The ‘Tiger of Malaya’ meets the hangman
In December 1944, just a few weeks after the Leyte landing of Gen. Douglas MacArthur, my father was designated acting manager of the Philippine National Red Cross by Don Vicente Madrigal, chair of the PNRC board. His harrowing experience while serving in this capacity has been chronicled in two books: “By Sword And Fire” by Alfonso J. Aluit and “The Battle for Manila” by Richard Connaughton, John Pimlott and Duncan Anderson.
A third book has recently come out, “Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita and the Battle of Manila,” by James M. Scott, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for his book “Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor.” An entire chapter of “Rampage” is devoted to the Red Cross massacre that took place on Feb. 10, 1945. In less than half an hour, more than 50 civilians including infants, were killed by Japanese Marines who barged into the PNRC premises, shooting and bayoneting everyone in sight. The book carries a more detailed and graphic account of my father’s role during the bloody incident.
As you read of the atrocities, the countless rapes and senseless killing of noncombatants including women and children by Japanese naval forces under Rear Adm. Sanji Iwabuchi, one cannot help but think that perhaps the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was payback for what happened to Manila and its inhabitants during the 29-day siege of the city. It is a grim reminder of how men can be so cruel to fellow human beings when desperation takes over and creates in them a sense of hysteria leading to acts of brutality and savagery.
But 75 years is a long time. The world continues to change and painful memories are overtaken by present-day realities. In my father’s time, the family car was a US-made Plymouth. It wasn’t top of the line but the Plymouth was a reliable vehicle. Today the family car is a Toyota, and the local market has long been captured by Japanese automakers.
For my colleagues in the military profession “Rampage” provides a bird’s-eye view of the war crimes trial of Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, better known as “The Tiger of Malaya” for his stunning conquest of Malaya and Singapore during the early phase of the Pacific War. In just 73 days, moving on trucks and 18,000 bicycles, the Japanese under him defeated an enemy force three times larger than his own and in the process, shattered forever the myth of Western superiority over Asians. But after his victory, internal politics sidelined his career until September 1944 when he was appointed commander of the Japanese forces in the Philippines. For Yamashita, it was the beginning of the end.
Exactly a year after his assumption to the new command on Sept. 3, 1945, General Yamashita formally surrendered to US forces in Camp John Hay, Baguio City. His personal sword which he turned over to his captors would find its way to the US Military Academy at West Point.
General Yamashita would be tried for atrocities committed by his troops in different parts of the country but the focus would be on the events that took place during the Battle of Manila. He was charged with “failure to discharge his duties as a commander to control the acts of members of his command, thus permitting
them to commit war crimes.” He was defended by a panel led by Col. Harry Clarke, while the prosecution was headed by Maj. Robert Kerr. The presiding judge was Major Gen. Russell Reynolds, joined by two other major generals and two brigadier generals.
After a 32-day trial, on Dec. 7, 1945, exactly four years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, General Reynolds read out the court’s verdict: Guilty as charged; death by hanging.
Yamashita’s lawyers elevated the conviction to the Philippine Supreme Court, but the court headed by Chief Justice Manuel Moran decided that Philippine civil courts lacked jurisdiction over the case. The next appeal was to the US Supreme Court. By a vote of 6 to 2, the majority headed by Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone decided against any review of decisions made by military tribunals sanctioned by Congress. The dissenting justices called the trial “a miscarriage of justice, an exercise in vengeance, and a denial of human rights.” A final appeal was made to President Harry Truman, seeking commutation of his sentence to life in prison. Truman refused to intervene. General MacArthur ordered the execution to proceed.
On Feb. 23, 1946, the hangman’s noose claimed the Tiger of Malaya.
A few notes. The Yamashita decision led to what is known in legal circles as the “Yamashita standard,” on command responsibility. It holds that a commander can be held liable for crimes committed by his troops even if he didn’t order them, did not know about them, or lacked the means to stop them. It is a standard adopted by several legal conventions and institutions, including the International Criminal Court. The United States is not a signatory to the ICC.
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