By Craig Scharlin

Book Review
Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the
Battle of Manila
By James M. Scott
Published by W. W. Norton & Company
640 pages

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

George Santayana

JAMES SCOTT’s well researched, moving and emotionally written book Rampage does a unique service for the Filipino people. Perhaps for the first time it allows them to remember and honor those who died from the horrors of the War and, specifically the battle of Manila, in a mature and nuanced way. It allows them to share this experience with the rest of the world, an experience most outsiders have had little understanding of and which Scott’s book goes a long way to finally explain. Unlike other peoples, places, cities around the world who have been able to share and memorialize the “rampages” that came down upon them during World War II, the same can not be said of the people of Manila.

One can view memorials to the fallen in many major cities that suffered during the war, documentaries and movies made, essays and books written about. There’s an old saying, “if it wasn’t written it didn’t happen.” Far too little has been written to bring notice to Filipinos and Americans and recognition shown to the city of Manila that suffered equally if not more than the others. James Scott’s book does a commendable job in bringing back those horrendous memories, in memorializing the tragic events, because once a memory is lost, it is gone forever.

But exactly why did this happen, who was responsible? These important inquiries beg for a more serious investigation. Of course the conclusions are not always black and white and it is no easy task to expose the myths of war and show the extent of suffering and loss on all sides.

It is important that what something like Scott’s book accomplishes should not have only the effect of allowing Filipinos and Americans to memorialize the tragedies of those lost during the battle of Manila, but in so doing not challenge the very reasons that it happened. That can possibly block the path to a fuller understanding and then hopefully a more positive future. If more serious questions as to why and how the events happened are not asked and attempted to be answered then Filipinos, then, like all those who don’t learn from the lessons of the past, they will only be doomed to repeat them.

To get at the question of who was responsible for the horrendous destruction of life and property in the Battle of Manila, the author, in this reader’s estimation, only starts to get at the truth. Considering the length and breadth of his work, he seems to have barely scratched the surface of a broader investigation.

The chapter heading quotes listed below from Scott’s book enumerate in mind-boggling detail horrors committed by the Japanese upon the citizens of Manila. But these accounts leave as much unanswered as they reflect on the cruelties of the Japanese. I have highlighted these chapter headings to point out areas of the story that this reader feels need to be further questioned, challenged, analyzed, and investigated.

• Chapter 16 — “The Western mind cannot grasp the realities of this awful crime. One must grope into the shadows of history to find a parallel. Genghis Khan, the Mongol Horde blazing a trail of utter destruction.” (General Headquarters, South West Pacific Area, Military Intelligence Section, General Staff)

• Chapter 17 — “Cannibals in the lowest strata of life could have pursued no crueler methods.” (Report No. 13, June 11, 1945, War Crimes Branch, Office of the Theater Judge Advocate)

• Chapter 20 — “The Japs have murdered wholesale and retail. To call them beasts would be to slander the beasts; to call them fiends would be to slander the fiends.” (John Osborn, Letter, Feb. 25, 1945)

• Chapter 23 — “There can be no doubt that once again, as in Nanking and Shanghai, the Japanese Armed Forces have shown themselves to be absolutely ruthless, barbaric and brutal.” (Lt. Col. Edmund Stone, Report, Feb. 26, 1945)

• Chapter 24 — “Nothing has seared the hatred against the Japanese in the Filipino heart more deeply than seeing our capital city converted into a funeral pyre.” (Brig. Gen. Carlos Romulo, Free Philippines, Feb. 22, 1945)

To all these chapter heading quotes I think Mark Twain stated best what we must admit, “There are many humorous things in the world: among them, the white man’s notion that he is less savage than the other savages.”

In direct reply to the question of who was ultimately responsible, Philip Vera Cruz’s quote from his memoir comes to mind: “We need the truth more than we need heroes.” And if the process of idolizing certain heroes becomes more important than knowing the truth — as much as it can ever be known — then James Scott’s Rampage will have been for naught.

Prologue — “I consider him an officer of most brilliant attainments.” (Maj. Gen. Charles T. Menoher, Efficiency Report on Douglas MacArthur, Aug. 28, 1919)

It is of interest that Scott chose this quote to start his book with. This of course is a comment about MacArthur as a young man, a student, but doesn’t really speak to his true abilities and record as a commanding officer.

And what exactly is the truth of that record? Scott hints at it but much more needs to be discussed considering the horrendous outcomes from not only MacArthur’s decisions at the end of the war to force the battle of Manila against the position of the Joint Chiefs, but also his decision at the beginning of the war to retreat to Bataan and Corregidor resulting in the greatest defeat of an American army in it’s history and a suffering for the Filipino and American forces equal to that during the battle of Manila at the end of the war.

Many of MacArthur’s highest ranking officers knew he had made fundamental mistakes and acted more out of ego than rationale. As one officer called it, “the missteps, mismanagement and indecision’s were all MacArthurs” (from Tears in the Darkness).

Epilogue, page 741: “MacArthur is still a revered figure by many in the Philippines, more than a half-century after his death in 1964 at the age of 84 and despite the criticism of some that American artillery played a large role in the city’s destruction, both in lives lost and in property ruined.”

“Douglas MacArthur bears as much responsibility as Sanji Iwabuchi for the cruel fate that was inflicted on Manila,” concluded Filipino historian Alfonso Aluit, author of By Sword and Fire.

American William Brady, who survived the Japanese occupation and the battle, agreed. “One side killed and destroyed us willfully,” he wrote, “The other side killed and destroyed us willy-nilly”

The book ends in a very revealing and moving chapter with the telling of the trial of Japanese General Yamashita. Here is a chapter heading quote and an excerpt which start to get at the reality of war and how a victor’s hubris can lead to a loss of moral standing:

Chapter 25 — “An uncurbed spirit of revenge and retribution, masked in formal legal procedure for purposes of dealing with a fallen enemy commander, can do more lasting harm than all of the atrocities giving rise to that spirit.” (Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy, Feb. 4, 1946). This quote is in reference to the war crimes trial of Japanese General Yamashita.

Epilogue, page 739 — “I think we made a hell of a mistake,” George Guy said in 1967. “His (Yamashita’s) case was a sad chapter in our military and judicial history.”

I would recommend anyone with an interest in the World War II in the Philippines read Scott’s book, but I would also suggest one read and investigate further.

For all of Scott’s accomplishments with Rampage, and there are many, it still only starts to tell the complete story, and with a better understanding of that story only then can a true healing of the wounds and memories of that War begin.

(For a book that goes much further than Scott’s in dealing with questions raised in this review, I would recommend Tears in the Darkness by Michael and Elizabeth Norman, in the telling of the story of the surrender of Bataan and the Death March at the beginning of the War.)