FORT SANTIAGO was the “epicenter of evil” where “the Japanese used starvation as a weapon.” American mining engineer Frank Bacon recalled having only two bowel movements in 25 days; Chinese prisoner Ko King Hun dropped to 68 pounds from 118 in two months, to the point that he could wrap his thumb and index finger around his leg. People were starving in the city of Manila as World War II raged.
Then came the Battle of Manila and for a month, from Feb. 3 to March 3, 1945, the city’s districts burned and the 300-year-old walled city of Intramuros was reduced to rubble as the Japanese occupiers engaged in an orgy of violence — rapes, beheadings, immolations, and many more horrors — while the Americans fought street by street to fulfil Mr. McArthur’s promise. Manila’s residents were caught in the middle — it is estimated that 100,000 civilians died during the month-long battle.
American author James M. Scott gathered testimonies, after-action reports, and survivor interviews about the horrors of the month-long battle for his new book, Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita and the Battle of Manila.
“As a historian and as a writer, you’re always looking for what story has not been told,” Mr. Scott said during the book’s launch at the Ayala Museum on Feb. 12.
The book is divided into four parts which include the events revolving around American General Douglas MacArthur’s vow to return to the Philippines after being forced to escape from Corregidor, the Japanese plans to defeat the Americans, testimony from the war victims, as well as photos and sketches of street fortifications, and maps depicting troop advances. Mr. Scott recounts details of the battle vividly.
During the launch, Mr. Scott noted Gen. MacArthur’s argument with then US president Franklin D. Roosevelt about the United States’ obligation to assist the Philippines.
“(MacArthur) was absolutely right that there was a huge moral commitment by the United States with the need to come back to liberate the Philippines at the earliest possible moment. And also, it’s really important to recognize [that if] the United States [had] not come back to Manila in February, it would have been a different type of catastrophe here. You may have saved the buildings just from being destroyed from fire… but 500 people a day were starving to death — that those numbers were going to climb exponentially,” he said.
“I think one of the most important thing about this story for people to remember is that this is a battle that was borne almost entirely on the backs of the civilians. One hundred civilians died for every one US soldier,” Mr. Scott told BusinessWorld shortly after the book launch.
“So, [if] you really think about that, buildings can be replaced and homes can be rebuilt, but the lives cannot. And that’s what I hope people remember. This is the price paid for war.”
Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita and the Battle of Manila is available at National Bookstore and Fully Booked for P1,645. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman