James Scott's 2018 Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila (www.amzn.com/0393357562) is an important book for anyone with a serious interest in WW2 history. World War II in the Pacific does not get as much attention as the war in the Pacific. The atrocities committed by the Empire of Japan get far less attention than the Holocaust. The brutal war that was waged in the Philippines gets very little attention. The devastating Battle of Manila is very nearly forgotten. So James Scott's work is a valuable contribution to our understanding of this dark chapter of world history.
|Commander K & MacArthur |
West Point, NY
Douglas MacArthur, who will be featured in our upcoming work 101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur, famously vowed that he would return to the Philippines. He made this promise at the lowest moment in his life, as he was fleeing with his wife, young son and staff aboard a PT boat from the besieged and beleaguered fortress at Corregidor in 1942. MacArthur had been forced to abandon his beloved penthouse home in the Manila hotel. Defying the odds (the Japanese enjoyed clear naval and air supremacy in the Philippines), he and his family made their way to Australia.
MacArthur believed in a simple credo of Duty, Honor and Country which was drilled into him at West Point. But in 1942 he had abandoned General Wainright and thousands of American troops in the Philippines. All were captured and became POWs subject to the harshest conditions. Thousands of American civilians were herded into Internee camps by the conquering Japanese. MacArthur had abandoned the Filipino people as well. By 1944 many of these American POWs and Internees were living in appalling conditions. Many were starving. Others were ravaged by disease such as beriberi. The Philippines was ruled by a brutal occupation.
Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Manila had been a near paradise for American expats. It was known as the Pearl of the Orient. It offered a tropical climate, beautifully landscaped parks, an affordable cost of living and gorgeous sunsets. MacArthur and his family lived in a sumptuous penthouse apartment atop the Manila Hotel.
|1880 - 1964|
"I Shall Return"
In July of 1944 an American strategy conference was held in Hawaii with FDR, MacArthur and the full military brass. By then Japan's fleet was mainly at the bottom of the Pacific but it stubbornly defended its home islands and various possessions. Many from the US Navy favored a strategy that would bypass the Philippine archipelago and proceed to an American invasion of Taiwan. MacArthur was horrified at this prospect. He had given his word to American POWs, Internees and the Filipino people. MacArthur dug in his heels and threatened FDR telling him that "the American people would be so aroused that they would register most complete resentment against you at the polls this fall." Scott informs us that "the shocked Roosevelt retreated to bed that night, summoning his physician and demanding an aspirin. 'In fact,' he said, 'give me another aspirin to take in the morning.'"
Grosvenor Square, London
1882 - 1945
General MacArthur may have given FDR a headache but the benefit of hindsight suggests that MacArthur did make the correct strategic decision. FDR would likely have preferred the formulation "We shall return" over the egotistical "I shall return". But it would, nevertheless, have been unconscionable for the USA to have simply abandoned the Philippines. Americans would be abandoning American POWs, internees and the Philippine people. Allowing the Japanese occupation to endure would certainly have cost many lives. Moreover, the word of an American official needed to be backed up by deeds. Ultimately, MacArthur's return to the Philippines gave credibility to the USA in the Pacific for decades.
1885 - 1946
Yamashita, MacArthur's opponent in the Philippines was a larger than life character. Like MacArthur, he was a superb student of military history and discipline. Yamashita proved his worth by leading the Japanese to a stunning victory over forces that outnumbered his own by about three to one in Malyasia. Singapore, the Gibraltar of Asia, surrendered to the Japanese in February 1942 and many thousands of Chinese were killed in the Sook Ching massacre. Yamashita was dubbed the Tiger of Malaya. After his triumph at Singapore, Yamashita was subsequently sidelined to a post in Manchuria. Until 1944 when he was summoned in to lead a desperate defense of the Philippines. After the American landing on Lingayen Gulf on January 7, 1945 Yamashita withdrew with his staff and the bulk of his forces to the mountains entrusting Manila to a force composed mainly of Japanese marines led by Rear Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi.
|Plaza Cuartel / Palawan Plaque|
Courtesy of Rocky Cueva
The return of MacArthur and the Americans to Leyte triggered brutal reprisals against captive Americans. On the beautiful island of Palawan, for example, around 150 American POWs were burned to death on December 14, 1944. The news of this atrocity lent urgency to American efforts to liberate imprisoned Americans on Luzon and throughout the archipelago.
|Rear Adrmiral Sanji Iwabuchi|
1895 - 1945
The egotistical MacArthur dreamed of a triumphal march through downtown Manila. Iwabcuhi, in command of around 15,000 Japanese troops, was determined to defend Manila to the death and spoil MacArthur's plans. A 29 day house-to-house battle ensued that consumed the lives of around 2,000 American troops, nearly all of the Japanese defenders and over 100,000 Filipino civilians. Scott relates in unrelenting detail the slaughter that nearly wiped Manila off the map. Rampage is not a book for the faint of heart or stomach. Babies were bayoneted. Rape was commonplace. Iwabuchi finally used a knife to commit suicide inside of the Agricultural building on February 26, 1945 bring the battle of Manila to its horrifying end.
While MacArthur made the right strategic decision to return to the Philippines, he blundered badly in its tactical execution. In 1942 had had declared Manila an open city in order to spare its civilian population the ravages of war through its streets. In 1944 he naively expected the Japanese would do as he had done in declaring Manila an open city. They did nothing of the kind, fighting like caged animals in a doomed struggle.
On February 23, 1945 MacArthur returned to his Manila home in the penthouse of the Manila hotel. he found the body of a dead Japanese colonel sprawled across his threshold. His home had been looted and his precious book collection had been burned. The wanton destruction of his Manila home makes MacArthur's magnanimous attitude as the proconsul in charge of the subsequent occupation of Japan all the more noteworthy. This magnanimity did not, of course, extend to MacArthur's treatment of Yamashita who was summarily convicted of war crimes by an American tribunal and hanged on February 26, 1946. Yamashita had lost control of the troops under his control and someone needed to pay the price. As Scott points out, the rampage which took place in Manila in 1945 had its precedents in the 1937 Rape of Nanking and brutal reprisals in China that followed the Doolittle Raid.
A shattered Manila has never regained its lost status as the Pearl of the Orient.
|Battle of Manila Memorial|