Defenders of the Philippine

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Pre-WWII Events

The United States seized the Philippine Islands from Spain in May 1898 after Admiral Dewey’s victory in Manila Bay, during the Spanish-American war. Formal title to the Islands was granted the United States by the Treaty Of Paris in December of that year. By the acquisition of the Philippines the United States in one step advanced its frontiers nearly 7,000 miles across the Pacific Ocean and "gave hostages to fortune in a sense which the American people have never fully realized." Possession of the Islands made the United States an Asiatic power, with full responsibility for maintaining the peace and status quo in that area.

The government of the Islands was placed in the hands first of a Philippine commission and later of a governor general, both appointed by the President of the United States. The Filipinos, once their
opposition ended, were allowed an increasing large measure of self-rule and elected members of the lower house of the legislature. In 1913, they were granted free  trade with the United States, and three years later were permitted limited autonomy. Provisions were then made in 1934 to recognize Philippine independence after a ten-year transitional period. During these ten years, the United States would be allowed to maintain military and other reservations and armed forces. Comprising almost 7,100 islands and islets, the Philippine Archepalego lies approximately 500 miles off the Asiatic mainland and extends 1,150 miles almost due north and south from Formosa to Borneo. Strategically situated in the geographic heart of the Far East, the Islands are centrally located in relation to Japan, China, Burma, French Indochina, Thailand, Malaya, and the Netherlands East Indies. They lie athwart the trade routes leading from Japan and China through the South China Sea to Southeast Asia and the rich supplies of oil and minerals in the Indies.

Before the establishment of the commonwealth Government in 1935, no effort was made to prepare the Philippines for their own defense. The United States had assumed all obligations for national defense and maintained a garrison in the Islands for this purpose. This garrison numbered 10,000 men, half of whom were Philippine Scouts, a U.S. Army unit in which the enlisted men, with some exceptions, were native Filipinos and most of the officers were American. The Philippine Constabulary, first organized in 1901, was the national police force, but by training and organization had a military character.  In 1935 an effort was made to organize a national army. General MacArthur, Majs. Dwight Eisenhower and James B. Ord prepared a plan to provide the Philippine Commonwealth with a system of national security by 1946; the date the Islands would become independent. This plan called for a small regular army, a small air force, and a fleet of motor torpedo boats to repel an enemy landing.

In the middle of 1941, international developments had heightened the tension between the United States and Japan, and made the defense of the Philippine Islands an urgent problem, and then with one smashing blow, the Japanese made obsolete the carefully plans of the defense in event of war in the Pacific in an attack of Pearl Harbor. A few hours later Japanese aircraft attacked the Philippines with a similar devastating blow.

In the midst of all the confusion at home and in the Pacific, the heroic defense of the Philippines stood out like a beacon of hope for the future. There we proved that the Japanese soldier was from invincible. Although his vastly superior forces finally took over the Philippine Islands, the American and Philippine forces under Generals MacArthur and Wainwright exacted a terrible toll of the Japanese forces during the Fil-American stubborn defense of Bataan, Corregidor, and other areas of the Philippine Islands, before our half-starved, malaria-ridden garrison was finally forced to capitulate on May 10, 1942.

It is, of course, a story of defeat; and in defeat there is a natural human tendency to hunt for scapegoats. But to do that here would be merely to delude ourselves. The mistakes that were made at the beginning of the Philippine campaign, as well as the defeat that inevitably terminated it, were all implicit in the situation existing there immediately before the war. The poverty in modern weapons, or in more than one case the actual abject lack of them, had its roots in the situation at home, and for this situation, the people of the United States must hold themselves accountable.

The situation in the Philippines was a close reflection of the situation at home. Undeniably, there were officers stationed on Luzon during the prewar years who only wanted to let things ride along in the old, familiar, easy grooves. Many of them had completely failed to digest the lessons of the war in Europe, nor were they willing to accept opinions of other men who clearly foresaw what was going to happen when the Japanese chose to strike. Too often we were willing to elect legislators who were accustomed to bind America by the limits of their own constituencies and pinch pennies at the expense of the national safety. In the last analysis, it was such "economy" that was responsible for the pitiful and desperate lacks that reached their consummation on Bataan, Corregidor, and other parts of the Philippines.

The men sent out to rectify the situation in the final months had neither means nor time. The reinforcements and material rushed to them were not enough, arrived too late, or did not reach the Philippines at all. One convoy, caught at sea by the outbreak of hostilities, had to be diverted to Australia. It not mean as a "glorious chapter" in our history. Glory is mostly a civilian word and unhappily it is too often used to cover up deficiencies. In the beginning of the war we went hero hunting, if we did not have planes and guns, at least we could have heroes. So we had to have heroes, and we began to think of Bataan and Corregidor in terms of the courage of our men, and the two names have become symbols in the popular mind for something approaching victory.

Increasingly, however, historians reviewing those fateful days, realized that the defense of the Philippines against the overwhelming power of the Japanese Armed Forces, bought for our country added time for which to mobilize our strength and return for final victory. Without that time, the outcome of the war in the Pacific might have been disastrously different, and the course of modern events would have taken a turn from we would have suffered for a lengthy period. The bravery and heroic effort of those defending the Philippines helped America triumph in World War II and preserve the way of life that we hold so dear.

Those who fought so courageously in defending the Philippines subsequently became prisoners of war of the Japanese military for a period up to three years and five months and subjected to conditions that were atrocious and unbelievable. These heroic troops were forced to work as slave laborers at numerous Japanese industrial sites in which armaments were being manufactured to be used against American troops in the Far East.

Records of the United States government show that the Japanese military had 27,465 American prisoners of war at various locations during World War II. A total of 11,107 (40%) died while interned in Japanese prisoner of war facilities. Only 16,358 American prisoners of war were alive at the end of World War II. The deaths of American prisoners of war in German interment facilities amounted to only 1.1% during World War II.