The month Manila died

Wed, 03/24/2010 - 00:00
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It was meant to be liberation. Instead it became obliteration.

Between February and March, 1945, Japanese and American troops fighting for possession of Manila slaughtered at least 100,000 Filipinos who'd been expecting deliverance. Manila was flattened. By the time the fighting ended, one of Asia's most beautiful cities was reduced to acres of debris, ash and heaps of rubble. The only things standing were burned, blackened stumps and hollowed out shells of buildings.

It was an apocalpyse the city's inhabitants hadn't expected. When 1945 started, many Filipinos were looking forward to being freed from the grasp of a cruel conqueror. In 1942, Japanese invaders had defeated a US army composed largely of Filipinos, most of them untrained. The Japanese had promised an "Asia for the Asians" in a "Co-Prosperity Sphere" free of white imperialists. Instead they simply imposed their own imperialism, maltreating Filipinos, kidnapping women for use in mobile army brothels, seizing, torturing and murdering all who opposed the new rulers

Now it was time for payback: the Americans, commanded by General Douglas Macarthur, had returned in overwhelming strength and Filipino guerrillas were flocking to join them. The Japanese navy and air force were shattered, the army driven back.

General Yamashita Tomoyuki, commander of the Japanese forces in the Philippines, decided to make his stand in the mountains of northern Luzon and ordered his troops out of Manila. According to William B. Breuer in Retaking the Philippines, Yamashita told his staff: "I do not intend to preside over the destruction of Manila."

But one Japanese commander wouldn't follow the script. Rear Admiral Iwabuchi Sanji apparently decided it was up to the navy to uphold the "honor" of the Japanese armed forces. Ignoring Yamashita's orders, the admiral patched together a force of 16,000 naval soldiers and other units, blew up the bridges over the Pasig and systematically fortified Manila, erecting obstacles, pillboxes, trenches and firepoints, and turning massive buildings such as the Post Office and Congress into giant bunkers. The Japanese also occupied and the thick-walled old city of Intramuros, which up to that time was largely intact.

When American troops arrived on February 4, MacArthur was expecting to hold a victory parade. Instead the liberators were met by burning buildings and fanatical defenders.

Binondo burns
Feb 5 1945. Manila burns.View from Binondo.
STM April 23 1967

To show their bravery during the battle, the Japanese soldiers amused themselves by randomly shooting civilians. They also rounded up women and children, locked them inside buildings and set these on fire. They bayonetted babies, raped women, tossed grenades into shelters full of civilians. Alfonso Aluit in By Sword and Fire: The Destruction of Manila in World War II, writes how the Japanese navy had issued the following orders: "When Filipinos are to be killed they must be gathered into one place and disposed of with consideration that ammunition and manpower must not be used in excess. Because the disposal of dead bodies is a troublesome task they should be gathered into houses which are scheduled to be burned or demolished. They should be thrown into the river." Something to remember, the next time the fine old subject of bushido's glories, or the noble spirit of the samurai, comes up.

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