A scarifying history of a terrible moment in the Pacific War.
In 1945, Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines as he had promised, wanting nothing more than a spectacular military parade through the streets of Manila. The Japanese commander of forces in the field, Tomoyuki Yamashita, the “Tiger of Malaya,” intended to oblige by withdrawing his soldiers from the city, but an admiral named Sanji Iwabuchi had other ideas. Defying orders, he commanded his sailors and marines to dig in for a house-to-house defense of the city, co-opting some army units in the bargain. With certain death their only option, Iwabuchi’s command embarked on a campaign of atrocities in which more than 100,000 Filipinos and foreign nationals were slaughtered, with orders that they be grouped to save ammunition and then disposed of by burning buildings and, with them, material evidence of the massacre. Historian Scott (Target Tokyo: Jimmy Doolittle and the Raid that Avenged Pearl Harbor, 2015, etc.) holds that “Manila has never truly recovered from the battle”; though a gleaming, modern city at its edges, the old heart remains scarred and in some places unreconstructed. Moreover, he adds, Iwabuchi’s orgy of violence was not an isolated instance of soldiers without any other hope playing out their last traces of aggression against an enemy that could not fight back. Instead, it was “a pattern of Japanese brutality that played out across Asia,” a bookend to the Rape of Nanking. Scott’s narrative, studded with nearly unimaginable atrocity, makes for difficult reading, but one cannot argue with that thesis after reading about babies bayoneted in the face, women gang-raped by squadrons of soldiers, and men burned alive. Iwabuchi killed himself rather than face justice, and not many Japanese soldiers survived the relentless American siege. As for Yamashita, though there is some evidence to suggest that he truly had no control over the rogue commander and his troops, he was hanged as a war criminal, a fate that few readers will lament.
Painful but necessary reading for students of World War II.