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Did the Bataan Death March speed up Philippine Independence?
Memorial Day is a US holiday began to honor soldiers who died fighting to protect the freedoms enjoyed by citizens of the USA, like myself. It is not a day to thank veterans for their service with a handshake or pat on the back and a sincere, “Thank you for your service!” It is a day to: put a flower or wreath on their grave, say a prayer for their peace, or light a candle in memory of our fallen defenders of freedom.
On December 7, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which was a US territory at the time. On December 8, 1941, the Empire of Japan attacked the Philippines, which was a US commonwealth at the time. The US was drawn into World War II. The Allies decided to focus attention on defeating Nazi Germany first. This meant little was done to support the US and Filipino troops who faced a Japanese invasion. Manila fell in less than a month because General Douglas MacArthur decided to spare the city from becoming a battlefield. Brave but ill-equipped, ill-trained and ill-lead US and Filipino soldiers fought a losing battle for 3 months. The US and Filipino defenders surrendered to the superior Japanese force.
The Japanese Army had captured about 10,000 US soldiers and 66,000 Filipino soldiers. The Japanese decided to force these soldiers, who were half-starved and battle-worn from 3 months of fighting, to march with little to no food or water for 5-10 days through 100-degree heat to San Fernando, Pampanga where they were loaded onto boxcars and delivered to Camp O’Donnell, Capas, Tarlac. Many US and Filipino soldiers were executed because they were too far gone to march or just because their Japanese captives decided they did not deserve life. The Japanese Army showed little concern or compassion for their captives. The US death toll is record as 500 and the Filipino death toll is listed as 5 times that number at 2,500. At Camp O’Donnell, an additional 1,500 US soldiers and 20,000 Filipinos died due to poor conditions, disease, torture, and murder. The Empire of Japan during World War II was every bit as evil as Nazi Germany.
As the tide of the War in the Pacific turned against Japan and liberation of the Philippines became imminent, the Japanese ordered the execution of prisoners to cover up the atrocities that the Japanese Army had committed against US and Filipino POW’s. The Raid at Cabanatuan was a joint US and Filipino rescue of POW’s, who recounted their treatment and exposed the cruelty of the Japanese Army . The immediate result was stronger reserve to defeat the Empire of Japan.
In the longer term I do think that the actions of Filipinos during the war lead to a greater respect from the people of the USA toward the Filipino people; although, many of the promises made to Filipino soldiers were broken by the US government. I feel that from fighting together against a common foe the US and Filipino soldiers formed a bond of mutual respect. I feel the horrible experiences that was shared by US and Filipino soldiers speed the process of Philippine Independence, which the US had begun in 1935, when it established the Commonwealth of the Philippines and Filipinos had been allowed limited self-rule. Less than a year after the end of WW II the Philippines was granted her independence on July 4, 1946.
I have heard some simplistic comments made verbally and in print of how the USA saved the Philippines from the Empire of Japan. I find some fault in this based on the facts. The Philippines was still a possession of the USA before World War II and immediately after. When the Japanese were driven out the USA took back its property from Japan. Secondly, the USA was not fighting the Japanese with the goal of freeing the Philippines. The goal of the USA in WW II was to defeat the great evil of fascist governments in Germany, Italy and Japan, who were working for world enslavement. The people of the USA along with the people of the Philippines fought together to defeat this evil. This article is written to recognize the great an ultimate sacrifice that US and Filipino soldiers made in defense of the US Commonwealth of the Philippines.
Memorial Day weekend is celebrated at the end of May each year in the USA and is considered the beginning of summer. Many people in the USA will go to beaches and grill out and this is good and fine. I will be attending the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Memorial Day weekend with my eldest son and 200,000 strangers. We went last year and NASCAR does a pretty good job of remembering our war dead, . The drivers had the names of fallen soldiers on their cars where their names normally would appear and were racing in honor of the fallen. Freedom is not free. I feel it is important to remember and recognize our fallen heroes. If anyone feels the urge to recognize a fallen US or Filipino soldier feel free to in the comments section and if you want to thank a living veteran for their service any day is a good day!
In rememberence of ALL the men who fought for the Philippines & freedom from Japanese rule !
Thank you! That was my main point Filipinos were our allies during WW II. I intended to honor bot the US and Filipinos who struggled against the Empire of Japan. The Philippine people earned US respect. I think to an extent they got it, but historically the narrative changed over time.
I am an American and so, supposedly, are you. Just know that when you trivialize the American soldiers’ contribution of the ultimate to defeating the Japanese by elevating yourself in high moral platitudes relative to our true intentions, you are speaking only for yourself, not for me. You are wrong in your opinions related to American loyalty and generosity and actual dieing for the people here. Shame on you as a fellow American, trying to make a point in an attempt to be perceived as interesting.
I do not think I wrote anything about me being a great person. I do not think I trivialized American soldiers’ contribution to defeating the Empire of Japan. Both the USA and the Philippines were attacking by Japan. The US and Filipino soldiers fought together as allies to drive the Japanese invaders out. My intent was to honor both US and Filipino soldiers for their contribution and sacrifice.
Jay, Thank you for you article, it is well thought out and well written. I have been to the American Cemetery in Manila several times over the years, first time in 1972 and my last time was 2017. As I look the names that include several from my family I believe I know why I love these islands. Several members of my family are listed on the walls. And I know in talking with my mother years ago that other members of the family were proud to have served with their brothers in arms from here during the war.
I was riding on Sat and ended up in Capas. Nice memorial but doubt any one knew what it was about. Also some bust of a 3star general named Ravina. Have no idea who he was. Too bad I cant attach pics.
Is that the Philippine version of Rolling Thunder here in D.C.?
Thanks for your comment! Unfortunately the sacrifices of past generations are often forgotten. When I submitted the article, Bob pointed out that Memorial Day is a US holiday not a Philippine one. I think it is important to remember the sacrifices of past generations and honor them!
Thank you for your comment and compliment! My intent in the article was to honor the heroes of WW II specifically the ones who fought in the Philippines, both US and Filipino.
Enjoyed the article. It reminded me of some of the postings and email correspondence that I used to have with the late Norman Sisson.
We used to trade pictures and research that we had done.
If this type of history is an area of interest to you, feel free to have Bob send me your email of vice versa.
Thank you for your comment and compliment! I miss hearing Norman’s take on history. It was ad that he passed so young.
Compelling article on Memorial Day Jay. Well researched and thoughtful questions. Thank you. -Rob
Never again should the Filipino people have to witness such atrocities. But new evil is still across the water. We can only pray, for that is the only weapon they have today.
It is important that we learned from history and not repeat the mistakes of the past. Thanks for your comment!
Unfortunately, I believe a good portion of the free world still does not learn from history and does not adequately fund it’s military. When evil leaders perceive weakness, it creates a dangerous situation.
The USA was certainly not prepared for the Japanese attacks at Pearl Harbor or 8 hours later in the Philippines. Thanks for your comment! It is indeed important to learn from history.
Great post for Memorial Day, I hope I can get this in before midnight EST. To answer your question, Jay, I don’t see how the Bataan Death March could have speeded up Philippine independence, in fact it slowed it down by about 5 years. Philippine Independence was on its way to fruition when it was interrupted by World War II, more precisely by Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. (World War II is said to have started earlier in Europe when Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939). Up to that time, the U.S. had one… Read more »
Hi John, You are operating under the assumption that the US government would have kept its word to the Filipino people. The US government and governments in general have a rather spotty record keeping its word. Part of not keeping its word for the US is that the government changes with elections. A recent example is the Iran Nuclear deal. I don’t have the desire or knowledge to go into who is right or wrong President Obama or President Trump, I am just saying the US government changes with each election. I do think democracy is great, but it leads… Read more »
Great info of which i had no knowledge of. Hope you and your son had a great time at the Coca Cola 600. Fox used to show NASCAR here, but for some reason they stopped this year.
Thanks for the comment and compliment! We had a great time, but my ears just stopped ringing after a day or so. Sorry that you could not see the race. The last stage was a little boring as Kyle Bush ran away with the race. It wasn’t competitive.
A good read on the opening moments of WWII in the Philippines (remember that December 8 in the Philippines was December 7 in Hawaii and the continental US, courtesy of the International Date Line) through to the revelation of the atrocities that occurred in the Philippines is the book “Escape From Davao: The Forgotten Story of the Most Daring Prison Break of the Pacific War” by John D. Lukacs. It chronicles the experiences of LT William “Ed” Dyess, USAAF during those most trying days and the suppression of those atrocities after Dyess had reported them into print.
Hi Paul, Thanks for the comment and compliment it means a lot coming from someone with your background which includes service in the US Navy as I recall. I suspect you know quite a bit more about the history surrounding WW II in general and the fighting in the Philippines during WW II. Thank you for your service as well as all the veterans! My understanding is that the air raid in the Philippines happened about 8 hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor and that General MacArthur was aware of the Pearl Harbor attack. Thanks for suggesting the book… Read more »
Hi Jay – Yes, the time of the “early Sunday morning” attack at Pearl Harbor, if reading a watch in Manila, was around 2:00AM, December 8. Aerial attacks on Philippine sites would have to wait until daylight, but Japanese bombers and escorts left their airfields in Formosa (Taiwan, today) before dawn. Coincidentally, Japanese seapower had drawn down to pre-arranged staging areas in preparation for landings of Imperial Army and Marine forces. Those on Luzon experienced “fly-overs” made by “peaceful” Japanese planes on reconnaissance missions during daylight hours on December 6th and 7th, and correctly anticipated war within 24-48 hours. Limited… Read more »
Hi Paul, Thanks again for the information! Philippine independence came less than a year after the conclusion of WW II. When I wrote the article my thinking was that this was because the US gained respect for Filipinos due to witnessing the bravery of the Filipino soldiers who contributed to expelling the Japanese at great cost of American and Filipino lives. Further research has made me question that assumption. Nothing in my research has changed my belief that the brave soldiers both Filipino and American deserve to be honored! Politicians of the era I am not so sure about. Peace… Read more »
It is interesting to note that during WWII, Filipinos are so hell bent driven to win their independence that they never stopped to think they could be much worse rulers than the conquerors they were trying to kick out. As the national hero Jose Rizal once said, the slaves of today would be the oppressors of tomorrow. How right he turned out to be!!! P.S. I’m filipino so this ain’t a foreigner rant. 🙂
I can see an argument for Filipinos being better off during US rule, but not under Japan.