Teaching war and peace
Looking through photographs of a new book about the 1945 Battle of Manila, I was trying to figure out why I felt more disturbed than usual.
Then I realized that most of the photographs I’ve seen of the aftermath of that battle (sometimes called “Liberation”) have been of destroyed buildings.
This book, though, had photos, and stories, of people. There were gruesome shots of those killed or injured, but the most heartbreaking ones were of the survivors, or the barely surviving, especially those of children wandering the streets.
The Battle of Manila ran from Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945, one of the bloodiest and most destructive in World War II. The death toll: 16,665 Japanese soldiers, 1,010 American soldiers and an estimated 100,000 mostly Filipino civilians.
The book I am referring to is Pulitzer Prize winner James Scott’s “Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita and the Battle of Manila.”
Several articles and columns have appeared in the Inquirer about the book, but I wanted to add one more article to explain why this book is so important: We need to teach about war, to be able to wage peace.
We, Filipinos, suffered grievously during World War II, yet we are often invisible in the published histories of that war.
We don’t hear enough of Filipino guerrillas and the civilian population who held the fort, resisting the Japanese against terrible odds. The guerrillas were there, as well as Americans who made their way to Manila, but I have yet to see figures on their casualties.
Scott’s book paints an unflattering image of MacArthur, tagged by another writer, William Manchester, as the American Caesar, a comparison to the Roman emperor.
Manchester was kinder to MacArthur than Scott, who shows how MacArthur’s ego affected his competence as a military strategist. When the war broke out, American forces in the Philippines and the Philippine military were grossly unprepared. MacArthur left for Australia, promising to return.
As the war was about to end, some American military officials saw no need for a “costly invasion of the Philippines,” but MacArthur insisted, convinced the Japanese were going to abandon the capital city anyway and he could enter the city victoriously—good press material, as with the Leyte landing, where he could announce: “I have returned.”
But Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita was preparing to fight the Americans in Baguio and in the north. Manila was left to Rear Adm. Sanji Iwabuchi, who was instructed to just burn vital bridges and communication lines and to follow Yamashita into the mountains. Iwabuchi defied orders, determined to fight to the death.
The Americans ended up having to fight block by block, house to house before they could take over Manila. The Japanese went on a desperate rampage, turning their rage on civilians. Scott’s book describes massacres and rapes, babies bayoneted, civilians locked into houses and offices to be burned alive.
Manila, described as the Pearl of the Orient, was in a sense demolished. More than 70 years later, looking at the bleak architectural landscape of Manila, I wonder if we lost our sense of aesthetics with the war, not wanting to remember the past, but not wanting to build for the future either.
The deaths of noncombatants, what we would now call “collateral damage,” came from both enemy (Japanese) and “friendly” (American) fire. One casualty of friendly fire was Honorato Lim Quisumbing, a doctor, one of the health professionals who courageously kept the Philippine General Hospital open in the middle of the ferocious Battle of Manila. He was 27.
Let’s teach war in our history classes to advocate for peace. Talk about the military heroes as human beings, with their fears (and egos). Read the histories, look at the photographs, and think of the soldiers and civilians who loved, and lost, relatives and friends, their homes, their sense of life.
Scott will be at several universities to give talks, sponsored by Memorare:
Feb. 13—UP Diliman Palma (AS) Hall (10-11:30 a.m.); Ateneo de Manila Escaler Hall (3-4 p.m.)
Feb. 14—University of Santo Tomas Museum (9-11 a.m.); De La Salle University Lhuillier Conference Room (12:45-2:15 p.m.); UP Manila College of Medicine, Buenafe Hall (3:30-5 p.m.)
Feb. 15—University of Asia and the Pacific Apec Communication Building (9-10:30 a.m.); Far Eastern University Library ( 2-4 p.m.)
There’s an essay writing contest for students, details available at the lecture venues.
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