire documentary, with its literal and figurative connotations.
“I’ve been in volcanic regions almost this entire trip,” I explained, “All the way from Japan to Java. And now your Philippines have some of the most explosive fire-pots of all.”
We fell into a discussion of the other kind of explosion which was building up beneath the surface, ready to erupt at any time.
Young Zamora was well-informed, from a well-educated family. We touched on the matter of Philippine independence.
“We Filipinos want it, yes; but really, we are not quite ready for it yet.”
Almost as an afterthought, he added: “Probably Japan will have this whole country inside of ten years.”
That night my linen suit was ready at the tailor shop. I needed it desperately, for the humidity was high and the temperature even higher. Even with the lighter attire I became soaked with perspiration. Ten minutes after getting back to the Y.M.C.A. a deluge of rain poured down upon Manila which seemed to fill the whole world with pounding waves of water.
Baguio, in the mountains nearly a mile high, is Manila’s resort city, named for the aromatic pines which form its setting.
Next morning, as we started a two-day trip there, our road for a ways skirted the Lingayen Gulf (Without in any way realizing the significance of what I was accomplishing, I made motion picture studies of the spot which—several years in the future—would become historic. As General Douglas MacArthur had escaped the Philippines just before its capture by Japan, he had said: “I shall return.” When the American and allied forces finally started repossessing all the islands, extending into the South Pacific, which the Japanese had seized, MacArthur had waded ashore at Lingayen Gulf He had returned!)
More interesting to me than the resort city of Baguio was an Igorot village, not too far distant from it. Baguio itself was distinctly non-Filipino. Of course, the Igorot village was not typical, either. The Philippine Islands are a heterogeneous group.
Our Baguio hotel was overflowing with the British women and children refugees, evacuated from Hong Kong. I had had to quit filming because of another torrent of rain and, after dinner, going into the hotel’s lounge, I found it filled with eight or ten refugee mothers, and more than twice as many children, gathered about the fireplace, trying to amuse themselves.
Somehow, I had always thought of refugees in terms of such persons as those Chinese who, in our ship’s steerage, were fleeing their Dutch East Indies homes to seek precarious safety in their beleaguered China. But these women and children were British—English speaking middle class whites such as myself. All races, it seems, can be upset by the stalking giant of war.
The mothers were wondering, wistfully, where they would go next, for Baguio was only a temporary refuge. Would it be Australia? The British Isles? Canada? And would their husbands, still in Hong Kong, be able to join them?
When I was in Hong Kong I had come to the conclusion that, left to itself, it was as susceptible to attack and capture as a fort built by boys at play. The large natural harbor was strung with a chain of mines and two ships, steam always up, were ready to pull the mine chain completely across the entrance on a moment’s notice.
The fire in the hearth of the hotel lounge felt good, in contrast to the wind and storm outside. But the fires of war were threatening ominously day by day. They were casting their heat even up to the resort city of Baguio.
My Y.M.C.A. acquaintance—the Pan American clerk—had helped me successfully in getting passage on the Honolulu Clipper for Hawaii.
I thanked him for this but I did not fully realize, until years later, the historic significance of this journey he had arranged for me. In crossing the Pacific on one of the China Clippers I would be participating in an important chapter of early aviation history. These great flying boats, which took off and “landed” on water rather than land, were making the first passenger flights over any ocean. With the start of World War II such flights would cease. By that war’s end, long-range land planes would have taken over. I was at the right place at the right time, enabling me to cross the Pacific on one of the pioneering China Clippers.
On my last night in Manila I was treated to the most photogenic sunset of my entire circuit of the Pacific. Since I would be arising at 2:30 A.M. I retired early—about 9:30. But in a warm and humid room, under the mosquito-netting tent erected over my bed, and with thoughts of my reunion with Helen and our children, I had probably the most restless sleep of my trip. But this didn’t really matter.
In the dim light of early dawn the Honolulu Clipper lifted off from Manila Bay and I was homeward bound. While over Luzon on our first day’s journey to the American island possession of Guam, great mountains appeared below—high mountains, with grand yet threatening volcanic peaks lifting their heads skyward. The symbolism of our Circle of Fire film, encompassing all those war torn or war threatened lands through which my camera and I had made our precarious way—that symbolism was reaching up from these Philippine mountains, almost scraping the belly of the plane.
Now that my trip was nearly over, the thought of what might happen in this volcanic circle of turmoil about which I’d journeyed, almost frightened me. This Pacific—the word means “peace” —was threatening to belie its name.