Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila

Image of Rampage: MacArthur, Yamashita, and the Battle of Manila
Release Date: 
October 30, 2018
W. W. Norton & Company
Reviewed by: 

“Rampage reminds us once again that man’s inhumanity to man belies the notion of human progress. The massacres in Manila that he so painstakingly details, take their place among the 20th century’s most monstrous and lurid crimes.”

James M. Scott’s Rampage is a horrifyingly unforgettable book about the World War II Battle of Manila. It vividly describes 29 days of systematic rape, pillage, plunder, and murder committed by Japanese troops against innocent Filipino men, women, and children as American forces fought to liberate a city that was once called the Pearl of the Orient.

On October 20, 1944, General Douglas MacArthur kept a promise he made three years before by returning to liberate the Philippines from Japanese control. MacArthur had reluctantly abandoned his forces and left the island of Corregidor on March 11, 1942, when ordered to do so by President Roosevelt.

MacArthur’s forces had waged a remarkable air-sea-land campaign in the southwest Pacific, with the goal of retaking the Philippines and using the islands as a base to invade the main islands of Japan. He successfully lobbied FDR to strike at the Philippines in spite of the U.S. Navy’s preference for seizing Formosa (Taiwan) instead.

Scott notes that for MacArthur, the liberation of Manila and the Philippines was personal. MacArthur’s father, General Arthur MacArthur, had led American forces there during and after the Spanish-American War. Douglas MacArthur served several tours of duty in the Philippines, and in the mid-to-late 1930s was America’s top commander there and held the rank of Field Marshal of the Filipino Army.

MacArthur met his second wife en route to the Philippines and raised their son Arthur there, residing on the top floor of the Manila Hotel. MacArthur’s mother, to whom he was devoted and who traveled to the Philippines with the general in 1935, died there a few months after their arrival. In a very real sense, as the author notes, when American forces reached the outskirts of Manila in late January 1945, Douglas MacArthur was coming home.

The Japanese forces that held Manila were under the command of General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the victor (over the British) at the Battle of Singapore. After that victory, he was known as the Tiger of Malaya. Yamashita landed in the Philippines on October 9, 1944, 11 days before MacArthur famously waded ashore on the island of Leyte.

American forces subsequently landed at Lingayen Gulf on January 9, 1945, after being subjected to kamikaze attacks that killed 738 sailors and wounded more than a thousand. From there, it was a little more than a hundred miles to Manila.

Scott describes MacArthur’s invasion plan as a two-pronged attack: the Sixth Army under Lt. General Walter Krueger “raced south toward Clark Field and Manila,” while the Eighth Army under Lt. General Robert Eichelberger “would drive across the Bataan Peninsula.” MacArthur emphasized the need for speed. He later wrote: “I knew that many of these half-starved and ill-treated people would die unless we rescued them promptly.”

When MacArthur left Manila for Corregidor in December 1941, he declared it an open city, hoping that the civilian population would thereby be saved. He fully expected the Japanese commander to do likewise as American forces advanced to the capital in early 1945. They didn’t.

Scott notes that Yamashita ordered his troops to hold up the enemy’s advance and then abandon the city. Japanese Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi, the commander of the Manila Naval Defense Force, however, was determined to fight it out with U.S. forces entering the city.

For the next 29 days, Japanese forces engaged in what the author rightly calls an orgy of rape and mass murder. Filipino men, women, and children suffered unspeakable horrors. Some women were gang-raped 15–20 times or more. Children and infants were bayoneted to death. Men were beheaded by swords. Japanese marines sliced off women’s and girl’s breasts before killing them.

Japanese troops buried some people alive while others were burned to death. In one instance, writes Scott, the German Club of Manila became “a death chamber for more than five hundred men, women, and children.” As the slaughter continued, an unknowing MacArthur issued press releases declaring that Manila was virtually liberated. That was far from the truth.

Living conditions in the city were atrocious. Internees at the University of Santo Tomas, which Japanese forces took over and converted to a prison in February 1944, suffered from malnutrition and starvation. Those held there ate whatever they could, including dogs, cats, and rats. The Japanese, Scott notes, used starvation as a weapon.

For the American troops, retaking Manila was a street-by-street, building-by-building, room-by-room operation. MacArthur had forbidden his commanders to use air power to defeat Japanese forces holding the city. He only reluctantly permitted the use of artillery. His intent was to spare the city and its inhabitants more destruction than was necessary, but it made the job of the infantry that much harder.

As American forces approached and entered the Intramuros, the ancient walled fortress that “had become one of the last major strongholds for the Japanese in Manila,” the atrocities continued. Japanese troops used women and children as human shields.

Among the ruins of Santa Rosa College, American troops found Rosalinda Andoy, an 11-year-old girl “whom the Japanese had bayoneted thirty-eight times.” She miraculously survived, and Scott notes that she later provided chilling testimony at the war crimes trial of General Yamashita.

By March 3, 1945, the last of the Japanese forces in Manila were killed or surrendered. The Battle of Manila was over. U.S. forces suffered 1,010 killed and 5,565 wounded retaking the capital. Japan lost 16,665 soldiers killed. More than 100,000 civilians lost their lives to Japanese butchery and the inevitable collateral damage of war.

General Yamashita was tried and convicted of war crimes and sentenced to death by hanging, even though he had not directly ordered the atrocities that the troops under his command committed.

Scott describes Yamashita’s trial and fairly presents the evidence and arguments of both the prosecution and the defense. In the end, the presiding judge ruled that “where murder and rape and vicious, revengeful actions are widespread offenses, and there is no effective attempt by a commander to discover and control the criminal acts, such a commander may be held responsible, even criminally liable, for the lawless acts of his troops.”

The U.S. Supreme Court reviewed the case and let the sentence stand. Under the military code of justice, General MacArthur also reviewed it and saw no reason to overturn the verdict or punishment. President Truman likewise refused to commute Yamashita’s sentence, which was carried out on February 23, 1946, almost a year after the battle ended.

Although Scott gives a fair hearing to the critics of the verdict and sentence, he points out that Yamashita’s claims of ignorance of what transpired in Manila in February 1945 is belied by the fact that his headquarters was in wireless contact with commanders in Manila throughout the battle, and he received daily reports and updates from Admiral Iwabuchi.

It is, moreover, hard to argue with Scott’s damning conclusion which is worth quoting in full. “What happened in Manila in February 1945,” he writes, “was not an isolated outbreak of barbarity but part of a pattern of Japanese brutality that played out across Asia, from the Rape of Nanking to the slaughter of an estimated 250,000 Chinese civilians in the aftermath of jimmy Doolittle’s April 1942 raid on Tokyo. Yamashita’s own troops had committed similar atrocities earlier in the war in Malaya, and had America not hanged him, in all likelihood, either the British or Australians would have.”

James Scott’s Rampage reminds us once again that man’s inhumanity to man belies the notion of human progress. The massacres in Manila that he so painstakingly details, take their place among the 20th century’s most monstrous and lurid crimes.