A skillful step-by-step description of the brutal and heroic but mismanaged 1941–42 campaign in the Philippines.
Veteran military historian Sloan (The Darkest Summer: Pusan and Inchon 1950, 2009) delivers his usual vivid, energetic battle account. Using reminiscences from a dozen survivors, he introduces prewar Philippines, a tropical paradise with an army led by the imperious General Douglas MacArthur, who insisted a Japanese invasion was impossible. Learning of Pearl Harbor, he remained curiously idle, allowing Japanese planes to destroy his air and naval defenses. After the December invasion, Philippine and American forces retreated to the Bataan peninsula, fighting valiantly until April 1942. The island fortress of Corregidor surrendered a month later. Readers should steel themselves for what followed as Japanese forces treated captives despicably during the Bataan death march and then starved and abused them in prison camps. No revisionist, Sloan delivers the traditional image of MacArthur (“brilliant general with inflated ego”), yet no brilliance is detectable as MacArthur neglected to supply Bataan until it was too late. As a result, starvation and disease decimated his troops. Safe on Corregidor, he allowed subordinates to conduct operations while sending out a torrent of press releases containing dramatic, heartwarming and often fictional accounts of how his genius was frustrating overwhelmed Japanese forces; in fact, his forces outnumbered theirs two to one. Aided by a fawning media, he emerged a national hero when commanders of all other early World War II debacles (Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong, Singapore, Burma, Dunkirk) were disgraced.
Sloan writes expertly of the soldiers’ courage battling the Japanese, but readers must search elsewhere (Richard Connaughton, H.P. Willmott) for the latest insight into the competence of their leader.