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Battle for Manila

On Sept. 2, 1945 aboard the US battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay, Japanese Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu signed the Instruments of Surrender formally ending World War II. In the euphoria of victory, many people forgot that six months earlier, Manila, once the proud “Pearl of the Orient,” was completely destroyed in a battle that some historians considered unnecessary.

During the last few months of the Pacific War, our family stayed in Ilocos Norte while my father Modesto Farolan was in Manila where he served as the acting general manager of the Philippine National Red Cross. At that time the Red Cross offices were located on Isaac Peral Street (now UN Avenue) corner Taft Avenue. It was a modest two-story building that was built in 1932 and was converted into an emergency hospital. In March 1945, it was the only building left standing in the area. Most others had been destroyed by American shellfire or were burnt to the ground by Japanese marines defending the city.

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After the war, my father would relate to us what happened to him on a Saturday in February of that year. He was in his office with a volunteer nurse, Marina de Paz, when Japanese marines entered the Red Cross compound shooting and bayoneting everyone in sight, despite protestations that it was a Red Cross hospital. One of the victims was Corazon Noble, a popular movie star of the pre-war era, who was stabbed several times in the chest, abdomen, back and other parts of her body, while protecting her 10-month-old baby in her arms. As soon as one of the Japanese soldiers opened the door to his office, going on a shooting rampage, my father ducked underneath his desk and luckily, was partially covered by the falling body of one of the doctors who got hit in the first volley of fire. The Japanese looked under his desk where my father crouched and fired twice at him. The bullets passed between his feet, and the marine then turned to others in the dispensary, killing a mother with her 10-day-old baby and the baby’s grandmother as well. Under his desk, my father froze while hearing screams of terror and pain. In his recent book “Rampage,” author James M. Scott, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, devotes a chapter on my father’s ordeal in greater detail.

Another book, “The Battle for Manila,” by three British historians Richard Connaughton, John Pimlott and Duncan Anderson, dwells more on the details of the battle while at the same time bringing up some provocative issues.

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Why was the battle fought? Was it necessary? One of the reasons given was “General MacArthur’s personal obsession with Manila as a symbol of his promise to return. Until he could hold the victory parade in the city and publicly hand power back to a Filipino commonwealth government, his self-appointed task was incomplete… He viewed the capture of Manila as the key to victory, deciding to surround the enemy, leaving them no avenue of escape. As the Chinese strategist Sun Tzu pointed out more than 2,400 years ago, it is an integral aspect of the art of war to leave a way of escape to a surrounded enemy.” Manila was doomed and only after a month-long battle — the only battle between American and Japanese forces in a city — did enemy resistance end. Manila and its inhabitants paid a terrible price for liberation. Approximately 100,000 civilians including women and children perished, and the destruction of the city was on the same scale as Warsaw in Poland. They were the two most devastated allied capitals in World War II.

The authors also point out that “the manner in which hospitals and residential areas were systematically bombarded by US artillery is really indefensible. The desire of any commander to protect his men’s lives is understandable; it is what is expected of him. Where the line is drawn, is when the guns of war are loosed upon inhabited areas where the enemy is either not present at all or present in such small numbers so as not to justify carpet bombardment. There comes a time when the civilian population, even when it is not of one’s own nationality (they were friendly civilians—Filipinos), has to be a key consideration in deciding on the means employed.”

In her book “A Question of Identity: Selected Essays,” Carmen Guerrero Nakpil narrates that “those who survived Japanese hate did not survive American love. Both were equally deadly; the latter more so because it was sought and longed for. “

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TAGS: Battle for Manila, Douglas MacArthur, Ramon J. Farolan, Reveille, World War II
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