Letters to the Editor

Lessons from war

/ 05:06 AM December 15, 2017

Ramon Farolan’s column “After Pearl Harbor, another debacle” (Opinion, 12/11/17) makes for very interesting reading.

The other debacle that Farolan refers to was the unbelievable ineptness, if not stupidity, of American military leadership in the Philippines at the opening of World War II which led to the destruction of American air power on the ground in the Far East. Farolan posed the question that had the Far East Air Force not been destroyed, would it have changed the course of war?
He answered no but I take the contrary view. If Maj. Gen. Lewis Brereton had the mind of Adm. Horatio Nelson, he would have launched his B-17s to bomb Taiwan when he was not allowed to see Gen. Douglas MacArthur. My simple mind tells me that that would have been an act of self- preservation requiring no clearance from anybody. No one ordered him not to, anyway. As an airman, he must have known that as the minutes ticked away, the safety of his warplanes on the ground was fading rapidly.


In hindsight, the B-17s would have caught the Japanese warplanes on the tarmac because the airbases in Taiwan that early morning on Dec. 8 were soaked in fog. The fog was the reason why the attack on the Philippines occurred as late as noontime (nine hours after Pearl Harbor) as the Japanese waited for the fog to lift before they could take off.

Had the Japanese air power in Taiwan been destroyed or degraded, Bataan and Corregidor might have survived until reinforcement arrived. But as it were, with the complete loss of air power, saving Bataan and Corregidor was no longer an option. Therefore, it was too easy for America to decide to abandon the Philippines at that point which resulted in the worst defeat of American arms, ever.


War Plan Orange required a retrograde movement to Bataan which was proper so as to be under the protection of the big guns in Corregidor. But Japan had complete control of the air and so the concentration of troops in Bataan became, even more, a lucrative target of relentless bombardment, obviously from nearby Taiwan.

Revisiting the past does not alter anything but there are lessons that can be learned.

The first is that in any endeavor, leadership is the key to success. Unfortunately, there is no way to predict how a leader would react to a situation until he is actually confronted with the problem.

The second lesson is that air power is lethal but too fragile and difficult to secure. Air power requires lots of investment in time, money and effort to build but can be destroyed very quickly by a superior force.

The third lesson is that we cannot fight a war of movement or limited war. We have no resources nor the technology to build that kind of a military. The radars, the warplanes and the warships will be the prime targets at the opening of hostilities. The best option for our defense is asymmetric warfare founded on the foot soldier where there are a hundred million of us.

ANTONIO E SOTELO, retired lieutenant general, AFP, [email protected]

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TAGS: Inquirer letters, Ramon Farolan, War
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