Tuesday, January 29, 2008


It is a beautiful sculpture in Intramuros, Manila, created to commemorate the victims of the Battle for Manila.

Although fought for only a month -- from February 3 to March 3 -- by Filipino, American and Japanese forces, the Battle for Manila was the worst and most devastating urban fighting in the entire Pacific theater.

An estimated 20,000 Japanese troops under Rear-Admiral Sanji Iwabuchi conducted a scorched earth policy on the city and committed atrocities against the civilian residents, while the American liberation forces under the command of General Robert Beitler, US Army 37th Division, continually shocked and awed the city with intense carpet bombing.

Such sheer madness brought on by twisted fanaticism and dubious heroism reduced Manila to rubbles within a mere single month period. Manila was slowly rebuilt after the war, all right; however, it never regained its status of being one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

In their analysis, a trio of British historians have likened the Battle for Manila to "a Greek tragedy, with the main actors drawn inexorably toward a bloody climax by forces largely outside their control." Indeed, neither MacArthur nor General Tomoyuki Yamashita, the Japanese commander in the Philippines, wanted to fight there. But each made decisions which made the battle inevitable: MacArthur by racing madly toward Manila without leaving the Japanese a way out, Yamashita by failing to force the commander of his Naval Defense Force to evacuate the city when he had the chance. Although greatly outnumbered, the Japanese improvised effective defenses which forced the Americans to reluctantly use major artillery to dislodge them. In fact, the American bombardment may have killed more people than the Japanese did, and certainly caused more physical damage. But whatever the factors which conspired to cause it, the destruction of Manila stands as one of the great tragedies of the Second World War. - PBS.org

In today's Manila Bulletin, Mayor Alfredo S. Lim has announced that the City of Manila will observe with solemnity this coming Sunday the 63rd Anniversary of the Battle for Manila. It will take place at the Freedom Triangle of the Manila City Hall.

After the memorial, Mayor Lim will open Kagitingan at Kalayaan, a photo exhibition of the devastated "Pearl of the Orient." The exhibit will be held at the Bulwagang Rodriguez, on the second floor of Manila City Hall. It is sponsored by the Manila Historical and Heritage Commission in cooperation with the Museo ng Maynila.

The National Historical Institute formally changed the name of "Liberation of Manila" to "Battle for Manila."

Bombs dropped on Manila. From the Wisconsin Digital Archives (SEAiT) -US National Archives

Related links:

The Battle for Manila (February-March, 1945) - PBS.org

The Battle for Manila - Crossbreak's Journal


posted by Señor Enrique at 6:01 AM


Anonymous rhodora said...

Oh, I love this picture. Look at those kids innocently playing around the sculpture. What contrast it depicts. Thanks for this brush on history again, Eric. :)

January 29, 2008 7:23 AM  

Anonymous bertN said...

I read somewhere that Manila was the most devastated city during World War II after Warsaw. What an unmitigated tragedy! I wonder if it would have been better for us if the US Navy's plan to invade Formosa prevailed over MacArthur's desire to fulfill his promise of "I shall return". Just a thought.

January 29, 2008 8:53 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

This group of children wearing their Sunday best, does give this photograph an added dimension, so to speak. Glad you like it, Rhoda.

As for the tragic piece of history attached to the sculpture, if you follow the pbs.org link, you will come across the part that mentions the name of Gen. Charles Willoughby, which reads in part:


But as MacArthur's own intelligence chief, General Charles Willoughby, observed after the war, "From the day of his confident parting message to the Filipinos, 'I shall return,' no deviation from MacArthur's single-minded plan is discernible. Every battle action in New Guinea, every air raid on Rabaul or PT-boat attack on Japanese barges in the Bismark Sea, was a mere preliminary for the reconquest of the Philippines.


Reason I pointed this out is I was reading an excerpt from David Halberstam's book, "The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War" in Vanity Fair. The article claims that Willoughby "cooked" the intelligence reports -- that there was only a "handful" of Chinese troop presence in North Korea when in fact they amounted to about 250,000.

MacArthur was reportedly hell-bent on chasing the retreating North Koreans to the Chinese border that nothing would stop him -- not orders from Washington, not intelligence reports that Mao's troops were building up in the area. And it was Willoughby who provided the bogus intelligence that supported MacArthur's intention.

In other words, it appeared that whatever MacArthur set his eye on, it was Willoughby who provided the supporting evidence -- however spurious and self-fabricated -- just to support MacArthur's intentions; despite the inevitable casualties and collateral damages that his intentions may incur.

Hence, as a result, this MacArthur-Willoughby tandem caused hundreds of Americans getting slaughtered at Unsan, one of the worst defeats of the Korean War. Immediately afterwards, Washington stripped MacArthur off of his command and ordered him to return to the States.

I can only surmise that perhaps, this magnificent duo "might" have unnecessarily caused the systematic destruction of Manila.

Also, I had the pleasure of meeting Arnold Azurin of UP. I brought up this devastation of Manila during the liberation. He recommended that I read Theodore Friend's book, "Between Two Empires" (Harvard Press). Supposedly, this should explain in large part, why the Japanese and Americans destroyed Manila as if with extreme malice and prejudice.

I am now looking for these two books. I'd appreciate it if fellow bloggers could lead me to where I may be able to buy them locally. If not, I'll have to order from the States. Thanks all!

January 29, 2008 9:05 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I was a big fan of MacArthur when I was a kid, BertN. However, the older I get, the more that same question you ask would haunt me -- Was it really necessary to blow up Manila into smithereens? And would we ever know the answer?

January 29, 2008 9:36 AM  

Anonymous rhodora said...

"Willoughby "cooked" the intelligence reports"

But why would he do such fabrications? And would MacArthur be so naive as not to verify or doubt Willoughby's reports?

Oh, history is my worst subject, next to Math... hehehe.

Hope you can find that book, Eric. Perhaps, they have it in history sections of the libraries in top schools in Manila? UP, particularly.

January 29, 2008 10:00 AM  

Anonymous rhodora said...

Oh, I get it. I read the above quotes again. It appears that Willoughby's reports were only to "justify" MacArthur's intentions. It was a tandem.

Ah, as history professors always warn: Be wary of history books you read. Many of them are covered with cosmetics. :)

January 29, 2008 10:15 AM  

Anonymous rhodora said...

Pardon me, Eric. I just want to add.

I think it's an issue of "the means justifies the end."

Sad - this discovery on MacArthur. Nonetheless he is much revered by many Filipinos. He probably has the longest stretch of road/highway named after him in the whole archipelago. Not to mention the busts, monuments of his image erected in some MacArthur parks. Here in Pangasinan alone, there is a never ending debate on where MacArthur had his second landing - either in Lingayen or Dagupan beach. But the naughty me only remembers that when the Leyte landing was reenacted few years back, the actor who played the role of MacArthur tripped and fell on his face. hahaha. Sorry... got carried away. LOL!

January 29, 2008 10:24 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Because MacArthur was notorious for demanding everything his way, while Willoughby was a quintessential "bootlicker."

Why would MacArthur verify/question Willoughby's intelligence reports when they were actually tailored to suit his needs. MacArthur could also use suce reports to argue his case in Washington.

Supposedly, MacArthur kept an inner circle that reflected his every whim and belief. No underling would dare question/oppose his decisions.

Many military officials later on suggested that Willoughby ought to have been tried and executed because the authentic intelligence reports he suppressed and the bogus ones he issued were acts akin to treason.

I hope so, too, Rhoda. Those books may prove enlightening :)

January 29, 2008 10:31 AM  

Anonymous rhodora said...

Ooops.. it should be: "the end justifies the means." Got mixed up. :)

January 29, 2008 10:55 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I was so much in awe of MacArthur that much like a true ham, I played the role of MacArthur at a school play (elementary). However, in succeeding acting and public speaking opportunities from that time on, I'd avoid like a plague. Can you believe that? I had no stage fright as MacArthur ... hehehe

The famous landing picture on Life Magazine was supposedly taken three times. First try, the general tripped and fell into the water; second was fine, except he got wind that a Life photographer was in the area. So they had to redo the landing again for the third time for "the camera."

Unlike Eisenhower, MacArthur agitated Washington because of his "prima donna" antics. No wonder he lost his bid for the presidency.

Ike served as one. And very well at that, too.

January 29, 2008 10:58 AM  

Blogger Panaderos said...

Senor Eric,

A book came out back in 2000 on the Battle of Manila called "Warsaw of Asia: The Rape of Manila" written by Prof. Jose Ma. Bonifacio M. Escoda. I like the book in the sense that it discussed the lives of a number of prominent Manila citizens before and during the war of Manila. It told of their suffering and death at the hands of the Japanese during the liberation. It was a very interesting read.

I got the book as a gift from my sister. She got it from Powerbooks. I hope it's still available for people are interested to know what price we had to pay to get "liberated" from the Japanese.

January 29, 2008 11:00 AM  

Blogger Yam said...

It's a good thing Lolo & Lola did a great job of staying alive back then. :)

January 29, 2008 11:35 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Thanks, Panaderos! I had just included "Warsaw of Asia" to my 'to buy book list.'

Undoubtedly, the Japanese military of World War II was one of the most brutal in the annals of infamy -- gaining much pleasure from inflicting atrocious cruelties to the civilian population not only in the Philippines but in China (Nanjing Massacre) as well.

One book I have on this is "The Brutal Holocaust" by Armando A. Ang. I must admit I had a tough time reading it because of the myriad number of horrific acts committed by the Japanese troops against the Filipino civilians.

Another book I have is "Myself, Elsewhere" by Carmen Guerrero Nakpil. One of the things she fondly described was the original charming district of Ermita, which was completely devastated by the massive carpet bombing during the liberation. She also mentioned of family members executed by the Japanese.

Incidentally, you may want to check out her daughter Gemma Cruz-Araneta's column in today's Manila Bulletin - "Courage and Freedom."

Here's an excerpt:


Japanese and American casualties were minimal compared to the one hundred thousand (100,000) non-combatant Manila civilians who were burnt and tortured to death and who perished in the carpet bombings. Moreover, the destruction of Manila is considered the worst in the WW II Pacific Theater. Gone was the "Pearl of the Orient," a uniquely beautiful city that boasted of cultural influences from four continents.

Like other turning points in our history, the commemoration of the Second World War specially the "Battle for Manila" is in danger of being distorted, if not forgotten. Because Japan has become an indispensable economic force in the Philippines, it has made deliberate efforts to obliterate residual anti-Japanese feelings by promoting ostensibly cultural activities precisely in February, our month of national bereavement.


You may read her complete column here:


January 29, 2008 11:40 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Am most appreciative that my parents were also able to survive the war, Yam, though my mother almost never made it.

As I had once blogged:

"Although my mother rarely spoke about it, she went through harrowing experiences during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. At that time, my three eldest siblings were already born, though the youngest was a mere infant then. With my father being hunted by the Japanese for having provided munitions to some guerilla forces in Zambales, she and my father spent most of the occupation period evading capture; moving from province to province, as well as hiding up in the mountains with three young kids in tow.

She was also stricken with malaria a month or so before liberation. Had it not been for a couple of guerillas who braved the treacherous travel to meet the American forces to get the required medicine, she never would have made it. Thus, having lived through such perilous wartime experiences, she would become a mother obsessed with providing comfort and safety for her children — to a fault at times."

Read complete entry here:


January 29, 2008 11:59 AM  

Blogger luna miranda said...

Thanks for this post, Eric. Sometimes, we needed to be reminded of our history. I read the inscription on this monument---it says:

"This memorial is dedicated to all those innocent victims of war, many of whom went nameless and unknown to a common grave, or even never knew a grave at all, their bodies having been consumed by fire or crushed to dust beneath the rubble of ruins."

"Let this monument be the gravestone for each and every one of the over 100,000 men, women, children and infants killed in Manila during its battle of liberation, February 3 - March 3, 1945. We have not forgotten them, nor shall we ever forget."

"May they rest in peace as part now of the sacred ground of this city: the Manila of our affections."

My paternal grandfather, a history buff, entertained me and my siblings with stories of WW II. He was a guerrilla during the war, and throughout his life, until his death more than 10 years ago, he never trusted the Japanese or the Americans. My grandmother also told us how they lived underground for months during the war, eating cassava and sometimes just water for days.

My maternal grandfather, on the other hand, was beheaded by Japanese soldiers after being accused of being a spy for the guerrilla movement by a 'makapili'. Those were sad times for our country where we lost not only innocent lives but irreplaceable culture treasures.

My grandmother used to say that the 'younger' people who march & want war never realized what real war is all about.

January 29, 2008 2:22 PM  

Anonymous dave said...

I also knew that MacArthur re-did the landing for the cameras, but I don't know that he actually fell on the first try. So the anniversary re-enactment was actually accurate!

I've read ace pilot Villamor's adventures during the initial Japanese air raids. It's funny how he recounts his daring, but it's sad at the same time since the brave American and Filipino soldiers were not given a fair fighting chance due to lapses in strategy from the leaders.

January 29, 2008 4:38 PM  

Anonymous dave said...

By the way, Señor E, I have a new entry about 2012, hope you could check it out tonight ;)

January 29, 2008 4:40 PM  

Blogger Urbano dela Cruz said...

S. Enrique,

Here are four photos that show the extent of the devastation of Manila from the air (from the US National Archives).

Of course they do not capture the human suffering but they do show the scale of the destruction. Compare the fabric of the city in the first photo and notice how few of our buildings are left standing.


January 29, 2008 4:41 PM  

Anonymous crossbeak said...

I did some search engine on the war to supplement what my mother told me and part of it is the devastation of Manila...
see http://crossbeak.blogspot.com/2007/10/we-are-from-that-part-of-manila-south.html
...and like you, I started having a change of hearts about our American liberators. Anyway, it seems that other cities like Singapore and Hong Kong were spared because the Japanese have surrendered after the atomic bombs were dropped at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Someone said that the Americans could have restrained and engage the enemy as they did to capture UST to save American prisoners. Or should we blame the Japanese for putting up a fight?

January 29, 2008 5:43 PM  

Anonymous rhodyl said...

nice.... very nice.. just dropping by

January 29, 2008 8:17 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Hi Rhodyl! Thanks for dropping by :)

January 30, 2008 8:49 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

"Anyway, it seems that other cities like Singapore and Hong Kong were spared because the Japanese have surrendered after the atomic bombs were dropped at Nagasaki and Hiroshima."

Interesting point here, Crossbreak. I'll wait until I read "Between Two Empires" and perhaps, it may reveal why Manila wasn't spared as these other Asian cities.

I had linked your article with this post. Many thanks!

January 30, 2008 8:52 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Along Rizal Avenue, Urbano, only the Avenue Theater was left standing after this battle. And on the second photo you had shared with us, it looked like Manila City Hall.

I had borrowed one of the photos to include on this post. Trust it's all right with you.

Many thanks, Urbano!

January 30, 2008 8:54 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

"So the anniversary re-enactment was actually accurate!"

It seemed that way, Dave ... hehehe.

Yes, in fairness, I must point out that for every plane MacArthur received for his Pacific Campaign, Eisenhower got nine. And supposedly, Eisenhower lost more men in the Battle of Normandy than MacArthus did in the entire Pacific Campaign. This was, of course, as written by William Manchester's "The American Ceasar." This author was a big fan of MacArthur.

I did check out your recent entry on 2012. Fascinating, indeed. Thanks!

January 30, 2008 8:59 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Thank you for sharing with us that poignant aspect of your family's history with us, Luna.

My father was pointed out by a "makapili" (a childhood friend of his it turned out) and picked up by the Japanese to be brought to their garrison. However, to this day, my mother couldn't figure out how my father talked his way out of it and managed to be set free. But then they spent the entire war period constantly moving and evading arrest by the Japanese.

There are indeed many horrific tales of atrocities that our elders suffered from the Japanese occupying forces; not to mention the starvation that usually comes with the war.

I hope that the Philippines does not have to experience war ever again.

January 30, 2008 9:07 AM  

Blogger Ang Kuwago said...

As if spoken by my grandmother, who survived the war by spending her time rowing along the Pasig river, who had 2 brothers politician killed by the Japanese, and 3 sisters who fought as guerillas under Gen. Allejo Santos:

"Pray you never see another war again"

She is still alive, kicking, and is the best pack rat I have ever seen. She has stashes of everything, seemingly preparing for another war.

Funny thing is, she found some old war documents of my lolo, her husband, serving as a covert military doctor during the war, and she never even suspected it.

January 30, 2008 10:40 AM  

Blogger Urbano dela Cruz said...

you're more than welcome, enrique.

and yes, that is Manila city hall in the second photo, looking southwest to east. you can make out the walls of intramuros on the upper left hand side. pasig river would be past the upper right.

You can also see the city hall peeking just to the lower left side of the bomb in the photo you posted.

the third photo is the post office, with plaza lawton, intramuros and the port moving up and away from the building.

the fourth shot shows binondo, north of the river -with the post office on the extreme lower left corner of the picture.

--I believe the term is "carpet bombing"


January 30, 2008 1:59 PM  

Blogger Lawstude said...

Another lovely and educational post señor. I just can't help but feel honored on how our brave countrymen fought for our liberation. If only they are still alive to witness on how our government are doing now.

January 30, 2008 2:53 PM  

Blogger Sidney said...

War does not determine who is right - only who is left.
-Bertrand Russell-

January 30, 2008 4:07 PM  

Blogger pusa said...

that was a really sad part of our history, i'm not sure if you've already read and seen photos of this but when i read this (sent to me by a reader) i cant help but cry http://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images/view?back=http%3A%2F%2Fimages.search.yahoo.com%2Fsearch%2Fimages%3Fp%3Dbattle%2Bfor%2Bmanila%2B1945%26toggle%3D1%26ei%3DUTF-8%26qp_p%3Dbattle%2Bmanila%2B1945%26imgsz%3Dall%26fr%3Dyfp-t-501%26b%3D1&w=700&h=644&imgurl=www.battlingbastardsbataan.com%2Fmaniladestroyed3.jpg&rurl=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.asiafinest.com%2Fforum%2Flofiversion%2Findex.php%2Ft28916.html&size=201.5kB&name=maniladestroyed3.jpg&p=battle+for+manila+1945&type=jpeg&no=1&tt=21&oid=a58455d4915f560c&ei=UTF-8

January 30, 2008 5:10 PM  

Blogger pusa said...

and this too http://www.battlingbastardsbataan.com/som.htm

January 30, 2008 5:12 PM  

Anonymous estan said...

the battle for manila is really one of the most devastating in world, second only to warsaw. and the sad thing about it, the glorious churches of intramuros were lost except for san agustin

January 30, 2008 6:15 PM  

Blogger ScroochChronicles said...

My late dad would tell us stories about the war. He was a young kid when it happened. They were living in Singalong which was practically ground zero. My lolo was also taken by the Japs because he was a Vanguard. According to my dad, they beat him up first before taking him in. My lola signed to be an English teacher to the Japs just so she could visit my lolo in Fort Santiago. My lolo was with fellow Ilocanos in the selda. Eventually one of them would rise to be President. He was Elpidio Quirino. After the war my lolo was walking along Escolta when the motorcade of Quirino passed by. The president jumped out and they both started crying on the street. Drama no :)

January 30, 2008 6:46 PM  

Anonymous Traveler on Foot said...


I've seen a lot of World War II images about the destruction of Manila. But nothing can be more devastating after learning the stories of those who survived the carnage on that fatal February of 1945.

I believe that nobody wins in a war. Both the American and the Japanese forces had their casualties but what a terrible lost for those innocent men, women and children who were caught between the crossfire.

I pray and hope that no other war follows after the last one.

January 30, 2008 10:29 PM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Yesterday, while in Quiapo, Traveler, I stopped by for a bottle of mineral water at neighborhood sari-sari store. The father of the owner, as usual, was sitting in front so I sat next to and brought up the anniversary of the liberation.

He, too, had many harrowing experiences to share. He was a mere 22 year old at that time.

At one point of our conversations, I felt kinda bad I had provoked some painful memories to come up, because he got teary while recalling some of which. But as I got up to leave. He thanked me for listening.

He, too, wishes that no one ever experience the madness of war.

January 31, 2008 6:33 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I can only surmise, Connie, that the president and your lolo shared something so painful and terrifying that the experience bound them together spiritually. And that seeing each other once again stirred up an emotion so great only they could fathom.

January 31, 2008 6:36 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I can only imagine, Estan, that whoever were those really responsible for having destroyed Manila, must've been harboring an anger in such magnitude that they could literally obliterate something so beautiful without any remorse.

Shame on them!

January 31, 2008 6:42 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

Thanks for sharing, Pusa.

From the site, what piqued my curiosity the most was the faces of the Japanese prison guards:


January 31, 2008 6:47 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

That quote, Sidney, reminds me of the final line spoken by the Japanese guard waiting for his trial at the end of the war in the movie, "Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence.

That line is so true.

January 31, 2008 6:49 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

"If only they are still alive to witness on how our government are doing now."

After having initially read this, Lawstude, I couldn't help but be deeply saddened. Worst part of it all, we lack a "true" leader to date.

January 31, 2008 6:52 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

I had goose bumps while reading your description and studying each photograph, Urbano.

What a shame, really. What a shame.

January 31, 2008 6:55 AM  

Blogger Senor Enrique said...

"She is still alive, kicking, and is the best pack rat I have ever seen. She has stashes of everything, seemingly preparing for another war."

Some may perceive your grandmother's disposition as rather peculiar, Kuwago; amusing even. But allow me to quote a passage from Carmen Guerrero Nakpil's memoirs, "Myself, Elsewhere:"


The Japanese occupation was my generation's trial by fire. Most of us were dross before it was over, because we had been at our most vulnerable when the war broke out. We were core-soft with optimism and well-being; the copra, hemp and sugar trade; Hollywood and the Filipino dream of being little brown American masters of the Pacific. Bataan and Corregidor turned out to be national suicide and the Americans had abandoned us.

The worst of it was the moral disaster it inflicted. Good and evil, right and wrong were pragmatic decisions. Fathers hid tins of meat from their children, brothers informed on their brothers, everyone was some kind of prostitute.


One of my best friend's mother was a survivor of a Nazi death camp. Her painful memories and commentaries at times included this subject of "moral disaster" that any war could inflict on anyone.

To date, she, too, has a closet-full of "stashes" like your grandmother.

January 31, 2008 7:26 AM  

Blogger nutart said...

War has always been horrible for everyone except those who relish it. My father has one poignant memory of the Japanese occupation. He was about 9 years old and they lived in a big house in Tondo. There was about 8 families sharing that house. In their small room, a Japanese soldier would visit them every now and then. They (my father's family) don't speak Japanese and the Japanese guy nary a word in Tagalog nor English. But he would share stories about his family and life in Japan through drawings and sketches. I really do not know the other details of how they got to have this Japanese man's friendship. But, also after watching the VCD "Fog of War" featuring Mcnamara (the "architect of the Hiroshima bombing) I was apalled by the way he looked at lives---merely statistics. Mcnamara is (or was) with the World Bank. My sense of aghast is beyond words.

January 31, 2008 8:48 AM  

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Life in Manila as observed by a former New Yorker who with a laptop and camera has reinvented himself as a storyteller. Winner of the PHILIPPINE BLOG AWARDS: Best Photo Blog in 2007 and three Best Single Post awards in 2008.


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