Astro Boy and the Battle of Massawa


    ‘Are the lessons of history obvious?’

    HAPPY birthday, Tetsuwan Atomu! Born April 7, 2003, the world’s first robot with a heart (at least in Tezuka-verse) is a product of Japan’s Science Ministry endowed with 100K horsepower strength, jet flight, high intensity lights in his eyes, adjustable hearing, instant language translation, retractable machine gun in his hips, and high IQ capable of determining if a person is good or evil.

    In the Japan of our reality, Hybrid Assistive Limb powered exoskeleton suits are commercially available and the “Mighty Atom” is a science fiction hero of a series of manga and anime created by Tezuka Osamu, MD.

    The humanoid Astro Boy (despite being powered by atomic fusion) cuts a tragic figure with daddy issues, suffering persecution by discriminatory humans, yet champions justice for all. In our real world, the “Captain Atom” series in “Shonen” led to Japan’s first TV animation craze, with the comics character eventually getting named as Japan’s envoy for overseas safety (circa November 2007). [Frederik L. Schodt. The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution. Berkeley, California: Stone Bridge Press, 2007]

    The prolific creator of Astro Boy also penned “Message to Adolf” — a long Manga that features three men who coincidentally have the same first name of “Adolf” set in both Japan and Germany during World War II, which had appeared serially in a weekly magazine for adults (Shukan Bunshun). The significance of the hard-core social drama of “Message to Adolf” according to Japan’s “god of manga” himself: “In a great number of movies, cartoons, and Manga, Hitler is depicted as a symbol of large-scale massacre, racial discrimination, and conquest. But Hitler was not a singular demon; in fact, the darkness represented by ‘Hitler’ exists in all of our hearts. Once we begin to think that our own beliefs or desires take precedence over the lives of other people, it may be the awakening of the ‘Hitler’ within us. It is important to face head-on the ‘Hitler inside’ without running away, and to overcome it. This is how we can create a truly rich, peaceful society.” []

    That is one way of looking at the relevance of the Second World War, which was a topic raised at the latest Lido Wednesday Roundtable (moderated by Melo Acuna) held 07 April 2021. We replied by quoting Primo Levi: “Every Age Has Its Own Fascism.” We should add: “The world will long remember the epic struggle that Filipino and American soldiers put up in the jungle fastness and along the rugged coast of Bataan. They have stood up uncomplaining under the constant and grueling fire of the enemy for more than three months. Besieged on land and blockaded by sea, cut off from all sources of help in the Philippines and in America, the intrepid fighters have done all that human endurance could bear.” [Radio Broadcast Message, As Written By Captain Salvador P. Lopez]

    “We, too, were betrayed by Judases. We were taken in the night by force of arms, and though we had done wrong to no man, our people were bound and delivered into the hands of our enemies. We have been with mock symbols of sovereignty, denied by weaklings…” [Delivered By Third Lieutenant Normando Ildefonso “Norman” Reyes On The “Voice Of Freedom” Radio Broadcast, April 9, 1942, Malinta Tunnel, Corregidor]

    Yet “no human force shall suffice to hold us in subjection, we shall rise in the name of freedom and the East shall be alight with the glory of our liberation.”


    The denouement of 09 April 1942 has become the linchpin of the Philippine national holiday of Day of Valor (Araw ng Kagitingan) and it resonates, rankles and rolls as we read of the two recent statements of Delfin N. Lorenzana, Secretary, Department of National Defense:

    “The Chinese Ambassador has a lot of explaining to do. As of our latest maritime and aerial surveillance, there are still forty-four (44) Chinese vessels that are in Julian Felipe Reef. I am no fool. The weather has been good so far, so they have no other reason to stay there.

    These vessels should be on their way out. Umalis na kayo diyan.”


    “The utter disregard by the Chinese Embassy in Manila of international law especially the UNCLOS to which China is a party is appalling. Its nine-dash line claim is without any factual or legal basis. This, together with its so-called historical claim, was flatly and categorically rejected by the arbitral tribunal…The continued presence of Chinese maritime militias in the area reveals their intent to further occupy features in the West Philippine Sea. They have done this before at Panatag Shoal or Bajo de Masinloc and at Panganiban Reef brazenly violating Philippine sovereignty and sovereign rights under international law.”


    All these also bring to mind the 80th anniversary of the Liberation of Massawa when the Axis hold-outs (40,000-man garrison) surrendered on April 8, 1941.

    This African Massawa (not the Philippine Limasawa made famous by the Magellan Expedition) was the home-port for the Axis (Italian Royal Navy’s Red Sea Flotilla) and its possession was necessary to make the Red Sea a safe supply route for the Allies: “Massawa was attacked from the north and the west. The 10th Indian Infantry Brigade moved forward during the night of 7/8 April and occupied part of the ridge running west and slightly north of Signal Hill without opposition. At first light the attack started with artillery support. The Italians were strong in artillery and made some show of defense but their troops had little heart. Although the Italian defenses were elaborate a large number of them surrendered and became prisoners. The 10th Indian Infantry Brigade pushed on steadily and took Signal Hill and Pts. 66 and 51. The 7th Indian Infantry Brigade had some difficulty in the beginning as it encountered heavy artillery fire. However, it managed to get on along the sea coast and its carriers were the first to enter Massawa. The attack of the Brigade d’ Orient was launched at 0630 hours and by 1120 hours Fort Vittorio Emanuele was captured. Massawa surrendered soon after and at 1400 hours the Admiral commanding Massawa made submission to the General Officer Commanding 5th Indian Division… On the Italian side, 10,000 men were taken prisoners. They included Admiral Bonetti commanding Italian Forces in Massawa.”

    Are the lessons of history obvious?