Liberation, blessing or curse
Many Filipinos may not be aware of it but tomorrow marks the 76th anniversary of the Leyte landings by US Forces led by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. At Red Beach, Palo, Leyte, the general declared “People of the Philippines, I have returned.”
Let us take a quick look at the issue that had to be resolved prior to the Leyte Landing. The question for US planners was deciding the next major target on the road to Tokyo. Should US forces liberate the Philippines or should they bypass the Philippines and instead head for Formosa? In a meeting with President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Hawaii, Adm. Chester Nimitz speaking for the Joint Chiefs of Staff favored the Formosa option. On the other hand, MacArthur considered a return to the Philippines as “a great national obligation to discharge.” Gen. George Marshall reminded MacArthur that “bypassing” was not “synonymous with abandonment.” In the end Roosevelt chose the Philippines in a decision that was seen as a mix of military strategy and election year politics. He was facing re-election in 1944.
The campaign to liberate the Philippines would begin with the Leyte Landing but the main objective was the capital city Manila where MacArthur could formally turn over the reins of government to President Sergio Osmeña and complete the promise of redemption. After the January 1945 landing at Lingayen Gulf, US forces quickly headed for Manila to liberate allied internees at the University of Santo Tomas. By Feb. 6, MacArthur announced that Manila had fallen. Preparations for a grand victory parade thru the city were being carried out. This could indicate faulty US intelligence as to enemy dispositions. Little did MacArthur realize that the battle for Manila was just about to begin and the result would be one of the great tragedies of World War II. Of all the allied cities in the war, only Warsaw, Poland, would suffer more devastation.
In his book, “Commander in Chief,” highly acclaimed author Eric Larrabee wrote: “Manila was a city of some 800,000, more venerable than any in the United States save Saint Augustine (a Florida city considered the oldest in the US). MacArthur in recapturing it almost obliterated it… American artillery leveled much of Manila to the ground.” In another book, “Rampage,” by James Scott, the commander of the 37th Infantry Division, Major Gen. Robert Beightler was quoted saying, “over the course of the battle, American forces would fire more than 42,000 mortar and artillery rounds including 27,860 shells from 105 mm and 155 mm big guns…” Between Japanese demolitions and US shellings, the city once known as the Pearl of the Orient was being destroyed from the inside and out. Filipino historian Alfonso Aluit in his book, “By Sword and Fire,” wrote, “Douglas MacArthur bears as much responsibility as Sanji Iwabuchi (the Japanese commander) for the cruel fate that was inflicted on Manila.”
One should ask: Where was General MacArthur while his beloved city was being pulverized by US artillery? It was in Manila where his mother passed away in 1936. It was in Manila where his only son Arthur was born in 1938. Manila was home for him and his family for many years. Manila was not some enemy city like Tokyo or Berlin. It was the capital of a Commonwealth of the United States whose people fought and died alongside US forces in the dark days of Bataan. Surely that must have meant something.
In terms of Filipino lives, the battle for Manila would be painful and costly. Most estimates consider the death toll at over 100,000 men, women, and children. Their deaths were the result of the brutal behavior of Japanese fanatics along with the fierce and intense US artillery barrage.
In comparison, the death toll from the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as compiled by the Manhattan Engineer District (code name: Manhattan Project), the organization that carried out the development of the atom bomb, was as follows: Hiroshima — 66,000, Nagasaki — 39,000, for a total of 105,000 (source: Wikipedia). We lost almost as many people in Manila as were killed by the atom bombing of two Japanese cities.
If President Roosevelt had chosen Formosa over the Philippines, it is likely that the country would not have suffered so much ruin and destruction. Manila in particular, would probably have remained relatively unscathed as the city was not of strategic importance. And as one senior US official put it, MacArthur could have returned to the Philippines after the surrender of Japan and be received like a conquering hero whose pledge had been redeemed.
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