- - Thursday, November 29, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

RAMPAGE: MACARTHUR, YAMASHITA, AND THE BATTLE OF MANILA

By James M. Scott

W.W. Norton, $32.95, 635 pages, photos and maps

“Rampage” is the story of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines after his escape from Corregidor on April 9, 1942, with this family and a small staff aboard four PT boats. Barely one month later Bataan fell followed by the surrender of Corregidor a little more than three weeks later.

The rugged Philippine peninsula where thousands of MacArthur’s men had fought and died had become an emotional brand burned deep into the general’s conscience. By mid-1944 the Navy and Marine Corps had battled the Japanese across the central Pacific and some senior naval leaders were advocating bypassing the Philippines and saving American lives by avoiding a costly invasion of the Philippines when the imminent fall of Japan would end their occupation.



This proposal had outraged MacArthur and he refused to back down. In a showdown in a beachfront mansion in Hawaii where the Joint Chiefs and the president were meeting, MacArthur fought to bend American strategy in his favor going so far as to threaten Roosevelt.

Before World War II, Manila was known as the “Pearl of the Orient.” In the chapters leading to the deadly and destructive Battle of Manila in February 1945, Mr. Scott describes how our policymakers after the Spanish American War (1898) realized Manila would need a face-lift if it were to be the front door to the markets of China, India and Malaya. Manila had blossomed into a 14-square-mile modern city, one whose population had tripled to 623,000 residents by the eve of the war in the Pacific.

And a brutal war it was. “The stage was now set for the Battle of Manila, a battle distinguished for ferocity and destruction. It is the story of how that beautiful city was sacked by the Japanese Army when General MacArthur returned to Manila. The carnage followed for 29 days.”

But the Philippines was like a sun around which MacArthur and his family had revolved for nearly a half-century.

“His father as the senior Army officer had been the first one drawn into the Philippnes ordered to drive out the guerrillas and the Spanish at the turn of the twentieth century. But even then the seventeen-year-old Douglas had felt the tug of the Islands and, the promise of adventure, begging his father to allow him to skip his studies at West Point to accompany him. His father said, ‘no’ and added, ‘there will be plenty of fighting in the coming years and of a magnitude far beyond this. Prepare yourself.’” His father had made a prophecy far beyond a wild dream. The Battle of Manila left more dead than Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined.

The final chapters of “Rampage” cover in wrenching detail the end of the war. Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, “The Tiger of Malaya,” in command of 50,500 troops in the Sierra Madre Mountains, in northern Luzon heard Emperor Hirohito bring an end to the war through a radio broadcast. In a strange circumstance a P-38 pilot had to bail out over the area were Yamashita had his headquarters. The pilot was escorted back to American lines with a letter from the general himself. That pilot returned with a letter in a tube that he dropped from his aircraft, which opened a dialogue that led to Yamashita’s decision to walk out of the mountains. Before he departed for the two-day hike he wrote a poem:

My men have been gathered from the mountain

Like wild flowers

Now it is my turn to go

And I go gladly

Mr. Scott carefully details the trial, the U.S. Supreme Court’s role, President Truman’s response and the general’s execution. “Rampage” is a wrenching story. The question that it raises is how do we keep from going down these paths that lead to such pain and destruction. As former internee Natalie Crouter noted in her diary one afternoon in March 1945, just days after the guns fell silent: “The past is dead.”

And nowhere was that more true than in Manila. The tropical city whose sinuous canals, broad bay fronts and ancient Walled City that had once inspired famed urban planner Daniel Burnham in his quest to build the perfect American city in Asia, had vanished in a battle unlike any other in the Pacific War. But the “twenty-nine fight” represented more than just the destruction of roads, buildings, and sadly even lives. The battle served as the violent end to America’s colonial experiment in the Philippines, symbolized by the pulverization of the grand neoclassical public structures that had long represented Washington’s influence in the islands. Much of the capital and its economy still lay in ruins just 16 months later, when the United States granted the Philippines independence on July 4, 1946.

• Thomas W. Schaaf Sr. is a retired naval aviator whose aircraft carriers frequently moored in Subic Bay, Philippines.

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