Today, April 16, was the sixth day in 1945 of what had gone down in history as the Bataan Death March. It began on April 10, 1945, a day after Major General Edward King surrendered Bataan to General Masaharu Homma, Commander of the Japanese Expeditionary Forces in the Philippines in World War II, after three months of fighting which is on record as being among the fiercest ever during the Second World War. Various sources place the duration of the march at six days, so today marks the 75th anniversary of the Bataan Death March. Today’s My Say hopes to contribute a modest share in the effort to straighten out distortions of that significant facet of Philippine history.
To begin with, the name “Dugout Doug” in the title. It refers to General Douglas MacArthur, who had been so derided by his own men for being a commander who spent his whole time ensconced in his dugout (hence Dugout Doug) while his men died in the battlefields. His men could only recall one moment he spent with them in Bataan, and that was when he went there for a one-hour troop review. For the rest of the time after the successful invasion of the Philippines by the Japanese, MacArthur was in his dugout on Corregidor from which he issued commands of battle.
Of MacArthur’s veritable furlough in Australia early in the Philippine war and his promise of “I shall return” and of supplies and reinforcements that never came, Brigadier General William E. Brougher, had this to say, “A foul trick of deception played on a large group of Americans by a commander-in-chief and his small staff who are now eating steak and eggs in Australia.”
But a novel piece is this verse that went viral among the combatants of Bataan:
We’re the battling bastards of Bataan:
No mama, no papa, no Uncle Sam,
No aunts, no uncles, no nephews, no nieces,
No rifles, no planes, or artillery pieces,
And nobody gives a damn.
The testimonials attest to the condition of utter neglect suffered by the defenders of Bataan in those first four months of 1942. And the condition was that of the battle for the defense of Bataan, not of the Death March. For emphasis in this regard, the author has seen fit to provide a photograph of a group of the marchers who look famished, weak and sick. Granting that the photograph was taken at the end of the six-day trek from Mariveles, Bataan to Capas, Tarlac, would that sick, weak and famished look of the men been wrought by those sick days of ordeal, still further granting that such ordeal was truly arduous. The look of utter physical depravity certainly shows it was months in the making and would be more credibly attributed to some three months ordeal – which was the terrific Battle of Bataan.
According to a source, General Douglas MacArthur ran a well-oiled press relations office that was more concerned with projecting to the American public a heroic image for himself rather than the actual conditions of the war. It is said that of the 176 press releases the office issued, all 150 were for his iconization such that when things were getting truly rough in Bataan, the American public would clamor against making the “hero of Bataan” a sacrificial lamb in the war. It was in the vortex of this popular agitation for saving MacArthur from the ravagement of Bataan that President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued the order to transfer the general to Australia, there to assume a new post, as Commander of the Allied Forces in the Pacific.
In fact, MacArthur, according to the same source, had worked for it, forcing Roosevelt to issue the transfer order in the face of an imminent pre-conceived abandonment by America of Bataan. This fact was revealed to MacArthur on February 4, 1942, when the US Submarine Trout arrived on Corregidor to Transport the gold of the Philippine treasury to a safe place and also to evacuate Lt. Col. Warren J. Clear, a top intelligence officer. It was on that occasion that Lt. Col. Clear revealed to MacArthur the agreement reached in the Arcadia Conferences in Washington between the Chiefs of Staff of the United States and Great Britain from December 22, 1941 to January 14, 1942 in which the US agreed to prioritize the winning of the war against Germany. This meant the total abandonment by the US of the Philippines to the Japanese. The information certainly could have infuriated the General and gotten him issuing press releases about his being made a sacrificial lamb in the Battle of Bataan. The press onslaught paid off. Roosevelt succumbed to media pressure to salvage him from Bataan and got him transferred to Australia where MacArthur was to deliver his famous – or actually ignominious – “I shall return” together with hypocritical – nay devious, considering that he knew it was a lie – assurances that reinforcements and supplies were forthcoming.
Actually, the information from Lt. Col. Clear about the Arcadia Conferences in Washington could only amount to a confirmation of what MacArthur had known already. In his War Memoirs, Dr. Jose P. Laurel informs that General MacArthur knew as early as December 24, 1941 that no reinforcements, as per instruction from President Roosevelt, were forthcoming. Dr. Laurel got hold of this information on the day he and other Commonwealth officials bade President Manuel L. Quezon goodbye on his journey to Corregidor, thence for exile to the United States. The movements both of Quezon and MacArthur were well into a deliberate plan to abandon the Philippines to the Japanese invaders. If ever the Battle of Bataan was fought so hard at all by the “Battling Bastards of Bataan,” it was only to delay the timetable of the Japanese full Pacific conquest, that is, conquest of the Pacific territories of Great Britain. The fall of these territories to Japan would greatly weaken the British empire and mean its defeat to Germany. And a British defeat by Germany, according to War Plan Orange, would breach the Strategic Triangle and ultimately lead to the German conquest of America. In this grand scenario of American defense, Bataan had to fall.
From the Website What Really Happened comes this really damning thing about MacArthur’s grand advancement of the Great American Defense: “In the two weeks prior to the main Japanese invasion, MacArthur, knowing that he would have to retreat to Bataan and told this also by General Wainwright and President Quezon, refused to move supplies there. The Orange and Rainbow war plans since 1909 had included plans to move supplies to Bataan – that had been changed by Marshall on 18 October 1941. This change of defense to a plan of defending all beaches against superior forces, was not just nonsense on its face, but a deliberate sacrifice of all US troops in the Philippines and of the Philippines themselves. MacArthur also wouldn’t invoke the Orange plan WPO-3 until December 24th after the Japanese had landed in force at 9 points. He lost 500,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, and 3,400,000 gallons of oil and gasoline plus food, clothing and medicines on the beaches. At the single depot at Cabanatuan, he left fifty million bushels of rice, enough to feed all the troops on Bataan for four years. Just 70 miles from Bataan quartermasters found 2,000 cases of canned fish but were ordered directly and repeatedly by MacArthur’s headquarters to abandon them or face court-martial. Besides not supplying Bataan, MacArthur went to extraordinary lengths to make sure no food was taken there. He deliberately starved his men.”
So now, reckon again the photograph above. Is that the look of men who had gone with no food and medicine for only six days or is that the famished look of men who had fought so hard on half-rations or none at all for months on end? A 10,000 death toll serves American propaganda doubtlessly, but statistics are simply numbers easily moved up or down the scales of credibility depending on utility. But the hard source of those statistics can speak of a far greater truth, and in the case of the Bataaan Death March, the specifics shatter the imagination.
During his trial before a MacArthur-constituted Military Commission in Manila beginning January 3, 1945, General Masaharu Homma admitted the Japanese never expected that the surrendered USAFFE forces would number a staggering 80,000. How little was the Japanese Army that captured those many Allied enemies may be gleaned from the way the Japanese soldiers were apportioned to watch over the captives: one Japanese soldier for every 100 surrendered Filipino and American combatants. This shows that there were only 8,000 Japanese fighting the 80,000 defenders of Bataan. Homma admitted during his trial that at one point before the fall of Bataan, it was he who was ready to give up the fight due to lack of reinforcements, food and war supplies. If the terribly outnumbered Japanese kept on fighting, it was because they were trained to die fighting. What greatly helped Homma hold out against the USAFFE resistance was MacArthur’s order to his men never to entertain any idea of surrender and that if food was the problem, they should carry out raids to get that food from the Japanese. It was this admonition from MacArthur that General King defied when he surrendered Bataan on April 9, 1942. According to King, he saw that his men could no longer run 100 yards without staggering, which was a standard for military combat capability. Lack of food and medicine shortage would have killed those 80,000 defenders of Bataan anyway, so King took the chance of survival of his men in Japanese captivity.
Now, what has been played up in accounts of the Death March are the atrocities allegedly committed by the Japanese captors against the surrendered Allied forces, like the beheading of an American captain found by Japanese guards in possession of Japanese yen presumably taken from a dead Japanese soldier or the bayonetting to death of another American officer while tied to a tree as a reminder for others to be “obedient.” There are few accounts of marchers crumpling down from sheer hunger, sickness and fatigue, and are dealt euthanasia by the Japanese guards by shooting them, or those down on the road are run over by Japanese military trucks. In any case, the accounts were contained in affidavits and depositions presented in the trial of Homma as evidences of war crimes he was charged with, and in every case, it was a single-event one, not on any degree of commission that would constitute an act on a mass scale. In other words, those alleged 10,000 deaths were single acts of bayoneting or shooting to death or running over by a military truck repeated 10,000 times over. By any stretch of imagination, such a grand scale of repetitious killings is impossible to accomplish under close observation by hardened combatants outnumbering the killers 100 to 1.
During his trial, General Homma testified that his headquarters were just 500 meters away from the march route and on those occasions that he rode his vehicle through that road, he did not witness any dead bodies littering the area as alleged in affidavits and depositions that had been accepted as evidences.
Testimonies on deaths on mass scales show these deaths as occurring in concentration camps and attributable more to the ultimate effect of famine and disease already suffered by the USAFFE forces while still in battle in Bataan. The nagging question arises. What caused those deaths? Was it the Japanese atrocities during the Death March or was it the deliberate neglect by America of its men in the Battle of Bataan?
As far back as 1960, or just 15 years after the end of World War II in 1945, diplomatic relations between the Philippines and Japan normalized with the signing of the Japan-Philippine Treaty of Friendship and Amity. Down history, the Bataan Death March has seemed simply water under the bridge, just an occasion for yearly commemorations that serve to increasingly augur better friendly relations between the two countries. The fact is, Japan had never treated the Philippines an enemy. What Japan attacked in the Philippines was America. There were Filipino war casualties, that’s for sure, but those casualties are to be taken as collateral damage and do not constitute the general rule.
When President Quezon learned that the Philippines was being abandoned, he strongly demanded from President Roosevelt American grant of independence to the Philippines so he could negotiate a neutrality status with Japan. That demand was answered by Roosevelt with a sly shaming of Quezon that placed the Philippine President in a bad light with the American public. And although the Japanese kept the captured American forces in concentration camps, after only a period of incarceration, the Filipinos captured in Bataan were ordered paroled by General Homma.
Japan is on record of having issued public apologies for the so-called Japanese atrocities committed against Filipinos. The commemorative event last April 9 of the Fall of Bataan showcased once more Japanese goodwill deserving of reciprocity.
But 75 years to this day, America has remained steadfast in its depiction of the Bataan Death March as a war crime of Japan, particularly of General Masaharu Homma. After a swift trial in which MacArthur allowed acceptance of circumstantial and hearsay evidences, which US Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy derided as a violation of the dignity of the human personality and due process of law, General Homma was convicted and sentenced to die by musketry. In a letter to his children sent on the eve of his execution at the foothills of Los Baños, Laguna. General Homma wrote: “This is the last letter your father will leave you in this life. There is so much I want to say about what is called Anglo-Saxon justice, but I will not. The death penalty does not mean that I am guilty; it means, rather, that the United States has avenged itself to its satisfaction.”
General Masaharu Homma had dealt the US its greatest military defeat in history – the Fall of Bataan.
Hours before he was shot to death, General Homma appeared in a jolly mood, drinking beer with his American guards. When the discussions touched on the atomic bombing of Japan, he could not help a tinge of rage in his voice: “Why weren’t Hiroshima and Nagasaki war crimes? And what about the firebombing of Tokyo in which 100,000 civilians died in a single night? The answer they suggested was simple. Because the United States won. The victor always decides what is a crime and what isn’t.”